The Piedmontese roots of the Pope or the story of the Bergoglio grandparents

The Pope will visit the diocese of Asti, in northwestern Italy, on November 19 and 20, to privately celebrate the 90th birthday of one of his cousins, the descendant of a brother of his grandfather. , Carlo Bergoglio, the only sibling not to have immigrated to Argentina. A look back at the Pope’s Piedmontese origins with Orsola Appendino, a passionate Piedmontese genealogist, co-author of a book on the Pope’s grandmother entitled “Nonna Rosa”.

Marie Duhamel – Vatican City

Many Piedmontese families immigrated to Argentina at the time of the Unity of Italy at the end of the 19th century, during the interwar period and even after the Second World War.the Pope’s family is one of them, explains Orsola Appendino. This passionate about the history of Piedmontese immigration to Argentina conducted a long investigation into the Italian roots of Pope Francis when he was elected to the see of Peter.

The name Bergoglio dates back to the Middle Ages, and comes from the village of Bergolo, in the Piedmontese province of Cuneo, reveals a study by Alda Rossebastiano, a teacher at the University of Turin. But for his part, Orsola Appendino did not “found traces” – hear notarial deeds or certificates of civil status- of the Bergoglio only in the 18th century.

It was about a peasant family which succeeds, after having been paid in various localities, to become owner, by dint of work. She settled in 1862 on the borders of Asti, near Portacomaro where the Pope’s grandfather was born in 1884, explains the history buff. Giovanni was the eldest of his siblings, and when his father Francesco passed away in 1903, the young man moved in with a wealthy uncle, owner of the “trattoria della nocciola” where he learns the trade of “liquorista”, the equivalent of a bartender. It is moreover this profession that he will practice when he settles down one or two years later in Turin, continues Orsola Appendino. He sells vermouth, a herbal liqueur native to the city. It was then that Giovanni met his future wife, Rosa Margherita Vassalo, who was the same age as him.

Pope Francis, Jesuit priest, with his grandmother "Nonna Rosa"

Pope Francis, Jesuit priest, with his grandmother “nonna Rosa”

The Pope’s grandmother comes from a poor family, as families often live in the hills far from the city, specifies the co-author of Nonna Rosa, the roccia of the Langhe. She is the 8th child of Angela Crema and Pietro Vassallo and “She was lucky enough to be welcomed by a sister of her mother and her husband who took her with them to Turin. She attends a school, makes her first communion and her confirmation there, learns the profession of seamstress”.

The Bergoglio family put to the test by the First World War

In 1907, Rosa and Giovanni were married in the baroque church of Saint Teresa of Avila, and welcomed their first and only child Mario the following year.

Their lives are turned upside down by World War I. Giovanni is called upon to take up arms. He took part in the battle of Piave, in July 1918, when the Italian army -at the cost of a heavy tribute- defeated the Austro-Hungarian army. To pay homage to the soldiers who fell during this battle, Pope Francis will travel to Redipuglia in September 2014, where he will denounce for the first time the madness of war.

Giovanni emerges unscathed from the battle and returns to his home. In 1919, the family returned to Bergoglian lands. She opens a pastry shop in the center of Asti. They stayed there for ten years, before deciding to leave Italy.


Giovanni, Rosa and their 21-year-old son Mario board a ship bound for Argentina. The seamstress mother hid all their belongings in the lining of her winter coat. The Bergoglios, however, leave confident since they join Giovanni’s two brothers and sister who have set up a flourishing business in the town of Paranà. “The Bergoglio buildingis then the only one to have an elevator in the whole city. Note, however, that the company went bankrupt, and the Pope’s family had to start from scratch in Buenos Aires.

Only one of the Bergoglio siblings remained in Italy, and it is the descendants of this man, Carlo, whom the Pope meets this Saturday.

Pope Francis with his parents in 1958, while he is a seminarian in Buenos Aires

Pope Francis with his parents in 1958, while he is a seminarian in Buenos Aires

An Italian family in Buenos Aires

By leaving Italy, the grandparents and the father of Jorge Mario Bergoglio leave neither their culture nor their faith. “Among the Bergoglios, we spoke in Piedmontese dialect and it was Nonna Rosa who taught it to her grandson.», for which she was responsible – the Pope’s mother indeed came out of her second pregnancy stricken. Nonna Rosa cooked him Italian dishes, for example the Struck that she renamed the buggy (the lies) because by biting them the puffy cookies turn out to be empty. Nonna Rosa was also the one who taught the Pope to pray. She took him with her to attend processions. Involved in the beginnings of Catholic Action in Italy, it was she who transmitted the Catholic faith to him.

Long-lasting links between Piedmont and Argentina

But we can say that among all Piedmontese families in Argentina, they cook Bagna cauda, ​​or i tajarin once or twice a year. We celebrate on June 2 or April 25 (note, Italian national holidays) within associations of Piedmontese in Argentina. Today there are 60 twinnings between Piedmont and Argentina with exchanges of students, pupils, to maintain contacts“, explains Orsola Appendino, who herself has parents across the Atlantic.

The Piedmontese is part of these links. She often goes to Argentina, where she searches for death, marriage or birth certificates of Italian families in search of their ancestors who migrated to the other side of the world. Orsola Appendino is in contact with the Pope’s family in Italy but also in Argentina. She accompanies the members of Nonna Rosa’s family, the Vassalos, in their peregrinations in Italy, from Saint Peter’s Square to Piedmont.

The Piedmontese roots of the Pope or the story of the Bergoglio grandparents – Vatican News