Mother Giovanna Russolillo, SDV
Fr. Justin had five brothers and four sisters. Giuseppina, the second sister, seemed to be more inclined toward religious life. Fr. Justin seemed to cultivate for a while the secret desire of enlisting her in his project of founding the religious community of sisters, but God had chosen Giovanna for that task.
Giovanna took care of decorating his apartment before the ordination; Fr. Justin appreciated her good taste and expressed his gratitude to his sister; his room remained as she had set it, with the exception of the mirror, which Fr. Justin wanted it to be removed from his room. There was an implied understanding between the two that he would not enter his room while she was cleaning it and that she would not enter at any other any other time. Only once, when he noticed the meticulous attention of his sister in making his bed and smoothing the sheets and covers, he intervened and ruffled up the bed, saying, “Hey, how much time you waste!”
Giovanna used to help her mother in taking care of the house and also assisted her brother in the Pious Union. Religious life, however, did not enter her mind at all. Fr. Justin, however, was preparing her for the future mission of the co-founder of the Vocationist Sisters. Every morning, for example, Fr. Justin used to get up very early and he would tap at her door to invite her to meditation. If she was not present at his conferences, he would wait for her; at times, he would ask his father if Giovanna was coming to his lectures. If his father would say that she was busy helping her mother, he would plead, “Let her come at least for fifteen minutes.” Mr. Russsolillo, who always granted his son’s wishes, would let her free.
The brothers were not as cooperative as the father. Since the older sister Maria had passed away and Josephine had gone to the United States, Giovanna became indispensable in the house and they kept discouraging her from following Fr. Justin. Michael, for example, once said to Giovanna, “Don’t go with Justin. He is capable of boiling a big pot of potatoes and feeding you with them six days per week.”
When late at night they would hear some specific noises in his room, they would invite her to listen by the door, saying, “Do you hear how he scourges himself? You will have your share, too.”
In 1922, she felt clearly her religious calling, generous and docile, humble and patient. At age twenty-seven, she went back to school to finish her basic education and to pursue her studies in early childhood education.
God’s Providence granted a special gift to the Congregation of the Vocationist Sisters by placing at the side of the founder as future Mother General Fr. Justin’s own sister; thus he was able with greater freedom and frequency to deal with the sisters, to guide and correct them. On October 3, 1930, with thirteen other sisters, Giovanna pronounced her religious vows. Soon after the community received diocesan approval, Giovanna was appointed Superior General by the Bishop of Pozzuoli, and she was reelected Superior General by the sisters after the apostolic visitation which had lasted from August 1945 to November 1946. She remained in that office until her death on May 5, 1969. When Fr. Justin died, the Vocationist Sisters had over fifty houses in Italy, France and Brazil, with over five hundred sisters.