On 22 August 1951 at Gozzano – (NO) Italy in the chapel of the Comboni Missionaries, four young women gave themselves to God by the evangelical counsels for missionary animation and and in order to collaborate with the Comboni Missionaries.
This was the first step in a journey to what was to became the Institute of the Comboni Secular Missionaries.
The initial idea was of Fr Egidio Ramponi, a Comboni Missionary, an idea he had back in 1947 when he was in Sulmona, where he saw what was being done by members of a secular Institute in Catholic Action. He asked himself: “Why can the Lord not do the same for mission animation?”. On 2nd February 1947, the Apostolic Constitution Povida Mater had been published, giving juridical and ecclesial recognition to Secular Institutes, with a new form of “living consecration in the world”.
The idea of a Secular Institute which would collaborate in missionary work was then put into act at Gozzano, where conditions were such that the proposal was welcomed. During the celebration of 22 August 1951, at that time the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Fr. Ramponi sent a letter where besides greetings, he laid out some of the principles of our specificity. He stated: “The Lord has chosen you too in order to collaborate with prayer, the total gift of yourselves and apostolic work, putting you within the family founded by our Father, Mgr Daniel Comboni”. From the very beginning therefore the elements which characterize us as missionaries, secular and Combonian were present.
Little by little, the Institute undertook the journey during which our specific identity became clearer. It began also with different names: At the beginning we were called “Zealots of Mary Immaculate”, a time when the spiritual and formative influence of Fr Vitti, a Comboni Missionary with a special devotion to Our Lady was clear; then we were called Comboni Auxiliaries, to emphasize our collaboration with the Comboni Missionaries, the reason we had been instituted; and lastly in 1971 we took the name Secular Comboni Missionaries, a name we consider definitive.
During these years, the Institute had spread throughout different Italian cities becoming a group which sprang up especially where there was a community of Comboni Missionaries. It later spread to Portugal and Spain.
Something important for us is our collaboration with the Comboni Missionaries in the person of the different General Assistants general and local, who have given us a different spiritual and organizational mark, helping us to define always more clearly the specific aim of our Institute: missionary cooperation expressed in a variety of ways. The Institute obtained diocesan approval on 6th January 1969 and on 22nd May 1983 pontifical approval, acknowledgement of our having reached autonomy and stability.
The missionary dimension of “leaving” and “going forth” from our native country was present from the beginning. In 1967 there was a first missionary experience in Brazil in a hospital in Nova Venecia (Espiritu Santo). In 1980 we went to Ecuador for a full time service of mission animation and this led to the establishment of Ecuadorian missionaries. In 1985 we were in Colombia, again for mission animation; in 1989 we started a presence in Costa Rica and from 1992 to 1999 we were in Mexico. We have had different mission experiences in Africa, inserted in voluntary organizations, in a diocese and with Lay Comboni Missionaries in Congo, Cameroun, Mozambique, Uganda and Central African Republic.
At the present time we are in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Costa Rica and Ecuador. We are also in Kenya.