Cincinnati, USA, 1953. one morning, the phone starts ringing at the Comboni House. it goes on for some time. no one picks it up. the spiritual father, who had recently arrived in the country and was not really acquainted with the english language, hesitates to answer it. then he decides, takes the handset and gathers all the grammar he is capable of for his first “Hello!” on the other side, a woman’s voice, asks: “Would you like a Saint bernard?” the spiritual father, eager for uplifting hagiographies (life stories of the saints) and ascetic texts, happily answers: “of course, bring it over, please!” He even manages to add a few words of thanks in advance. “i hope they are the Sermons,” he thinks while returning to his room; “in the library there is hardly anything about this saint.” in the afternoon, the doorbell rings. it is a woman with a Saint bernard puppy. father superior of the house is astounded: “Who on earth may have asked for a dog?” the woman ensures that on the phone someone had said yes to her offer. the only person home was the spiritual father; he could not have been the one, could he? “yes”, he explains, “i thought it was a book of St bernard of Clairvaux. i must have misunderstood. never mind! in spite of all, it is a cute little creature.” “you will see that the seminarians will lose their heads when they see it!” giggled the superior, smiling. “better to lose them for a Saint bernard than for other more frivolous things,” thinks the spiritual father. in fact the dog became a source of fun and amusement for the seminarians. not only that, as one of the community, it was punctual to the sound of the bell, generous, tractable, affectionate as Saint bernard puppies tend to be; it just lacked the iconic barrel of cordial (a very tasty alcoholic drink meant to warm up and give strength) under its throat (the giant St bernard dogs, used in the Alps to find and rescue people trapped under the snow by avalanches, carried cordial as a ‘first aid’ drink). Unfortunately, the Saint bernard ruined half of the garden, just for fun. “that’s what it means”, sadly mused the superior seeing the little pines destroyed, “to exchange a dog for a book”.
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