Fr. Paolo Sottopietra was born in Trent (northeast of Milan) on August 18, 1967. He grew up in Stenico (just west of Trent) and met the movement Communion and Liberation during his high school years. In 1986, he enrolled at the Catholic University of Milan, where he personally met Giussani, who in those years taught Introduction to Theology.
Sottopietra began to participate in the leadership of CLU (Communion and Liberation University), the movement for college students, which organized many retreats and meetings with Giussani. During a meeting in Corvara (in the Dolomites, near the Austrian border), he was fascinated by Giussani’s definition of mission. Mission is “the epiphany of a presence, the simple existence of a Christian community that expresses itself through living in whatever environment it finds itself.”
Responding to an invitation by Michael Waldstein, Sottopietra wrote his thesis at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana during Lent of 1991. There he met a priest, Fr. Michael Carvill, who, along with another priest, Antonio Baracchini, was starting a mission in Tampa, Florida. It was Sottopietra’s first real encounter with the Fraternity of St. Charles. “What struck me most about Michael were his sense of freedom and his passionate missionary desire to serve the people entrusted to him,” Sottopietra said. Becoming a priest within the horizon of his very important encounters with Giussani and the CL movement became a real possibility.
Also in America, specifically in Davis, California, Sottopietra met for the first the Memores Domini, a lay vocation of people totally dedicated to God while living in the world. Through them he understood that their rules of “order, silence, and attention to detail had a precise goal: that those in the house may live with the constant memory of Christ. It was a sort of eureka moment.” For some time, in fact, Sottopietra had desired a vocational form allowing him to be a missionary and to live in communion with others who have the same desire, while at the same time being faithful to the Movement.
When he returned to Italy in 1991, Sottopietra asked Fr. Massimo Camisasca to enter the seminary and he moved to Rome. He graduated in philosophy with a thesis on Alvin Plantinga, a philosopher he had studied at Notre Dame. In 1994 he obtained his Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University and a Doctorate in Theology in 2001 at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Germany, with a thesis on the thought of Joseph Ratzinger.
In 1995 Sottopietra was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Camillo Ruini. After a brief period of mission in the house of Emmendingen in Germany as he continued his studies at the University of Eichstätt, Sottopietra was called to Rome to work with Camisasca. His task involved preparatory work the for pontifical recognition of the Fraternity. In 2005 he was appointed vicar general. He remembers, “It was a great opportunity for me to grow. During that long period, the Fraternity of St. Charles took on its present form. Living alongside Camisasca and sharing with him many important decisions and the simplest quotidian things, I could deepen and rediscover what I had received from Fr. Giussani.”
In 2005, the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo was founded as the concrete flourishing of an intuition of Rachele Paiusco, supported by Sottopietra. The order was recognized as Private Association of the Faithful in 2007. Sottopietra was the sisters’ superior general for their first six years.
Following the appointment of Fr. Massimo Camisasca as Bishop of the Diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla in February 2013, Fr. Paolo Sottopietra was appointed Superior General of the Fraternity of St. Charles.