Leonella Sgorbati

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Leonella Sgorbati

Sister Leonella Sgorbati (9 December 1940–17 September 2006) was an Italian Roman Catholic nun who was murdered in Somalia shortly after controversial comments by Pope Benedict XVI concerning Islam.[1]

She was born Rosa Maria (Rose Mary) Sgorbati, and she changed her name when she became a nun. Changing one's name at consecration is common in Catholic congregations.[2]

Sister Leonella was born in 1940 in Gazzola near Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Since she was a teenager she wished to become a missionary nun, but her mother did not approve the choice and ask her to wait until she would be twenty. When finally sister Leonella was twenty, she said she did not change her mind and joined the Consolata Missionary Sisters in San Fre, Cuneo in May 1963 and took her perpetual vows in November 1972.

During this time she followed nursing course in England (1966–1968), and in September 1970 she was appointed to Kenya. From then until 1983 she served alternately at Consolata Hospital Mathari, Nyeri, and Nazareth Hospital in Kiambu on the outskirts of Nairobi. In mid-1983, Sister Leonella started her advanced studies in nursing and in 1985 became the principal tutor at the school of nursing attached to Nkubu Hospital, Meru, Kenya.

In November 1993 she was elected regional superior of the Consolata Missionary Sisters in Kenya, a duty she performed for six years. After a sabbatical year, in 2001 she spent several months in Mogadishu, looking at the possibility of setting up a nursing school in the hospital run by the SOS Children's Village organization. Hermann Gmeiner School of Registered Community Nursing opened in 2002, with Sister Leonella in charge. The first 34 nurses graduated from the school this year, awarded certificates and diplomas by the World Health Organization because Somalia has had no government since 1991.[3]

Sister Leonella was keen to train tutors for the nursing school. She returned to Kenya with three of her newly graduated nurses, to register them for further training at a medical training college. She faced difficulties in obtaining her own re-entry visa to Mogadishu, due to the new rules of the Islamic courts that now control the city and its environs. She managed to return to Mogadishu on 13 September 2006.

Four days later she was gunned down outside her children's hospital. Her bodyguard, Mohamed Osman Mahamud, was also killed. The attack was believed by someone to be in response to the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI during the Regensburg lecture, but this has never been absolutely confirmed, additionally, several humanitarian workers and Christian volunteers have already been murdered by Islamic gunmen in Somalia in the recent years, including Italian bishop Salvatore Colombo shot dead during celebrating mass in Mogadishu in 1989,[2] Graziella Fumagalli, an Italian medical doctor, killed in 1995 in the anti-TBC Center she was running;[4] the UN Nansen Refugee Award winner Annalena Tonelli assassinated in 2003 in a unique relief center in Borama, after 33 years of service to the poorest,[5] and Dick and Enid Eyeington in 2003.

On 17 September 2006, two gunmen emerged from behind nearby taxis and kiosks and shot sister Leonella Sgarbati in her back after about 30 years of aid work in Africa. She was rushed to the SOS Hospital and died shortly thereafter. Her last words apparently were Italian: "Perdono; perdono." (English: “I forgive; I forgive.”)[6]

Somalian officials vowed justice for the nun's slaying.[7] Two suspects were arrested and investigations were launched by Somalia's Islamic Courts Union.


In October 2008 her cross has been transferred to the church San Bartolomeo all'Isola in Rome, which is dedicated to the martyrs of the 20th century.


  1. ^ "BBC NEWS - Africa - Italian nun shot dead in Somalia". Retrieved 20 October 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Lucia Bellaspiga - Sr. Leonella Sgorbati - Mons. Salvatore Colombo - Graziella Fumagalli - Annalena Tonelli - Somalia". Retrieved 20 October 2016. 
  3. ^ donambro (17 September 2009). "Anniversario del martirio di Suor Leonella Sgorbati: la sua biografia". Retrieved 20 October 2016. 
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ http://www.awdalnews.com/wmview.php?ArtID=3854
  6. ^ http://www.webdiocesi.chiesacattolica.it/cci_new/PagineDiocesi/AllegatiTools/222/suor%20Leonella%20Sgorbati.pdf
  7. ^ Archive of Sgorbati's death