life of Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce was a whole series of great projects
and great ideals, which she achieved with constancy and fortitude, with
patience and courage.
Maria Teresa of Cascia was born in Torriglia, a small city near Genoa,
Italy, on 27 December 1881 to Eugenio Fasce and his second wife, Teresa
Valente. The Fasce family belonged to the high Genoan bourgeoisie. The child
was baptized with the name Maria, but she was always called “Marietta.”
At eight years of age, her mother died and her oldest sister, Luigia, personally
took care of bringing up her other younger brothers and sisters.
Marietta grew up in a healthy environment where religious values were
taught and care was also given to girls’ education, within the limits
possible in those times. She did well in elementary school and also began
secondary school. She had a vivacious and lively character but she was docile
to the teachings of the adults. In Genoa she attended the Augustinian parish
of Our Lady of Consolation, a fundamental place for the spiritual growth
of young Marietta Fasce. There she met her confessor, Father Mariano Ferriello,
who had such a great part in her vocation. Maria Fasce collaborated with
great effort in the parish, taught catechism and singing, and took part
in the religious functions. In the Consolation parish she learned to love
the spirituality of Saint Augustine.
On 24 May 1900, Pope Leo XIII canonized Rita of Cascia. The Augustinian
Order made this new saint known through lectures, liturgical celebrations,
and other events. In Genoa also they presented to their faithful this fascinating
saint who would become famous throughout the whole world precisely through
that girl Marietta, who was listening with interest and passion to the dramatic
events in Saint Rita’s life.
Her introduction to the Saint of Cascia created a very strong impression
on her to the point that it conditioned her entire future life. Actually,
Marietta Fasce had already been nourishing the desire to become a religious,
but she had not made it known to anyone. Only when she was absolutely sure
of the solidity of her vocation did she make it known to her family: she
wanted to become an Augustinian nun in Cascia. Her brothers’ reactions
were very negative but she resisted tenaciously. Her older sister, Luigia,
did not contest her religious vocation, but she could not understand her
strange obstinacy about going to that remote place. After some attempts
to make her enter a Ligurian Augustinian monastery, her family became resigned
and Father Ferriello wrote to Cascia; the answer, however, was negative.
The abbess, Madre Giuseppina Gattarelli, thought that a young lady accustomed
to the conveniences of the city could never become accustomed to the hard
life in a monastery in the mountains. But Marietta Fasce was not the type
to be discouraged, and so she repeated her request for admission and this
time was accepted in June 1906.
After six months of postulancy, Maria Fasce received the Augustinian
habit on Christmas night of 1906 and the following year, again on Christmas
night, she took the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The names
“Teresa Eletta” were given to her. She was convinced that she
had left the world forever and that she had found paradise, but soon she
realized that it was not so. The environment she found in Cascia was different
from her dreams: the monastery was in crisis which was worsened by the arrival
in Cascia of seven young sisters from Visso. This caused a generational
crisis with the older sisters who were there before. Even the spirit and
the habits were endangered, leaving room for laxity and laughter rather
than silence, meditation, and diligence. This situation made the young sister
suffer because she was not the type who would make compromises, and she
never accepted that lifestyle. Disappointment and doubt also got hold of
her, and she wanted to re-examine all her choices. Therefore, she left the
monastery in June 1910 and returned there in May 1911, confirmed in her
intentions to be an Augustinian nun close to her Saint Rita.
On 22 March 1912 she made her solemn profession of the vows. She was
well aware that in order to renew the monastery spiritually it was necessary
to act and not retreat. She wrote two letters to the superiors to denounce
without any hesitation the situation of her monastery. In 1914 she was appointed
mistress of novices, in 1917 she became vicar, and on 12 August 1920 she
was unanimously elected abbess by her sisters. She kept that position for
twenty-seven years until her death. Maria Teresa incarnated the role of
mother abbess so well that she became for everyone, sisters and others,
the mother par excellence. Her rule was distinguished by prudence, wisdom,
firmness, and sweetness. She had strong psychological insight and heightened
intuition which made it possible for her to read into hearts. Moreover,
her experience during the first years was always before her and so she wanted
her sisters to be occupied always in prayer, in meditation, or in practical
work. In that way, the community became a model of cloistered life.
Maria Teresa had her eyes set on heaven but her feet were on the ground.
Her practical sense and concreteness had become proverbial. She maintained
that Jesus does not love “dolls” but that he wants active and
laborious brides. She was authoritative because of her maternal charisma
but she was never authoritarian; she was rigid in observing the Augustinian
Rule and scrupulous in its application, which at times must have
been hard and demanding, but she was never a dictator; on the contrary,
she was always very tender and affable.
Maria Teresa had great stamina. This was true for her vocation and for
the spiritual renewal of the monastery, and it was especially true in building
the new church of Saint Rita and a girls’ orphanage. As soon as she
was elected, she tried in every way to make Saint Rita known. In order to
do this, she understood that adequate structures were needed to receive
the pilgrims. The first step was to create a publication which could inform
people about the saint. On 22 May 1923, the first issue of the bulletin,
From the Bees to the Roses, was published. The first work done was the altar,
built with the offerings of the devout, in the small church where Saint
Rita’s body had been kept previously. Since that undertaking was so
successful, Blessed Maria Teresa tried to take the next step: to build a
new church in honor of Saint Rita where the ever growing number of pilgrims
could be welcomed. In 1925 the bulletin launched a campaign to collect offerings,
but it was a road filled with obstacles that sorely tried Blessed Maria
Teresa yet exalted her prudence and firmness. Twelve years went by before
the work of setting the first stone took place. The construction work proceeded
slowly and was later interrupted because of the war and only resumed in
the spring of 1946. The new basilica was inaugurated on 18 May 1947, but
Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce never saw it because of her death four months
earlier on 18 January 1947. One sign of Blessed Maria Teresa’s immense
spiritual motherhood was the creation of the girls’ orphanage which
began in 1938 when the first “bee” of Saint Rita, Edda Petrucci,
was welcomed. Soon there were many little girls and the Mother followed
them lovingly and took care of their spiritual and physical development.
She would play with them and become like a child in their midst.
Maria Teresa was an Augustinian through and through. For almost thirty
years she suffered from a malignant tumor on her left breast which gave
her enormous pain and for which she had to undergo two surgical operations.
She called it “her treasure,” the most beautiful gift which
her heavenly Bridegroom had given her. But Jesus gave her many other gifts:
heart problems, asthma, diabetes, and circulatory problems which caused
great burning in her feet. These illnesses made her very heavy. She was
tall but obese and this kept her from walking, and so the sisters had to
carry her on a chair.
However, the Blessed never let her illnesses cause disturbance to anyone;
she never complained and she did not want anyone to talk about them.
One episode which illustrates the strong personality of the Blessed well
were the two visits of the German SS. The soldiers entered the monastery
with violence, looking for partisans hidden there. The abbess faced them
with courage and the decisive will to defend her sisters and her “bees
(the orphans).” In both cases the soldiers were calmed by the words
and actions of the Mother Abbess.
Her feast is celebrated by the Augustinian Family on 12 October.