blessed maria teresa fasce

Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce by Dante Ricci.The 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.