Saint of the Day – 7 May – St Rose Venerini M.P.V. (1656-1728) Religious, Foundress, Teacher, Innovator and Pioneer, Apostle of Charity – born (Rosa Venerini) on 9 February 1656 at Viterbo, Italy and died on 7 May 1728 at Rome, Italy of natural causes. St Rose was a pioneer in the education of women and girls in 17th-century Italy and the foundress of the Religious Teachers Venerini (Italian: Maestre Pie Venerini), an religious order of women, often simply called the Venerini Sisters. She was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI on 15 October 2006.
Rosa Venerini, was born in Viterbo, on 9 February 1656. Her father, Goffredo, originally from Castelleone di Suasa (Ancona), after having completed his doctorate in medicine at Rome, moved to Viterbo where he practised the medical profession brilliantly in the Grand Hospital. From his marriage to Marzia Zampichetti, of an ancient family of Viterbo, four children were born: Domenico, Maria Maddalena, Rosa and Orazio.
Rosa was naturally gifted with intelligence and an uncommon human sensibility. The education that she received in her family allowed her to develop her many talents of mind and heart, forming her in steadfast Christian principles. According to her first biographer, Father Girolamo Andreucci, S.I., she made a vow to consecrate her life to God at the age of seven. During the early years of her youth, she lived through a conflict between the attractions of the world and the promise made to God. Rosa overcame this crisis with trusting prayer and mortification.
At age twenty, Rosa raised questions about her own future. The women of her time could choose only two orientations for their live: marriage or the cloister. Rosa esteemed both but she felt called to realise another project for the good of the Church and the society of her time. Urged on by prophetic interior occurrences, she committed much time in suffering and searching before reaching a resolution that was completely innovative.
In the autumn of 1676, on the advice of her father, Rosa entered the Dominican Monastery of St Catherine, with the prospect of fulfilling her vow. With her Aunt Anna Cecilia beside her, she learned to listen to God in silence and in meditation. She remained in the monastery for only a few months because the sudden death of her father forced her to return to her suffering mother. In the years immediately following, Rosa had to bear the burden of serious events for her family: her brother Domenico died at only twenty-seven years of age; a few months later her mother died, unable to bear the sorrow.
In the meantime, Maria Maddalena married. There remained at home only Orazio and Rosa, by now twenty-four years old. Challenged by the desire to do something great for God, in May of 1684, the Saint began to gather the girls and women of the area in her own home to recite the rosary. The way in which the girls and women prayed and above all, their conversation before and after the prayer, opened the mind and heart of Rosa to a sad reality: the woman of the common people was a slave of cultural, moral and spiritual poverty. She then understood that the Lord was calling her to a higher mission which she gradually identified in the urgent need to dedicate herself to the instruction and Christian formation of young women, not with sporadic encounters but with a school understood in the real and true sense of the word.
On 30 August 1685, with the approval of the Bishop of Viterbo, Cardinal Urbano Sacchetti and the collaboration of two friends, Gerolama Coluzzelli and Porzia Bacci, Rosa left her father’s home to begin her first school, according to an innovative plan that had matured in prayer and her search for the will of God. The first objective of the Foundress was to give the girls of the common people a complete Christian formation and prepare them for life in society. Without great pretence, Rosa opened the first “Public School for Girls in Italy”. The origins were humble but the significance was prophetic, the human promotion and spiritual uplifting of woman was a reality that did not take long to receive the recognition of the religious and civil authorities.
The initial stages were not easy. The three Maestre (teachers) had to face the resistance of clergy who considered the teaching of the catechism as their private office. But the harshest suspicion came from conformists who were scandalised by the boldness of this woman of the upper middle class of Viterbo who had taken to heart the education of ignorant girls. Rosa faced everything for the love of God and with her characteristic strength, continuing on the path that she had undertaken, by now sure that she was truly following the plan of God. The fruits proved her to be right. The same clergy soon recognised the moral improvement that the work of education generated among the girls and mothers.
The validity of this initiative was acknowledged and its fame went beyond the confines of the Diocese. Cardinal Mark Antonio Barbarigo, Bishop of Montefiascone, understood the genius of the Viterbo project and he called the Saint to his diocese. The Foundress, always ready to sacrifice herself for the glory of God, responded to the invitation. From 1692 to 1694, she opened ten schools in Montefiascone and the villages surrounding Lake Bolsena. The cardinal provided the material means and Rosa made the families aware, trained the teachers and organised the schools. When she had to return to Viterbo to attend to the strengthening of her first school, Rosa entrusted the schools and the teachers to the direction of a young woman, St Lucia Filippini (1672-1732), in whom she has seen particular gifts of mind, heart and spirit.
After the openings in Viterbo and Montefiascone, other schools were started in Lazio. Rosa reached Rome in 1706 but the first experience in Rome was a real failure which marked her deeply and caused her to wait six long years before regaining the trust of the authorities. On 8 December 1713, with the help of Abate Degli Atti, a great friend of the Venerini family, Rosa was able to open one of her schools in the centre of Rome at the foot of the Campidoglio.
On 24 October 1716, they received a visit from Pope Clement XI, accompanied by eight Cardinals, who wanted to attend the lessons. Amazed and pleased, at the end of the morning he addressed these words to the Foundress: “Signora Rosa, you are doing that which we cannot do. We thank you very much because with these schools you will sanctify Rome ”.
From that moment on, Governors and Cardinals asked for schools for their areas. The duties of the Foundress became intense, consisting of travels and hard work interwoven with joys and sacrifices for the formation of new communities. Wherever a new school sprang up, in a short time a moral improvement could be noted in the youth.
Rosa Venerini died a saintly death in the community of St Mark’s in Rome on the evening of 7 May 1728. She had opened more than forty schools. Her remains were entombed in the nearby Church of the Gesù, so loved by her. In 1952, on the occasion of her Beatification, they were transferred to the chapel of the Generalate in Rome.
We can summarise the charism of Rosa Venerini in a few words. She lived consumed by two great passions: passion for God and passion for the salvation of souls. When she understood that the girls and women of her time needed to be educated and instructed in the truths of the faith and of morality, she spared nothing of time, hard work, struggle and difficulties of every kind, as long as it responded to the call of God. She knew that the proclamation of the Good News could be received if people were first liberated from the darkness of ignorance and error. Moreover, she intuited that professional training could give woman a human promotion and affirmation in society. This project required an educating Community and Rosa, without pretense and well before its time in history, offered to the Church the model of the Apostolic Religious Community.
Rosa did not practice her educational mission only in the school but took every occasion to announce the love of God. She comforted and cured the sick, raised the spirits of the discouraged, consoled the afflicted, called sinners back to a new life, exhorted to fidelity consecrated souls not observing their call, helped the poor and freed people from every form of moral slavery.
“Educate to save” became the motto that urged the Maestre Pie Venerini to continue the Work of the Lord intended by their Foundress and radiate the charism of Rosa to the world: to free from ignorance and evil so that the project of God which every person carries within can be visible.
This is the magnificent inheritance that Rosa Venerini left her Daughters. Wherever the Maestre Pie Venerini strive to live and transmit the apostolic concern of their Mother, in Italy as in other lands, they give preference to the poor.
After having made its contribution to the Italian immigrants to the USA from 1909 and in Switzerland from 1971 to 1985, the Congregation extended its apostolic activity to other lands: India, Brazil, Cameroon, Romania, Albania, Chile, Venezuela and Nigeria.