Saint of the Day – 15 December – Blessed Maria Vittoria De Fornari Strata (1562–1617) Widow, Nun, Foundress of the Order of the Annunciation – or Blue Nuns, of which she is the Patron. Born in 1562 at Genoa, Italy as Victoria De Fornari and died on 15 December 1617 of natural causes.
Blessed Maria Vittoria was married for just under a decade and decided not to find another spouse after having a vision of the Madonna who instructed her to lead a chaste life of motherhood. The widow decided to found an order not long after this based on the Carmelite charism.
Maria Vittoria De Fornari was born in 1562 in Genoa as the seventh of nine children to Girolamo Fornari and Barbara Veneroso. When seventeen she desired to enter the convent but out of respect for her father’s wishes she married Angelo Strata.
It was a happy marriage. Angelo encouraged his wife in her charitable works and defended her against those who said she should take more part in social events. Maria Vittoria bore him six children, four boys and two girls – Angela, Barbara, Giuseppe, Leonardo, Alessandro, Angelo (1587–97). Unfortunately, Signor Strata died after only nine years of married life. Their eldest daughter Angela became a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran – as did Barbara not long after – while Giuseppe entered the Minims – OM [the Mendicant Order founded by St Francis of Paola (1416–1507)] with Leonardo and Alessandro following him.
His death was traumatic to Vittoria. She worried that she could not raise so large a family alone. When a local nobleman asked her to marry him, she thought at first that it might be wise to accept, for the sake of her boys and girls. But then she had a vision of Mary (which she wrote up at the request of her confessor) in which Our Lady told her, “My child Vittoria, be brave and confident, for it is my wish to take both the mother and the children under my protection. I will care for your household. Live quietly and without worrying. All I ask is that you trust yourself to me and henceforth devote yourself to the love of God above all things.”
Mary’s words settled Vittoria’s mind completely. She took a vow of chastity and lived in retirement, giving all her time to prayer, the care of her family and the needs of the poor.
When eventually her children were raised (five of the six entered religious orders), Signora Strata revealed to the archbishop of Genoa a proposal that she had long been considering. It was to found a strict new religious order of contemplative nuns. Dedicated to Mary’s Annunciation, the sisters would imitate her hidden life at Nazareth, devoting themselves to prayer and making vestments and altar linens for poor churches. Each member would add the names “Maria Annunziata” to her baptismal name. The archbishop first had his doubts, since the money necessary to make the foundation was not available. However, when a benefactor named Vincent Lomellini offered to purchase a convent for the widow, the prelate gave his permission. Pope Clement VIII approved the order’s constitutions in 1604 and Maria Vittoria and ten companions made their solemn vows in the late summer of 1605.
Early difficulties threatened the project but Our Lady kept the movement going. A second house was established in Italy in 1612. Others followed in Burgundy, France and Germany. Each house was independent. Today there are only three houses and 44 nuns. To distinguish them from the order of the Annunciation established by St Joan of Valois, the Strata “Annunziate” are called “Le Turchine”, i.e. the “Turquoise Annunziate”, or “Blue Nuns” because of their sky-blue scapulars and cloaks.
She served as superior from the order’s founding until ill health saw her not re-elected in 1611 which she accepted with grace and tact. Her order received pontifical approval from Pope Paul V on 6 August 1613.
Blessed Maria Vittoria died on 15 December 1617 due to lung disease after having predicted the date of her own death. She is interred in Genoa.
Many widows like Maria Vittoria have had “second vocations” of this sort, entering religious orders after the death of their husbands. St Elizabeth Seton, foundress of the American Sisters of Charity, was, of course, a memorable example. Cloistered, contemplative orders are perhaps even more attractive to widows who are a little older.
The Beatification cause started under Pope Benedict XIV on 10 September 1746 and the late religious was titled as a Servant of God, while Pope Clement XIII confirmed her heroic virtue and named her as Venerable on 1 April 1759. Pope Leo XII later approved two miracles attributed to her intercession, on 1 April 1828 and later Beatified her in Saint Peter’s Basilica on 21 September 1828. Below is the Altar of her Relics, with Reverend Mother Maria Angela Borsa, Prioress of the Venerable Monastery of the Most Holy Annunciation and Incarnation in Genoa, Italy, before the relics of the Holy Foundress, Bl Maria Vittoria.
‘Vittoria Who Overcame the World’, is a play on the words of Holy Scripture, often seen in pictures of the Blessed: “For whatsoever is born of God, overcomes the world and this is the victory which overcomes the world, our faith.” [1 John 5,4] It is uplifting to see her spiritual daughters continuing to overcome the spirit of the world, the flesh and the devil.