Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Clelia Barbieri, 1847-1870
Clelia Barbieri has the distinction of being the youngest founder of a religious community in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Clelia was born on February 13th, 1847, in Budrie, a small village on the outskirts of Bologna, Italy. Interestingly, her father, Giuseppe, came from the poorest family in the village, while her mother, Giacinta, came from the most powerful family. As might be expected, Giacinta’s family strongly opposed the marriage, but the girl persisted and, after the wedding, moved into the Barbieri family home.
The strong faith of her mother and father was passed on to Clelia. As a young girl, Clelia asked her mother, “How can I become a saint?” Though well on her way to sainthood even at an early age, Clelia also learned weaving and sewing and, thus, helped to support her family.
When Clelia was eight years old, her father died in a cholera epidemic. Her uncle, the town doctor, invited her mother, Clelia, and a younger sister to live in a comfortable house near the parish church. Clelia began to spend much of her time in the church praying. But Clelia did not neglect her sense of duty to her family. She continued to work at weaving with the young girls of Budrie and became recognized as a leader among them.
While it was unusual at the time for someone so young to receive Eucharist, Clelia’s holiness was recognized by her pastor and she received her First Holy Communion at the age of eleven. It was at this time that she underwent her first mystical experience and felt strong contrition for sins, her own and those of all mankind. It was also at this time that she felt the first stirrings of her calling, a ministry to the poor and most downtrodden.
In this period of time, as has happened in many times and places in the history of the Church, a general apathetic attitude toward their faith was growing among the people of Italy. An organization, The Christian Catechism Workers, had been established to counteract this attitude. Clelia joined the group, but, as the youngest, was considered the least important and she was given the menial tasks to perform. Clelia accepted this, but her attitude and holiness were soon recognized by many adults in the group who began to look to her for direction in spreading the teachings of the Church.
Clelia also brought this mission back to the girls with whom she worked in Budrie. They banded together to bring the Catechism to the poor. In 1868, the group formed a religious community, the Little Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows to work with the poor boys and girls of the area; teaching catechism and taking care of their temporal needs. Although younger than many in her community, Clelia was addressed by her sisters as “Mother” up until the time of her death.
Having had a dormant form of tuberculosis through most of her life, Clelia was to pass away from this disease on July 13, 1870 at the young age of twenty-three.
Pope John Paul II canonized this saint on April 9, 1989. She is honored in her country on July 13.
Clelia's message today: Leadership is not just the calling of the older and more educated. It is a God-given talent that may be given to anyone.