“I shall remain always with you and I shall never abandon you!” –St Clelia to her religious sisters at her deathbed
Saint Clelia Barbieri was born in Bolgna, Italy on February 13, 1847 and she died at age 23 on July 13, 1870. Her short life edified everyone who came into contact with her. She is the founder of the Congregation of the Suore Minime dell'Addolorata (Sisters Minims of Our Lady of Sorrows) and she is the youngest foundress of a religious community in the history of the Catholic Church.
Clelia was born into a poor family of hemp farmers. Her father Giuseppe died during a cholera epidemic that swept through Italy in 1855 when Clelia was only eight years old. Without him, Clelia's mother, her two sisters and her seventy-five-year-old grandfather were faced with a difficult future. But Clelia was a great consolation for her mother and assisted her by learning to use the loom and weave hemp. Even at this age Clelia was devout and learned all she could about the Catholic faith from her mother and the parish priest. After she had learned to read and write, Clelia's favorite book was her catechism, because it taught her about God and encouraged her in the way of virtue.
When she was fifteen, her parish priest, Father Gaetano Guidi, formed a group known as "The Christian Doctrine Workers," [or “Workers of the Christian Catechism”] which was a group of young teachers of which Clelia was a member. She taught children their catechism and ran a small primary country school in which the students were only a few years younger than herself. Eventually, both men and women attended her classes along with their children.
Clelia becomes the youngest founder in the history of the Church
Having given herself completely to Jesus, she refused at least two marriage proposals and in prayer she asked God for a spiritual friend who would join her and help her to live fraternally together a life in common. Theodora Beraldi who was six years older than Clelia became that special friend, and inspired by Clelia’s exceptional virtue and piety, she encouraged other girls to join them. During this time, Clelia took private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience under the guidance of her parish priest and spiritual director, Father Guidi.
Clelia was only twenty years old when she inspired this small group of young ladies of similar religious ideals to join her in the performance of charity and good works. After acquiring a small house near a church in LeBudrie, Italy they began living a community life, but they retained their secular status throughout Clelia's lifetime. They devoted their energies to the teaching of Christian doctrine, to sewing, to aiding the sick, and to providing all forms of charitable assistance to those in need. One of Clelia’s ideals for her community was that there would be no need for a dowry, so that even the poorest of aspirants might join her Community.
Amidst the founding of her community in 1867 she became very ill with tuberculosis, and upon examination by a physician it was discovered that she was wearing a penitential chain with spikes on it that was wound three times around her body. Thus one of the penances that she practiced became known.
The first religious house was opened on May 1, 1868. The girls lived in common and all wore a grey dress and they slept on a wooden beds with hay mattress. They spent the day alternating between prayer, spiritual reading and work, which consisted of sewing, spinning and weaving.
Some remarkable miracles in the life of Clelia
Soon after the foundation of the Community, many unusual things began to take place. When there was no food in the house, led by Clelia the community prayed, and moments later the doorbell rang, and a gift of food was given to them. Clelia took St. Francis of Paola to be the Communities heavenly patron, and by praying to him for his intercession there were several occasions were they obtained bread, flour, wine and other staples in a most extraordinary manner.
Clelia was blessed with other mystical favors, as was demonstrated when she was given a quantity of apples from the mother of Anna Forni, a member of the community. Clelia placed them on a table and divided them into three parts, saying, "I will keep these you picked in your orchard, and those you found on the ground, but I cannot accept this third group because you did not come by them honestly." In fact, the woman had gathered some of the apples from the trees on someone else's property. In addition, “Mother” Clelia, as she was then known, cured many people by using the oil from the lamp that burned before the portrait of St. Francis of Paola.
One day, while standing at the window of the community's house, she pointed to a nearby field and prophesied, "Do you see that field next to the church? There the new house will rise. I will no longer be here ... You will increase in number and will spread out on the plains and in the mountains to work in God's vineyard. Many will come with carriages and horses...”
“I shall remain always with you and I shall never abandon you!”
All of what Clelia had prophesized to her companions was eventually realized. Clelia died of tuberculosis on July 13, 1870 when she was only 23 years old. Her last words were prophetic: "Be brave because I am going to Paradise; but I shall always remain with you, too; I shall never abandon you!" This prophecy was also realized, since she soon proved her presence by the sounding of her voice. The miraculous phenomenon of her voice first took place during the evening of July 13, 1871, exactly one year after Clelia's death, while the sisters were at prayer in the chapel. The Sisters declared that:
“Suddenly there was the sound of a high-pitched, harmonious and heavenly voice that accompanied the singing in the choir; at times it sang solo, at other times it harmonized with us in the choir, moving across from right to left; sometimes it passed close by the ears of one or other of the sisters. The joy which it brought filled our hearts with a happiness impossible to put into words. This wasn't of this world. We lived that day in paradise. From time to time, one had to leave the room ... The emotion that we experienced was so strong that it left you breathless until one had to call out: "Enough, dear Lord, enough!"
This miraculous event dismissed all thoughts of sleep. Instead, since the Blessed Sacrament was not then reserved in their chapel, they decided to pass the night adoring the Blessed Sacrament in a nearby church. They again declared, "But how great was our surprise when we realized that the voice had followed us and accompanied us as we began our prayers!" Clelia's voice prayed with them until dawn. It was precisely the one year anniversary of her death. Since that day she has never left them, joining them in the most diverse surroundings and conditions.
There were only ten girls who lived in the community at the time of Clelia's death. After the Rule of the Order was approved by the Vatican, more members joined the community, many being inspired by the voice of the holy foundress. After the Second World War there were 236 members. During the 1950's the sisters numbered almost three hundred. In recent years the flourishing order maintained over thirty-five institutions throughout Italy. Feeling called by those abroad, the Sisters then began missions abroad, and houses of the order were opened in Keralia, India and in Tanzania, Africa with a number of the local young women in these area joining in practicing the virtues and ideals of the holy foundress.
Clelia’s heavenly voice is still heard today
In the communities of Usokami and Wadakanchery, the Sisters hear Clelia's voice which sings and prays with them in Swahili and Malayalam. When they pray in Latin, Clelia prays in Latin as well.
During the past one hundred and twenty-five years since her death, Clelia's heavenly voice has been periodically heard in the houses of the order. Especially at LeBudrie, the voice is heard accompanying the sisters in their hymns, in religious readings, and in their conversations. It is also heard accompanying the priest during the celebration of Holy Mass, and during the sermons. Even in the parish churches it is heard lingering among the faithful.
In 1970, the Mother Superior of the order in LeBudrie stated the following to Joan Carroll Cruz, the author of the book “Mysteries, Marvels and Miracles in the Lives of the Saints”, 1997, Tan Books: "... this prodigious gift stimulates us to do well, increases our faith, is a relief to the trials of life, and gives us a great desire for heaven."
In a more recent letter received before publication of the aforementioned book, the Mother Provincial of the order, Sr. Silvana Magnani, confirms that the prodigy is still taking place. She writes that "The voice accompanies us in our prayers which are in Italian, and with prayers that are in diverse languages: in Tanzania where we have a mission, the voice speaks in the language of Swahili; in India, the language is Malayalam."
The voice of St Clelia Barbieri been described as one unlike any of this earth. Always sweet and gentle, it is sometimes accompanied by angelic strains. Numerous witnesses of unquestionable integrity, including her original companions, various superiors and sisters of the order, priests and lay workers in the order's hospitals have adequately testified that they have heard the voice. Moreover, many witnesses have given sworn testimony before ecclesiastical tribunals who investigated the prodigy prior to Clelia's solemn beatification on October 27, 1968, and before her canonization by Pope John Paul II on April 9, 1989.
The heavenly voice of St Clelia confirms the promise made by her to her companions before her death, "Be brave, because I am going to Paradise; but I shall always remain with you, too; I shall never abandon you!"
In the book “A Song of Love-Saint Clelia Barbieri” by Paolo Risso [“Un canto d’amore- Santa Clelia Barbieri”, Torino, 1989] St. Clelia's biographer states:
“And St. Clelia continues to let us hear her voice like that first anniversary of her death. Her nuns, together with many others, continue to hear her voice which prays, sings and intercedes. It is a voice full of happiness when announcing good news for her "family," the Church and the world. It is full of sadness when suffering is nearby. It is always calm and encouraging, a true sign that God never leaves us.”
Her relics are housed in a beautifully crafted urn at the Communities religious house in Le Budrie (Bologna), Italy. Many come to visit this sanctuary devoted to her, and to pray before her relics, and it is from here that many blessings have gone forth throughout Italy and the world.
"Oh great Lord God, You see that my will is to love You, and to try to avoid offending You. Oh Lord, open Your Heart and send forth the flames of love. Enkindle my heart with these flames and burn me with love" -St Clelia Barbieri
-"Mysteries, Marvels, Miracles in the Lives of the Saints", by Joan Carroll Cruz, Tan Books and Publishers, 1997
-"Faces of holiness: modern saints in photos and words, Volume 1" by Ann Ball, Our Sunday Visitor, 1998.
~St Clelia Barbieri, pray for us!