no. 4 october - december 2006
Foundress of the Institute of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
On Sunday, October 8, 2006, Venerable Maria Teresa of Jesus Scrilli, foundress of the Institute of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was beatified in Fiesole, Italy, the diocese where she lived. The Diocese of Fiesole has a great connection to the Carmelites as the bishop from 1349-1374 was Carmelite Saint Andrew Corsini.
The ceremony took place in the Roman Amphitheater beside the cathedral in the city of Fiesole. Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, presided at the ceremony. Concelebrants were Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, Archbishop of Florence, Bishop Luciano Giovanetti of Fiesole, numerous bishops of the Tuscan Region, the Prior General of the Carmelite Order, Joseph Chalmers, the Postulator of the Blessed’s cause, Fr. Enzo Mosca, O. Carm., diocesan priests, members of the Carmelite General Curia, and other Carmelite priests. Also present for the ceremony was Superior General of the Congregation, Teresa Natalini, numerous Carmelite sisters, Carmelite religious, and pilgrims from various areas where the Congregation is present, as well as civil authorities.
On October 11, 2006, three days following the beatification, Carmelites were present at the General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The Prior General and the Superior General of the Congregation were presented to the Pope following the audience. In the evening, there was a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Carmelite church of St. Mary in Traspontina, located on the Via della Conciliazione. Cardinal Cacciavillan presided at this Eucharist with the Bishop of Fiesole and the Carmelite Prior General as concelebrants. The Prior General gave the homily. Various celebrations took place during the following days in Montevarchi, the hometown of the blessed.
Maria Teresa Scrilli was born in Montevarchi, in the diocese of Fiesole, on May 15, 1825. Her infancy was marked by a painful illness that she came through with the help of her mother’s prayers to Our Lady. At the age of 21, Maria entered the enclosed monastery of St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi in Florence, believing that she was answering the call of God. During her stay in the monastery, she prayed to the Lord that she might know his will. One day during such prayer, the idea came to her to leave the monastery and go out into the world "to gain souls for God." Before leaving Florence and returning to her family, she made her profession in the Third Order of Carmel. With the help of the Bishop, Francesco Bronzuoli, she began a group of Third Order Teresian Sisters but because of the political situation, this was stopped in 1859, just as the group was beginning to go out beyond the Montevarchi area.
For the next 15 years she lived in silence and abandoned herself to the will of God, continuing the spiritual direction of her sisters and helping many that had need of her in the parish.
In 1875 she moved to Florence and, with the help of the Archbishop, brought her sisters back together in order to open a new school for poor children. The school used a method of instruction based on the personal relationships with the students. It appeared that everything was going well and that the Institute would begin to develop. However, like Moses, Mother Scrilli never did see the Promised Land.
Mother Scrilli died on November 14, 1889 in Florence, the Feast of all Carmelite Saints, when the new born Congregation counted only two sisters, one novice and one postulant. The Congregation that Blessed Maria did not see grow, began developing thanks to the action of her companion Mother Maria Mosca and now is present in many nations around the world, including those in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Under the name Institute of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Congregation was affiliated to the Carmelite Order in 1929 by the Prior General Elias Magennis, O. Carm.
The education of youth, especially from the poorest families, was to be the main apostolic work of the Institute of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The sisters even took a fourth vow in addition to the usual three vows. The fourth vow called the sister to "give oneself to the service of one’s neighbor by means of the Christian and civic moral instruction of girls and young women. Those sisters involved in education were required to possess a number of gifts: charity, kindness, an ability to listen, self-denial, self-giving, and a real interest in each pupil. It was in this way that the Gospel would permeate the educational institutions.
At the beginning of World War I, the Institute added assistance to the sick to the existing activities of education, catechesis and parish work of the Institute. The Sisters now work in homes for the aged as well.
Today the Institute numbers approximately 250 Sisters living in 40 communities located in the countries of Italy, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Poland, Canada, the Philippines, the United States of America, and the Czech Republic.
Scene of the beatification in the RomanAmphitheater in Fiesole, Italy on October 8, 2006.
Joseph Chalmers, Prior General of the Carmelites, meets Pope Benedict XVI during the General Audience following the beatification of Mother Maria Teresa Scrilli. (L’Osservatore Romano Photo)
From adolescence and throughout her life, Maria Scrilli would endure physical suffering. Several times she was near death. In her writings and in the remembrances of those who were with her, there is no doubt that physical suffering was part of her spiritual journey.
It is striking that in her Autobiography, she speaks of the days following her First Communion as a deepening of her spiritual life and her communion with Christ Crucified to the extent that she came to understand the positive value of suffering. Her relatives and those living around her did not understand this coming from such a young child. However, her spirituality was well defined from childhood: to know God means to experience love. Since divine love is capable of being total and limitless, to enter into an intimate relationship with the Lord means to accept the logic of his love: to love God is to love one’s neighbor. One loves one’s neighbor through providing the necessities, above all, providing the spiritual necessities.
In his homily at the beatification Mass, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said "One of the central points of the spirituality of Madre Scrilli is her closeness to God in the Way of the Cross. All of her writings express this conviction. She said ‘To suffer with love.’ She also said ‘In prayer, when considering the offenses against God, my pain was great and I consistently asked that he allow me to suffer so that I might become a victim to make up for what was done to him.’
The Cardinal continued, "Madre Scrilli gave heroic testimony to Christian hope and the capacity to overcome pain. By her example, she invites us to consider ‘education as a service’ and its method as ‘entering into a personal relationship’ with those we wish to serve and with God."
"The words of Scrilli contain an authentic method of Christian spirituality and, at the same time, show us the sole way to holiness," said Cardinal Martins. "Holiness is what each of us, as baptized people, are called to."
On the occasion of the beatification of Madre Maria Scrilli, the Prior General has written a letter to the Carmelite Family:
Blessed Maria Teresa Scrilli