SAINT ROSA VENERINI (1656-1728), foundress
Today, the Church honors Saint Rosa (Rose) Venerini, who found God’s will in the life to which she joyfully committed herself – one of teaching and catechetical service to the young girls and women of her time.
Rosa was born in Viterbo, Italy in the year 1656, into a very religious family. She received from her parents a good Christian education and sound spiritual formation. From childhood, she made a vow to become a Religious nun, but during her youth she was deeply moved by the poverty and ignorance of the young girls of her town, and she began to think that perhaps it would be better to do something for them than to be in a convent.
In May of 1684, Rosa invited into her house the young girls and women of her neighborhood to pray the Rosary together; consequently, she came to realize that none of them knew how to pray. She began to question them about catechism, and all of them remained silent. Rosa came to understand that the women of her time were slaves of ignorance and poverty, destined to the heaviest work, and that no one worried about their well-being, individually or collectively.
As a result, she prayed intensely to understand the will of God in her life, and, with two friends, decided to open a school for poor girls in August, 1685. Each day, a little girl passed through the streets of Viterbo ringing a bell and calling all the girls and young women of the city. Lessons began with prayer, followed by catechesis, female manual work, and learning to read and write.
The origins were humble but the significance was prophetic: the human promotion and spiritual uplifting of womanhood was a reality which did not take long to receive the recognition of the religious and civil authorities. Even though she initially met with resistance, in a short period of time, Rosa’s school began to become accepted and she received petitions from bishops and cardinals to found other schools.
The teachers (“maestras”) were not Religious sisters, but they lived as such and were called Pious Teachers (“Maestras Pías”), and in Rome they were even called “Holy Teachers.”
In the year 1713, Rosa opened a school in Rome and Pope Clement XI paid her the honor of a visit. The pope stayed the whole morning in the school, along with eight cardinals, listening to the class of catechism and asking the students questions. At the end of the visit, he called Rosa and her teaching companions aside and thanked them for their precious work. The pope gave Rosa a silver medal and said to her, “I desire that these schools spread to all of our cities.” Within a short time, the schools opened up everywhere.
Rosa Venerini died a saintly death in the community of Saint Mark’s in Rome on the evening of May 7, 1728. At the time of her death, she had opened more than forty schools. The “Holy Teachers” were ultimately given the rank of a Religious congregation. Today, the Pious Venerini Teachers (“Maestras Pías Venerini”) work with Italian immigrants in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world.
Rosa Venerini was canonized a saint on October 15, 2006 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
We commemorate her feastday on May 7.
(From saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, vatican.va/news_services and vatican.va/roman_curia)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Holy Women ~ ministering to the underprivileged)
“Lord God, You teach us that the Commandments of Heaven are summarized in love of You and love of our neighbor. By following the example of Saint Rosa Venerini in practicing works of charity, may we be counted among the blessed in Your Kingdom.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”