I’ll be your mother…

Testimony of Sr. Nazarena Morando

            From the very beginning, Maestra Thecla was keenly aware of the principle that authority is service. She knew how to make herself all to all. She helped the sisters in their work: from the kitchen to the sewing room, from the typography to the bindery. She also helped to prepare packages of books for shipping, to put the house in order, to care for the sick….

            I remember that once when she was away from home, several things happened that left me very distressed. They were small things but the same evening she arrived, I was shameless enough to seek her out and tell her about my sufferings. While I was talking, the thought popped into my mind that Prima Maestra was probably very tired and that it would be better to wait until the following day to unburden myself to her. I cut short my outpourings and apologized for my thoughtlessness, but in spite of her weariness and worries, she invited me to continue to tell her about everything that was causing me pain. She added that she was our Mother and consequently she should always be available [to the sisters], without thinking about herself. In the light of that, I had no choice but to obey….

            She once confided to me: “One of my biggest sufferings is to have to ask the sisters to perform acts of obedience that cost them sacrifice…. And yet when one must do the will of God, she needs to overcome this too….”

            I could recount many such episodes, but I will limit myself here to just a few that highlight Prima Maestra’s love for her daughters. [For instance,] once in a while, a sister would be called home because of the death of her father, mother, etc. Returning to the convent, the sister would go to see Prima Maestra and pour out all her sorrows. Maestra Thecla would welcome the tearful sister, invite her to sit beside her, and would say: “Tell me something about your mother” (or whoever had died). What a great comfort it is in times of suffering to be able to speak to someone who loves you!

            Herself deeply moved, Prima Maestra would listen with great understanding and then encourage her daughter, saying:”Be serene. Now your mother is in heaven, watching over you and praying for you…. And now, here on earth, I will be your mother! So if anything is causing you suffering, or if you have any problems or needs, come to me. I am always ready to welcome you and help you….”

            She loved all the sisters very much and made big sacrifices for them. She never counted the cost or the difficulties when it came to helping those who were sick or who had vocation problems. More than once she herself went or else sent one of us [one of her councilors] to sisters with particular troubles so as to soothe them, hearten them, or encourage them to move ahead. On repeated occasions, she invited the sisters in Rome to come to [the Generalate] to see her so that they could speak to her with greater freedom.

            In 1944, one of our sisters was seriously ill in a sanatorium in the Venice region. She was a young sister suffering from a particularly aggressive form of tuberculosis and the disease was advancing rapidly. In fact, there was nothing more to be done for her. Her doctor wrote that it would be advisable to come and get the sister if we wanted her to die at home. But even more painful was the fact that the sister herself was not at all happy at the prospect of dying young and because of this she was not able to accept the will of God. Maestra Thecla went to Venice personally to visit this sister. She spent a long time with her, speaking to her in a maternal way with the faith that filled her heart. At the end of this long conversation with her “mother,” the sister was transformed…. She was no longer terrified at the thought of her approaching death; indeed, she was serenely ready to die immediately, if that was what God wanted. In this way, Divine Providence repaid Prima Maestra for taking the time to go to the sanatorium and she thanked God for this because she attributed every successful outcome to him.

Heroic Love

            Having personally experienced on many occasions the proof of Prima Maestra’s goodness, I would like to recount here the following episode as an example:

            For a number of years I suffered from bronchial asthma and nights were a torture for me. I felt bad for disturbing the other sisters in the dormitory. I would have preferred to sleep beneath the stairs so as to be able to cough freely without waking the others. Prima Maestra noticed what was going on and invited me to sleep in her room. When I refused, she said: “Don’t worry. You won’t be disturbing me in the least. Feel free to cough whenever you need to. Also feel free to burn the powder….” (The doctor had given me a certain powder to burn to calm my coughing. Although it created a big cloud of smoke, it did soothe my coughing a little.)

            Every night I would burn the powder and cough for hours. And Prima Maestra would say compassionately: “You poor little thing. Do whatever is necessary to help you breathe more easily.” In my opinion, to put up with the inconvenience of having me in her room under those conditions for years, without showing the least sign of impatience or irritability, was true heroism!

            Prima Maestra was truly the mother of us all–the Mother of the Congregation, which she took in her arms and carried to the point it has reached today, nourishing it with her love, sacrifices and spirit of faith. She was the mother of everyone: a strong and decisive mother who told everyone the truths they needed to hear because they were beneficial to them. And what she said was accepted because we knew they came from a heart that loved us–the heart of a mother!

Sr. Nazarena Morando (1904-1984)In January 1919, 15-year-old Enrichetta Morando (in religion, Sr. Nazarena) joined the tiny group of young women from Alba who had gone to Susa in December 1918 at Fr. Alberione’s request to begin what he called “the apostolate of the good press.” Along with the rest of the “daughters,” she helped to produce and distribute the diocesan newspaper, La Valsusa, and numerous parish bulletins. She made her perpetual vows in Alba in 1930 and soon became one of Maestra Thecla’s closest collaborators. She served the Congregation in particular as formation mistress (1931-1945) and as a General Councilor (1945-1971).