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Catholic Heroes… St. Teresa Eustochio Verzeri

February 28, 2019 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In the first part of the 1800s, the Jansenists continued to spread their heresy. To them God was an angry God. Everyone’s fate was sealed and could not change and so there was no point in developing an intimate relationship with Jesus, especially in the Blessed Sacrament. Catholics were urged to stay away from Holy Communion since they were not worthy to receive our Lord because of their sinfulness.
Into this chaos a woman was born who loved our Lord and who labored to help others learn of God’s love through the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The village of Bergamo lies in the foothills of the Italian Alps, about 50 miles northwest of Milan. Antonio Verzeri and his wife, Countess Elena Pedrocca-Grumelli, were a noble and religious family. Of their seven children, Teresa was the firstborn, arriving on July 31, 1801. The deep devotion the family had to our Lord and His Church can be seen not only through Teresa, but also through her younger brother, Girolamo, who became bishop of Brescia, and several of her sisters who also became nuns.
Before marriage Elena had considered joining a monastic order in order to become a contemplative. However, her aunt, Madre Antonia Grumelli, a Franciscan Poor Clare nun, advised her that marriage was her vocation: “God has destined you for this state to become the mother of holy children.” She certainly raised holy children, as noted above.
Elena’s devotion and piety were exemplary for her family and her noble position in society. From her, Teresa developed a great love of God. Teresa also had a wonderful spiritual director, Canon Giuseppe Benaglio, who was the vicar general of the Diocese of Bergamo. He was also a close friend of the family.
Teresa’s education began at home. She possessed a quick mind, open spirit, great vigilance, and discernment. She was a virtuous child and was taught to seek God’s will from an early age.
Her spiritual director trained Teresa to seek eternal values and to be docile with the movements of grace. This proved beneficial as she sought to follow movements of the Holy Spirit when engaged in grave spiritual warfare.
Through these battles, Teresa learned of her personal weakness and placed her trust more and more in God who was her strength. As she matured in the spiritual life, she examined her faults honestly, recognizing her pride, fear, inordinate attachments, and falsehood.
With great integrity of soul she worked at detachment, purity of intention, simplicity, and genuineness. Her primary goal was to seek God alone. Like another Teresa, St. Teresa of Calcutta, who founded the Missionaries of Charity, she lived a special mystical experience called the “absence of God.” Despite her piety and her devotions, she felt alone. She felt an agonizing distance from God.
Such times provide opportunities to practice heroic faith and trust in our Heavenly Father. Just so, Teresa never lost her confidence in Him and faithfully lived a life surrendered to the Providence of God. She trusted in our merciful Father, obeying quickly and joyfully. Her simple aim was to place all her life and love in His hands.
After some soul searching, she began her religious life in the Benedictine Monastery at St. Grata, about 27 miles southwest of Bergamo. When she was 30 years old, with the approval and assistance of her spiritual director Canon Benaglio, she left the Benedictine Monastery to establish the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She returned to Bergamo and founded the congregation on February 8, 1831.
To do so in the context of the times was heroic. The beginning of the nineteenth century in Italy — and in most of Europe — was inundated with an anticlerical secularism caused by the French Revolution. As society sought to eliminate any influence of the Catholic Church, the Jansenists sought to spread their heresy. Any pious devotions were spurned as the Jansenists spread a denial of the authority of the Pope and of an individual’s ability to gain grace.
Thus, just as society agitated to suppress devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Teresa labored to increase it and, by it, lift up the downtrodden people. As she wrote in the congregation’s rules, “To you and to your Institute Jesus Christ has given the precious gift of His Heart, for from no one else can you learn holiness, He being the inexhaustible source of true holiness.”
The sisters were to help wherever they saw need — and for that time there was great need.
In dangerous times they were to be uncompromisingly available for service: education of troubled girls, homes for orphans, public schools, Christian teaching, spiritual retreats, recreations, and aid for the infirm.
Teresa was especially gifted in nurturing both the body of the new organization and the souls of the women. Her method was similar to John Bosco’s, preventing misbehavior by holy example and formation. “Guide the mind and heart of your little girls while they are still young, to prevent as far as possible any entrance of evil.”
She also insisted on respect for the individual that the girls would choose willingly and not be oppressed by a command. Furthermore, instruction was to be adapted to the personality and ability of each girl.
As the congregation grew and matured, Teresa’s administrative gifts blossomed. When Canon Benaglio died, she led the order as she believed God willed it. Despite many roadblocks to their work by both ecclesiastical and civil authorities, Teresa persevered in her effort to be “all to all.”
She believed all efforts found success in the Heart of Jesus from whom the Daughters of the Sacred Heart gained their strength. “The Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, like those who draw their charity from the very source of love, that is, from the Heart of Jesus Christ, must burn with the same love of the Divine Heart for their neighbor: purest charity that has no aim save for the glory of God and the good of souls; universal charity that excludes no one but embraces all; generous charity that does not draw back from suffering, is not alarmed by contradiction, but rather, in suffering and opposition, grows in vigor and conquers through patience.”
After giving her all for all, Teresa died in Brescia, about 30 miles southwest of Bergamo, on March 3, 1852.
The congregation spread to Brazil, Argentine, Bolivia, India, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic, as well as to Albania and throughout Europe.
Teresa was beatified on October 27, 1946 by Pope Pius XII and was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II on June 10, 2001. Her feast is celebrated on March 3.
Dear St. Teresa Verzeri, you did not so much deny evil as you proclaimed the Truth and sought to spread God’s love by positive works. In these dark times so similar to yours, assist us, by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to love God and to love our neighbors by being all to all. There is so much need, help us to see it and work to ease it. Amen.

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