Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce
Maria Teresa Fasci (1881-1947) was an Augustinian Nun with high ideals who inspired a renewal of Augustinian life in her community.
Maria Teresa was born December 27, 1881 in Torriglia, Italy, near Genoa. She was Baptized Maria, but her family called her Marietta. When she was eight years old her mother died. Luigia, the oldest girl, took charge of raising the younger children.
Marietta's family lived comfortably. As a girl she was given a good education, absorbing solid religious values as well as knowledge of secular subjects. She actively participated in the life of Mother of Consolation Parish, which was in the pastoral care of Augustinian Friars. She taught singing and religious education, and was active in parish organizations.
Under the guidance of Father Mariano Ferriello, O.S.A., Marietta came to know and love the spirituality of Saint Augustine. The canonization of Augustinian Nun Saint Rita of Cascia in 1900 made a strong impression on the young woman.
Marietta felt a call to join the Augustinian monastery in Cascia, where Rita had lived. Her brothers tried to dissuade her from becoming a nun. Luigia, while accepting Marietta's religious vocation, could not underestand why her sister wanted to live in such an isolated and primitive place as Cascia.
Marietta was insistent, and, with Father Ferriello's help, made application for acceptance into the monastery of Cascia. At first her request was denied. The Abbess believed that a woman who had been raised in a prosperous family enjoying all the conveniences of city life would never be able to adjust to the harsh life in the remote mountain town of Cascia.
She applied a second time and, in 1906 was finally accepted. She professed her vows as an Augustinian in 1907, and was given the name Teresa Eletta.
Although she thought at first that she had found Paradise, Maria Teresa soon discovered that the Cascia monastery had some serious problems. A group of younger nuns from another monastery joined the Cascia community. Soon there arose great tension between the young newcomers and the sisters who had been part of the Cascia monastery for many years. Lax observance of the tenets of religious life had displaced a spirit of prayer.
Disillusioned, Maria Teresa left the community in 1910. However, she returned in 1911, intending to bring about a revival of Augustinian spirit and observance in the monastery. She began by writing letters to her superiors denouncing the lax situation in Cascia.
Her superiors responded by naming her Director of Novices in 1914. In 1920 she was elected Abbess, a position she held for the next 27 years.
As Abbess, she governed with wisdom and prudence, with kindness but firmness. She was authoritative, but not authoritarian. She guided the nuns to a renewal of prayer, meditation and work. Gradually, the community became a model of Augustinian life.
One of Maria Teresa'a goals was to build a new orphanage for girls and a larger church to receive the many pilgrims going to the place where Saint Rita had lived. The first thing she did was start a newsletter called From the Bees to the Roses, which is still published today. This newsletter helped publicize the need for funds to finance the new construction.
Donations started coming in, but construction was slow because of poor economic conditions and World War II. It took 22 years to complete the building project. The campaign began in 1925. The orphanage opened in 1938, but the new basilica was not dedicated until 1947.
After the opening of the orphanage, Maria Teresa delighted in caring for the girls there. She not only instructed them, but also took time to play with them, an activity which she loved. She called the orphan girls her "bees".
The story is told that during World War II, German SS troops violently forced their way into the monastery, seeking members of the opposition whom they thought to be hiding there. Maria Teresa was not intimidated by the soldiers. She resolutely kept them from bothering both the nuns and the orphans. The soldiers calmly departed after the Abbess had spoken with them.
Plagued with health problems, Maria Teresa accepted her aches and pains, which she called "her treasure". She suffered from painful breast cancer, for which she twice underwent surgery. She had asthma, diabetes, heart problems and poor circulation. She was quite heavy and had great difficulty walking.
Maria Teresa did not live to see the completion of the new basilica. She died January 18, 1947. Pope John Paul II declared her Blessed in 1997.