There will always be young children to educate, and women, by reason of their maternal nature, are the most gifted “schoolmarms”. Teaching-sisters are best fitted to instruct Catholic children, for they can communicate not only secular knowledge but a knowledge and appreciation of things religious.
In 1685 the bishop of Viterbo, Italy, established a diocesan teaching order to instruct young women, especially those from the poorer classes, in book learning and religion. The order’s foundress was Blessed Rose Venerini. In those days general education was not available, so the Viterbo foundation really filled a gap. Other bishops became interested in bringing the institute into their own dioceses. One such was the bishop of Montefiascone, near Rome: Cardinal Marcantonio Barbarigo.
Cardinal Barbarigo engaged in long-range planning. He knew a young woman of his diocese, Lucia Filippini, a devout and enthusiastic person, who had shown a genuine interest in helping her pastor teach catechism to children. He sent her to a monastery of women to be educated, but he carefully planned her course of instruction. In 1692, when he thought Lucy ready, he assigned her to the staff of his school at Montefiascone, which had already opened. Barbarigo had meanwhile invited Sister Rose Venerini to spend some time there tutoring his faculty in the principles that she had framed in Viterbo.
Lucy served as Bl. Rose’s second-in-command for two years, and theirs was a most profitable association. When Sister Rose had to leave in 1694, Sister Lucia was named head of the school.
Lucia was an admirable director of the academy. Though highly talented, she was modest, charitable, and able to pass on to others her own spiritual convictions. She was also courageous in the face of obstacles, had a very practical gift of common sense, and a winning personality. Soon she was called on to start new schools elsewhere.
In 1704, the Montefiascone community of teachers was set up as a religious congregation independent of that founded by Bl. Rose. As Rose’s group bore the name “Maestre Pie Venerini” (“Venerini Religious Teachers”), so Lucy’s took the name “Maestre Pie Filippini.” Two years later, on the death of Cardinal Marcantonio Barbarigo, Pope Clement IX, intensely interested in Sister Lucy’s enterprise, directed the M.P.F. to move their headquarters to Rome.
When the Filippini sisters opened their first school in the Eternal City, the schoolhouse proved too small to accommodate the great number of applicants. Thereafter, the institute spread, as the centuries passed, throughout Italy, and into Switzerland, England, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. In non-Italian countries the sisters usually established schools and centers among Italian immigrants. Today they have 146 houses worldwide, and number over 1000 members. They were introduced into the United States in 1910, and at present have two provinces, with a total membership of over 360. One of their foundations was in the Rochester Diocese: a catechetical center established at Watkins Glen in 1936.
Unfortunately the physical stamina of the nun whom the Romans called “la Maestra santa” (“the holy schoolmarm”) was not as great as her zeal. In 1726 she fell seriously ill, and no remedy seemed to help. On March 25, 1732, the exact day she had predicted, this gracious woman passed to her reward.
The Church eventually confirmed the popular judgment of Sister Lucy’s holiness. Pope Pius XI declared her blessed in 1926, and canonized her in 1930.
–Father Robert F. McNamara