Mary Victoria Fornari was a native of Genoa Italy. When seventeen she desired to enter the convent, but out of respect for her father’s wishes she married Angelo Strata.
It was a happy marriage. Angelo encouraged his wife in her charitable works and defended her against those who said she should take more part in social events. Mary Victoria bore him six children, four boys and two girls. Unfortunately, Signor Strata died after only nine years of married life.
His death was traumatic to Victoria. She worried that she could not raise so large a family alone. When a local nobleman asked her to marry him, she thought at first that it might be wise to accept, for the sake of her own boys and girls. But then she had a vision of Mary (which she wrote up at the request of her confessor) in which Our Lady told her, “My child Victoria, be brave and confident, for it is my wish to take both the mother and the children under my protection. I will care for your household. Live quietly and without worrying. All I ask is that you trust yourself to me and henceforth devote yourself to the love of God above all things.”
Mary’s words settled Victoria’s mind completely. She took a vow of chastity, and lived in retirement, giving all her time to prayer, the care of her family, and the needs of the poor.
When eventually her children were raised (five of the six entered religious orders), Signora Strata revealed to the archbishop of Genoa a proposal that she had long been considering. It was to found a strict new religious order of contemplative nuns. Dedicated to Mary’s Annunciation, the sisters would imitate her hidden life at Nazareth, devoting themselves to prayer and making vestments and altar linens for poor churches. Each member would add the names “Maria Annunziata” to her baptismal name. The archbishop first had his doubts, since the money necessary to make the foundation was not fully available. However, when a benefactor named Vincent Lomellini offered to purchase a convent for the widow, the prelate gave his permission. Pope Clement VIII approved the order’s constitutions in 1604 and Maria Victoria and ten companions made their solemn vows in the late summer of 1605.
Early difficulties threatened the project, but Our Lady kept the movement going. A second house was established in Italy in 1612. Others followed in Burgundy, France and Germany. Each house was independent. Today there are only three houses and 44 nuns. To distinguish them from the order of the Annunciation established by St. Joan of Valois, the Strata “Annunziate” are called “Le Turchine”, i.e. the “Turquoise Annunziate”, or “Blue Nuns” because of their sky-blue scapulars and cloaks.
Many widows like Bl. Maria Victoria have had “second vocations” of this sort, entering religious orders after the death of their husbands. St. Elizabeth Seton, foundress of the American Sisters of Charity, was, of course, a memorable example. Cloistered, contemplative orders are perhaps even more attractive to widows who are on in years.
Take for instance, Mrs. Rizer, of Richmond, Virginia. Around 1930, after the death of her husband and the maturing of her children (one of whom became a priest), she entered the cloistered convent of the Visitation in Richmond. On important holidays, the family would come to visit her. According to the existing rules of cloister the mother would sit in the screened-off part of the parlor to chat with her children who sat on the other side of the grill that bisected the room.
Our readers who are widowed might well ask themselves whether they, too, perhaps have a second vocation of this sort.
–Father Robert F. McNamara