Founding of the Congregation
Elisabetta Renzi was led to the Conservatory in Coriano at the age of 37 in August 1824. She recognized the will of God in the words of her spiritual director, Fr. Vitale Corbucci, who assured her that the Lord was calling her with the mission of giving a “good education to young women,” and he directed her to the Conservatory.
At the Conservatory, she found joy of spirit in carrying out God’s will, and realized the ministry of education was her calling, serving the students, her companions, and the people of the town with humility and compassion. Her gifts were noted by all, and many sought her counsel.
Following tumultuous circumstances that marred the name of the Conservatory, and after failed attempts of consolidating the Conservatory in Coriano with other religious orders (Canossian Congregation of the Daughters of Charity and the Pious Teachers Venerini of Rome), the Bishop of Rimini called upon Elisabetta and entrusted to her the management of the house where he made her the superior.
Elisabetta chose a deep spiritual life as the foundation for the community, and in 1829, wrote the Rule of Life for the Poor of the Crucified living in Coriano, norms that directed and intended to make the small new community a “union of fervent souls, detached from the world, loving only Jesus Crucified, imitating him as much as possible in poverty, mortification, and charity, seeking only to have loving conversation with their Divine Spouse, and to hear His loving voice in solitude and recollection of spirit, where He has promised to lead His brides to talk to their hearts.”
The main points in the “Rule of Life” that Elisabetta followed were:
- It is necessary to be dead to the world, detached from the vanity and interests of the world;
- The Poor of the Crucified must be dead to herself, detached from her own judgment and will, and she must love suffering;
- Jesus Crucified has to be the life of the soul; all three of the faculties, the memory, the intellect, and the will, must belong to Jesus Crucified.
From 1830 to 1839, Elisabetta faced many obstacles, and came to the realization that she would be on her own concerning the foundation of a new congregation. “One of the most marvelous and rarest acts of faith that one can perform in the darkness of exile is that of creating an institute, a religious order.” She ardently desired to get the religious habit and to begin a new journey toward holiness by ministering to others through education and catechesis.
Throughout the difficulties and struggles of those years, she encouraged her sisters, “Let us be confident that the stormy day will soon end, and it will not be long until the day of our spiritual wedding and the taking of the habit. To become saints, the cross and grace are necessary. Without war, there is no victory. This world is called the valley of tears, but I also call it the land of patience. Take courage and let us sing on our journey the refrain: it is the will of God…You are my love! What happens will be no more or no less than what God wills!”
While awaiting the opportunity to bring to fruition the founding of the new congregation, she earnestly continued her work as educator. The main issue of the time was to provide education for girls from small towns who were neglected by the state, and Elisabetta focused on addressing this need. She established schools in those areas where there were none. On February 2, 1838, she wrote to the bishop, “Your Excellency, …it is only the desire that the Lord may be greatly honored through the education given to the young women, and it is because I want to respond to that call that the Lord made me hear, and that I see now come into realization after having pondered within my heart all his inspirations, and these I always kept that there may be schools in each village. Oh, how much good would overflow over his diocese! Oh how much is an education needed in all villages, since there is so much ignorance especially about matters of faith! I only fear my limits, but the Lord will provide for everything.”
Mother Elisabetta’s profound spirit of faith and humility shone in a special way in the year 1839 when, several times, the canonical erection of the Congregation and her first profession were postponed. She never lost her trust in Providence and waited patiently for that glorious day. “I believe that what I have done, I have done for the glory of God. Only for the glory of God did I begin the work of the Congregation.”
Finally, on August 26, 1839, in the parish church of Coriano, the bishop of Rimini, His Excellency Francesco Gentilini, declared the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows canonically erected. On August 29, 1839, Elisabetta, with ten companions, received the religious habit and made her first profession. “How good is the Lord!” she said, “I find no words to express my happiness in the religious life. Every day I appreciate it more; here there is no one but Him. He is everything and sufficient for everything and everyone.”
With the foundation of the Congregation, Mother Elisabetta left her daughters a legacy built upon faith and trust in her Divine Spouse, and as she came to the end of her earthly life, she reminded them and still reminds us today, “Unless the members of our Congregation will remain united with Jesus, it will certainly cease to exist. Jesus is here and He is always with you. He alone has founded the Congregation; he alone will keep watch over it.”
Jesus is here. . . and He is always with you. He alone has founded the Congregation; He alone will keep watch over it. I didn't do anything! I have done nothing but undo His work. Let us love our good God! I, in the blessedness that I hope to reach through His goodness and mercy, you in humility and struggle.
Blessed Elisabetta Renzi