History of Congregation
Como, 7th April 1833,…..... an Easter Sunday,...It marked the beginning of a new experience of life initiated by two 20 year old young women, Francesca Butti and Maria Rossi at the small house numbered 447/448 of S. Vitale.
In the small rent house, the two friends, guided by Don Cavdini, Asst. Parish Priest of S. Agatha joined few other friends to live in communion, sharing their life, work and meals together and to assist the poor orphan girls in their education.
They were deeply in pursuit of the ideal of a common life capable of leading to the Holy Mountain of perfection and of sanctity.
Later, urged by charity alone, they accepted in their house as inmates few poor young girls of the City of Como who were orphans or abandoned.
Probably, the sisters started to live together since 1831as it is recorded in the early notes of the Congregation, but only in 1833 this co- living assumed a stable form. Together with Francesca and Maria there were six more friends among whom Paola Portabue was the leader of the group, but after few years she left this life experience.
The Pious work of St. Dorothy, founded by the priest Don Luca Passi in 1815 at Calcinate was the only lay Association for women, in the whole Catholic scene of pre- unified Italy. This Association dedicated itself to the Christian animation of the girls of the parishes, especially of the poor and the abandoned. It did not have the scope of instruction or professional formation or even the teaching of catechism which was carried out by the parishes, but was engaged in the formation of the girls of the common people through an educational method which Don Passi called “Fraternal Correction”. The care takers of the Pious Work were staying in the same suburb of the girls. Thus they had the possibility of meeting the girls often, to know them well and to establish a relationship of holy friendship in order to accompany them in the walk of their growth in faith. The Pious Work reached Como in 1827 when Don Luca Passi preached the Popular Mission Retreat in the Cathedral.
Francesca and Maria became the members of the Pious work of St. Dorothy and after the Care takers. Thanks to this experience they formed themselves in a particular attention for the education of the weaker and the smaller girls.
The suburb of St. Vitale was situated outside the wall of the city of Como, in one of the peripheral zones inhabited by the working class, small artisans and shop keepers, where there was a high percentage of illiteracy. Such kind of marginalizing was worst during the night time when the doors of the walled city was closed preventing any entrance or exist.
In 1639 Bishop Lazzaro Carafino had erected few parishes in suburb areas. The parish of St. Martino of Via Zezio which was united to St. Vitale was one among them.
In 1781 this parish was transferred to St. Agatha. The decision was taken primarily due to the increase of the population and because the old church of St. Martino was too small to contain them.
The small churches of St. Martino and St. Vitale were suppressed in 1783.
The Church of St. Ursula, adjacent to the monastery of Umiliates which substituted the Church of St. Vitale also was suppressed in1885 to give space to the Northern Railway.
The Community experience of Francesca Butti and Maria Rossi started in the vicinity of the Church of St. Ursula.
A particularly felt problem in that epoch was that of the abandoned infants. The recurrent famine, the epidemic diseases and the massive access of women in the world of industries increased the number of orphans and abandoned.
The situation was aggravated by the problem of unemployment and economic crises. The misery incumbent on the population led to desperate gestures such as exposure of the infants, smuggling and prostitution.
Within a short time, in the house No. 447 of St. Vitale many more young women were taken. They were badly in need of material as well as moral help; so they wanted to recover them to a more dignified life. Nearly 30 girls were the inmates of the house; another 10 were coming there as day scholars to learn some work while others roaming on the street and exposed to danger were welcomed during the day.
All these attracted the attention of Mr. Joseph Bianchi, called also Gallo, perhaps he might have been an orphan, who was favored by fortune and attained a great economic position.
Willing to promote this new born pious society, the same Bianchi in his will of 2nd March 1836 left to the said society of the women and spinsters who had been living together for some time ….. the small house and the annexed garden…. Situated in this suburb of St. Martino, which is marked in red color …, all the houses and annexed gardens and the shops that I have in this suburb…except what is marked in black…. The Bishop visited the small community in the early Months of 1837. He appreciated their work and expressed the desire that this primordial union could acquire a solidity and form of an Institute similar to that of the Ursulines or Canossians.
In his letter on 2nd March1837 he asked the Provincial Delegation of Como to grant governmental recognition to the Association of Women and the Spinsters of suburb of St. Vitale and to approve the legacy of Mr. Joseph Bianchi in favor of the Association.
The desire was that of promoting an activity accepted with pleasure by the inhabitants of the suburb of St. Vitale because they believed that a hostel for women in their midst would have given the possibility of an assistance to their daughters and would provide them with some kind of feminine work.
In 1838, when the widow Bianchi ceased the ownership of the property, the small community was transferred to St. Martino, where they started to work in close collaboration with Don Comitti, the parish priest of St. Agata.
The house was then constructed in two floors with 8 rooms, four per floor, but soon they started restructuring the building because the dormitories and classes for study and work were not enough due to the increase in the number of the young boarders.
Francesca and Maria were aiming at the realization of a much more precious project: build together the house of the Lord, a house built up by fraternal charity. So in mutual spiritual and physical support they started living as real sisters and learnt to be caring mothers for the young inmates of St. Martino.
From the reading of the ledger, it is possible to understand the poverty and hard work of their daily life at St. Martino.
In the house there was no abundance in anything; the food was extremely frugal: At times half an egg was the only added item to their daily portion of bread.
The sisters dedicated themselves also to the cultivation of their small vegetable garden, considered as the “promised land” of the house, because the better part of the collection was sold in the market to earn something.
Yet, the better part of their energy was spent for the girls: Maria, a teacher, mainly attended to the teaching while Francesca expert in work experience and crafts trained the girls in feminine works; she helped them in the silk production, starting from the care of cocoon to the weaving.
Francesca and Maria longed to have a Rule of monastic life, but the other associates could not agree with this and they left the community in 1841. Only Maria Noseda and Giuseppa Bernasconi remained with them.
Because of the uncertainty created by this situation it was thought of uniting the small group to the Daughters of Sacred Heart of Teresa Verzeri.
Teresa kindly welcomed the project and cherished it wholeheartedly and allowed two of her friends to live in St. Martino for almost three years.
But the procedure was taking a long time due to certain burdensome closes in the legacy. In May 1843 Teresa Verzeri confirmed to Mons. Romano’ her willingness to admit in the society the four legators and applicants Francesca Butti, Maria Rossi, Maria Noseda and Giuseppa Bernasconi. But the situation remained uncertain.
In august 1845 Francesca Butti addressed Verzeri making a heartfelt appeal, to the extent of imploring for her mercy; make it possible that we may become your daughters… Close to the signature Francesca would note down the phrase in the name of all which is an evident sign of a shared desire.
Teresa Verzeri, though convinced that St. Martino was conformed to the nature of her Institute, evaluated as incompatible the closes in the legacy by which she was conditioned; therefore, though with much regret, she refused definitively the project of union.
It was few months since Giuseppa Bernasconi also had left...
Without being disheartened, Francesca, Maria and Maria Noseda continued their commitment to the girls entrusted to them with great dedication.
In order to give a name and a face to the numerous children welcomed in the Pious Institution in these early years, it is necessary to enter in to many personal stories of which we have only very rare and vague traces in the documents of the archives.
Thus we recover the story of Teresa Ceppi, an adolescent of 13 years of age, in urgent spiritual as well as physical need due to the miserable situation to which she had been reduced in the forced shelter of her Mother Angela Ceppi who was a syphilitic patient. The parish priest of Teresa wanted her “to be admitted as early as possible in the house of St. Martino, the only place apt for her spiritual and physical health.”
The same was advised by various pious persons of this city for Rosalinda Testoni, a young woman bound by weekly visit and by the warning for being a prostitute. The house at St. Martino seemed to be the only possibility for keeping her away from the path of immoral life.
The sisters lived this educational commitment as a real mission entrusted to them by Jesus himself. It was He who repeated to them when a new inmate was admitted: Accipe…, take this child, bring her up for me, I will give you the reward…the care you render them will be considered as if rendered to Me, and I will know how to compensate your fatigue and your pain.
In 1849 they introduced also the embroidery work in silk and gold, especially for the sacred vestments of the Church in order to compensate the crises in silk production and to ensure the subsistence of the house.
The sisters, like industrious bees, applied themselves to such work with passion. Various recognitions and public honorary titles bear witness to the beauty of the works done at St. Martino which enriched the sacristies of many churches of the neighborhood.
For this new activity the young boarders also were employed: The learning of a sure work, together with the care of the teachers was the main therapy used at St. Martino in order to bring out the girls from the squalor in which they had fallen. The acquisition of a professional skill, in fact, guaranteed the future of the girl in view of her complete autonomy.
Between 1855 and 1858, the old locality of the wine- press at St. Martino was transformed in to an Oratory which was blessed on 3rd May 1858 by Don Comitti, the Parish priest of St. Agatha.
In the chapel, the picture of the Presentation of Most Blessed Mary in the Temple was posted as the altar piece. This piece of painting was a copy of the work of Giovan Francesco Romanelli (1610- 1662) which bore the same name and was donated to the sisters by Count Giovio of Como.
The new Oratory was dedicated to the Mystery of the Presentation and in the course of time the Institute of the Presentation of St. Martino also was on the tongue of many.
1874... we don’t know exactly in which month the Rule for the Associated Sisters of the Institute of the Presentation for women was presented to the Diocese for its official recognition
We know with certainty that it was approved by Bishop Carsana on 1st November 1874, the day in which all the associates received the Crucifix and made their solemn profession.
The text of the Rule was deduced from the First Constitutions, a precious manuscript drawn up during the preceding years by Don Buzzetti, in collaboration with the Founders. In it, the spiritual experience of Fracesca and Maria and the First Sisters are brought out. Buzzetti himself bears witness to it: I don’t do anything other than saying in more words, I believe, what you already live.
In the years spent at St. Martino, he understood well what were the precious gifts safeguarded by the Founders: great harmony among the sisters and ever increasing number of souls to be educated for the glory of God and for the coming of His Kingdom.
The two Founders could not be present in the moment the Church consecrated, recognised and accepted in her bosom the work they initiated in the distant 1833 and safeguarded and guided for more than 40 years. They reached only at the threshold of this path: They passed away in April 1874 with only four days of difference one from the other.
Mons. Peter Carsana visited the small community of St. Martino in June 1874, few months before the approval of the Rules.
In May 1874 Francesca Marchesoli was chosen as the new superior of the house.
She reached Como in 1857 to substitute a teacher who was sick. She was only 20 years, but at Milan where she was staying, she was appreciated as a valuable teacher.
Only after sometime she decided to remain in the community because she understood that at St. Martino she could realise her desire of spending her life for the Lord as an educator. From her arrival to 1874, Francesca had lived close to the two Founders, so she could become the faithful heir of their charism.
Elected as the Superior, she was Mother and model for all the sisters. She did not speak much about perfection, holiness and heroism; she herself was the living and eloquent example.
The most resplendent virtue in her was humility. She spoke less and observed much, she thought well of all and in many occasions, she used to ask advice even to the last sister and she appreciated and followed it.
In 1880 it was Don Buzzetti who presided over the election of Mother Marchesoli which resulted unanimous: in fact 10 votes were counted and noted down in the short report. The priest accepted the intelligent voting with great satisfaction [...]
What were the main features gradually assumed by the Institute of Presentation for women of St. Martino in those years?
The answer to this question can be deduced from a questionnaire drafted probably in 1883 following an enquiry regarding the various forms of allocations of charity in the Province of Como.
In it we can find few indications of continuity as regards the past and few novelties introduced by the sisters in the course of the years.
As in the beginning, there was the free school for the poor girls held on holidays and feast days, the boarding for the orphan girls of the city, the Sunday oratory for the young women of the parish and the teaching of embroidery in gold and satin.
Already in 1860, a hostel on payment, for the girls belonging to the modest standard of living had been opened and in the course of time it had become a more substantial reality.
The Institute received a precise pedagogic imprint thanks to the presence of Mother Marchesoli.
She did not like to correct very often and exhorted the sisters not to be easy to punish...the most serious punishment for the pupils was to see their teachers sad for their misbehaviour.
According to her, there were not or there could not be ignorant pupils; all were supposed to succeed, at least discretely! For this she wanted the teachers to take care of those who were in need of special help in the afternoon time.
... 1886... the construction of the imposing facade at St. Martino gave the house an aspect of magnificent palace. Above all, vast dormitories and spacious and well exposed class rooms were added to the old habitat. The newly constructed buildings were ready for the following year.
The narrow wall of St. Martino seemed to be not enough for the sisters and the desire of opening a new community was maturing in them. The choice was realised in a very short time: For a series of circumstances they decided in favour of Cantu’ and on 6th November 1890 the new community was officially inaugurated.
The house was situated in St. Paul’s parish where our sisters found a very vast field of apostolate: a crowded oratory, catechism in three parishes, the school with a small boarding, nursery school and the school for the working women at mid day hours.
Once the community had started its activities, efforts were made also for obtaining the approval of the Rules from the Curia of Milan. Another great desire also was growing in them: to obtain the definitive approval of the Holy See. In order to reach this aim, In 1895, Mother Marchesoli made a personal request to Card. Ferrari who on various occasions had shown interest in the works of the small community with a paternal care.
In 1893, Don Callisto Grandi, the new parish priest of St. Agatha, decided to construct a hostel for the student teachers and for the unmarried women who were coming to the city for learning an occupation; this would keep them away from the dangerous situations they were facing in the private hostels. The new Institute was dedicated to the Holy Family.
The small community of St. Martino also had contributed towards the expense of the new building and because of this, in September 1895, the house was transferred to the Pius ladies of the Presentation according to the expressed wish of Card. Ferrari.
On 22nd September 1895, Sr. Rosa Sterlocchi, Sr. Angela Macchi and Sr. Francesca Robbiani came to stay in the new community.
Under the direction of Sr. Rosa the hostel was flourishing. Sr. Angela particularly took care of the young women in the oratory and Sr. Francesca was in charge of the school; in the same year classes up to three were opened for the daughters of the common people.
How many activities were fervently carried out in that distant 1895, when the Institute of Holy Family was just ¼ of what we see today!
Many works carried out in the course of time had changed its face subsequently…
On 5th March 1895 Card. Ferrari fulfilled the devout desire expressed by the sisters and erected canonically the Society of the Daughters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple as a Religious Congregation. In the Decree of approval this new name appeared for the first time.
With a lapse of 60 years from that distant 7th April 1833, the small community born at St. Vitale found its precise and definitive identity in this recognition and in the new name Daughters of the presentation of Virgin Mary in the Temple.
In the course of their walk, the sisters were known by various names and identities: in the beginning they were Society of Women and spinsters, then Orphange of St. Martino, Institute of the women and spinsters of St. Martino, Pious place of St. Agatha, Shelter house for the poor Daughters of St. Martino, Institute of Bianchi’s charity for the spinsters in danger, at St. Martino, Institute of Lay Charity, Factory (working place) of the Daughters of Charity. Since 1868 they were named as Institute of Presentation and since 1890 also as Pious Ladies.
Only after various trials and events marked by the dramatic inconsistencies of human experience, the sisters received that small white stone on which their new name was written which nobody knew before except the One who in His mystery of love had guided them to come together, to remain united, in order to give life to a Religious Family which still keeps on walking forward.
Carlo Romano’ was consecrated as the Bishop of Como in 1834. He remained in his responsibility for more than 20 years, during which he had to face the period of Revolution. In 1855 he decided to retire and went to Dongo where he died on 13th November.
The Mystery of the Presentation of Mary is not narrated in any Biblical Text, but it is narrated in all its particulars in the apocriphal Gospel, ancient writing which is not considered by the Church as inspired by God, hence not inserted in the Biblical Canon.
The date of the Feast, the 21st November, is derived from the same date of the Consecration of the Basilica of St. Mary Nova in the city of Jerusalem, built by Justinian I for Bishop Elia in IV century.
In the East the Feast was celebrated since VI century.
In the West, France was the first to welcome it to the Roman Court of Avignon in 1372. Pope Paul VI in his letter Marialis Cultus maintained the celebration of this memory in the Roman calendar for its content of high and exemplar value and wanted to continue the venerable tradition rooted, above all in the East. The present liturgical celebration gives prominence to the first and total self gift of Mary, becoming the model of every soul that consecrates herself to the Lord. ( Rom. Mess)
The Orthodox Church celebrates this feast as the entrance of the Mother of God in the Temple and inserted it among the twelve major Feasts.
Antonio Buzzetti was born on 14th September 1826 at Gallivaggio.
The Diocesan seminary of Como had him as a studious disciple, moderate student and exemplar and dear to all, so that, at the completion of his literary and philosophical studies he was chosen by the superior together with his elder brother Lorence to the theological seminary of Milan free of fees.
After few pastoral experiences, in 1859 he reached Como, in the parish of St. Agatha where he remained till 1885, first as assistant and after as Parish priest. In these years Don Buzzetti worked prodgiously with loving and fraternal enthusiasm for our Congregation.
IstitutoPresentazione – San Martino