Venerable Maria Antonia Lalìa and Russia

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Venerable Maria Antonia Lalìa
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On a clear autumn morning in 1891, precisely on September 5th, in the Dominican Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, at the high altar where the body of St. Catherine of Siena is guarded, a Dominican sister who came from Sicily prayed for a long time with an unusual fervour. She felt so confirmed and strengthened in her ideal of a missionary apostolate. After a couple of days, she went to speak with the Dominican friar, Fr Alberto Lepidi, a religious of profound piety and doctrine to whom she had been directed, and confides in him why she came to Rome. "I have to fulfil a vow made on April 27, 1877 and I'm ready to do it as soon as am given the opportunity". Then in a low voice but with a firm tone she declared: "I arrived yesterday from Sicily to go to Russia and erect a college in the capital, St. Petersburg".

The friar looked at her puzzled and asked her some questions while observing with curiosity and deep interest this humble and reserved sisters who is a little above fifty but animated by such youthful ideal, one almost absurd at that time. Listening to her, he discovers that sister had been a superior for over 25years, under the spiritual direction of Fr Vincenzo Lombardo, a Dominican who is famous in the Order for his preaching, theology and as the restorer of the Sicilian Province. She had all the permission that guarantees the seriousness of her ideal.

There are fundamental elements which enables us to conclude that this is a real "divine calling," but for the abundance of caution, it is necessary to spend some time to discern the modalities and the timeframe for the implementation of God's will. The most sensible thing to do at the moment is to look for companions with whom to begin a religious family that can then implement the "plan inspired by God".

Mother Antonia Lalìa, this is the name of the humble sister. Sensing that the Dominican friar is now committed, she feels she has found the person who will help her to follow her unique vocation and that’s all she needs. When she felt the Basilica, she looked unusually radiant. From that moment, she began a new stage in her life. In the soul of this humble Dominican sister, the spirit brought forth the seed of a new Congregation in the Church.

She became the founder of the Dominican Missionaries of St. Sixtus. Sister Maria Antonia Lalìa of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, daughter of a Sicilian magistrate, was born in Misilmeri (Palermo) on May 20, 1839. In 1856, she entered the local College of Mary, which followed the Dominican rule. She was formed in the spirituality of St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena, drawing from them the path of prayer, humility and apostolic zeal, generosity in sacrifice, and the offering of oneself, even, if necessary, to the point of martyrdom. Numerous mystical favours characterized the first period of her religious life, all devoted to prayer and penance. Stimulated by an impulse that came from above, she felt the strong desire to work for the salvation of souls and she did this by every possible means especially by meeting with the people and school pupils daily. Also, through letter writing, she made contact with some of the most powerful leaders of her time, including Napoleon III and Alexander II.

The first thoughts of Rome were related to some visions which happened in the year 1863 and which opened the veil of the future, presenting her mission as Foundress. In 1877, she made a vow to go to Russia with the intention of establishing a Dominican college in St. Petersburg to educate poor girls. In 1865, Mother Lalìa was elected Superior of the College of Misilmeri and subsequently re-elected until 1890. But her missionary zeal pushed her to great ideals and this was supported by her spiritual director, Fr Vincenzo Lombardo. As soon as she was released from the office of superior with the permission of the Archbishop, Cardinal Celesia, she left for Rome with the intent of travelling to Russia. She came to the Eternal City on September 4, 1891, without money, but rich in faith and totally abandoned in the hands of Divine Providence. Fr Alberto Lepidi, took the opportunity to prove her virtue, favoured her fiery aspirations and wisely suggested that she forms the future missionaries in the spirituality of Saint Catherine of Siena. Therefore, the idea of a new Foundation began.

Later on, the same Fr Lepidi, predicting the future, said to the Mother, "In Russia, your daughters will go but not you. Your Russia is in Rome." A month later, inspired to go to St. Clement's Basilica, managed by the Irish Dominican friars, Mother Lalìa saw that the premises of St. Sixtus, the cradle of the Dominican Order in Rome were abandoned and after various negotiations, she managed to take over the property. On January 17, 1893, together with two sisters who came with her from Misilmeri, she began the new religious family, dedicated to the apostolate of the poor children of the surroundings, first through catechesis and the preparation of the Sacraments, and then also with education in schools, but always in view of Russia.

On June 2, 2015, Pope Francis authorised the publication of the Decree which confirmed that Mother Lalìa lived a heroic life and so, she was proclaimed Venerable. Now we are awaiting and hoping for a miracle through the intercession of this Sicilian sister. All those who receive graces through her intercession are requested to contact the office of the General Postulation of the Order.

 

(2 September 2017)