My desire is nothing else but to love

BLESSED MARIA GABRIELLA SAGHEDDU

(1914-1939)

Maria Sagheddu (1914-1939) was born in Dorgali, Sardinia, into a family of shepherds.

Witnesses from the period of her childhood and adolescence speak of a character obstinate, critical, protesting, rebellious, but with a strong sense of duty, of loyalty, of obedience: "She obeyed grumblingly, but she was docile". "She would say no but she would go at once", is said of her.

What everyone noticed was the change that came about in her at eighteen: little by little she became gentle, her outbursts of temper disappeared; she acquired a pensive and austere profile, sweet and reserved; the spirit of prayer and of charity grew in her, a new ecclesial and apostolic sensibility appeared; she enrolled in `Azione Cattolica', a catholic Youth Movement.

There was born in her the depth of listening that hands itself totally over to the will of God. At twenty one she chose to consecrate herself to God and, following the guidance of her spiritual father, entered the monastery of Grottaferrata, an economically and culturally poor community, governed at that time by Mother Pia Gullini.

Her life appears to have been dominated by a few essential elements:

  • the first and most obvious is gratitude for the mercy which God had poured out on her, calling her to belong completely to him; she loved to compare herself to the prodigal son and could say only "thank you" for the monastic vocation, the house, the superiors, the sisters, everything. "How good is the Lord!" is her constant exclamation, and this gratitude will pervade even the last moments of her illness and agony.
  • the second element is the desire to respond with all her strength to grace; that in her might be completed what the Lord had begun, that the will of God might be fulfilled in her, because herein lay true peace for her.

In the novitiate she was anxious in case she would be sent away, but after profession, this anxiety conquered, a tranquil and trusting abandonment took its place, which produced in her a straining towards the complete sacrifice of herself: "Now do what You will", she would simply say. Her brief life in the cloister (three and a half years) was consumed like a eucharist, simply in the daily commitment to conversion in order to follow Christ, obedient to the Father unto death. Gabriella felt herself defined by the mission of self-giving: the total gift of herself to the Lord.

The memories of the sisters are simple and significant: her promptness to acknowledge her fault, to ask pardon of others without justifying herself, her simple and sincere humility, her readiness to gladly do any work, even the most tiring, without making a fuss about it. With profession there grew in her the experience of littleness: "My life is of no value...I can offer it in peace."

Her abbess, M.M.Pia Gullini, had a great ecumenical awareness and desire. After taking it up in her own life, she had communicated it to the community too.

When Mother M.Pia, animated by Fr. Couturier, explained to the community the request for prayer and offering for the great cause of Christian Unity, Sr. Maria Gabriella felt immediately involved and compelled to offer her young life. "I feel the Lord is calling me" - she confided to her abbess - "I feel urged, even when I don't want to think about it".

By means of a rapid and straight journey, committed tenaciously to obedience, conscious of her own frailty, fixed in a single desire: "the will of God, his Glory", Gabriella attained that freedom that urged her to be conformed to Jesus, who "having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end". In face of the laceration of the Body of Christ she realized the urgency of an offering of herself, carried out with a faithful consistency up to its consummation. Tuberculosis showed itself in the body of the young sister, who up to now had been extremely healthy, from the very day of her offering, sweeping her along to her death in fifteen months of suffering.

On the evening of 23 April 1939, Gabriella ended her long agony, totally abandoned to the will of God, while the bells were ringing full peal at the end of Vespers of Good Shepherd Sunday, whose Gospel proclaimed: "There will be one fold and one Shepherd."

Her offering, even before its consummation, was received by the anglican brethren and found a profound response in the hearts of believers of other confessions. The influx of vocations, who arrived in great numbers during the following years, is the most concrete gift of Sister Gabriella to her community.

Her body, found intact on the occasion of the recognition in 1957, now rests in a chapel adjoining the monastery of Vitorchiano, whence the community of Grottaferrata transferred.

She was beatified by John Paul II on 25 January 1983, forty-four years after her death, in the basilica of St.Paul outside the Walls, on the feast of the Conversion of St.Paul, the last day of the week of prayer for Christian Unity.

 

 

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Mother M.Pia Gullini (1892-1959)

Was abbess of Grottaferrata from 1931 to 1940 and from 1946 to 1951. She governed the community with a discerning intelligence and nurtured in it an ever wider and deeper vision of spiritual life, placing the Eucharist as its center. She lived the passion for the Unity of the Church with a prophetic intensity and thus became the cause for the community's adherence to the ecumenical ideal. She directed and sustained the sacrifice of Sr. Maria Gabriella.

 

Publications in English:

Mary Paula Williamson, R.C.: THAT ALL MAY BE ONE...ut omnes unum sint - P.J.Kennedy and Sons, New York 1949. 185 pp.

Martha Driscoll ocso: A Silent Herald of Unity. Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008 1990. 142 pp. 

Paul B.Quattrocchi ocso: A Life for Unity. Sr.Maria Gabriella - New City Press 1990. 183 pp.

Pearce Cusack ocso: Blesed Gabriella of Unity. A Patron for the Ecumenical Movement. Cistercian press, Ros Cré, Ireland 1995. 166 pp.

 

Praying for unity is not a matter reserved only to those who actually experience the lack of unity among Christians. In the deep personal dialogue which each of us must carry on with the Lord in prayer, concern for unity cannot be absent. Only in this way, in fact, will that concern fully become part of the reality of our life and of commitments we have taken on in the Church. It was in order to reaffirm this duty that I set before the faithful of the Catholic Church a model which I consider exemplary, the model of a Trappistine Sister, Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity, whom I beatified on 25 January 1983. Sister Maria Gabriella, called by her vocation to be apart from the world, devoted her life to meditation and prayer centered on Chapter 17 of St. John’s Gospel and offered her life for Christian Unity. This is truly the cornerstone of all prayer: the total and unconditional offering of one’s life to the Father; through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The example of Sister Mara Gabriella is instructive; it helps us to understand that there are no special times, situations, or places of prayer for unity. Christ’s prayer to the Father is offered as a model for everyone, always and everywhere.

(John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, ‘ Ut unum sint’, 1995, n° 27).

 

 

WORDS OF BLESSED MARIA GABRIELLA