Bartolomea was not alone that November morning to start the Institute. Kneeling beside her for the act of consecration to God in the service of charity there was Caterina Gerosa (1784-1847) also from Lovere, older to her and very different in character and upbringing.
The former had received a good education at the Clares’ Boarding School, with qualification to teach: back home, she was also firm in her resolution to become “a saint, a great saint, a saint soon”.
From her early youth the latter had been involved in the family’s affairs, at which she showed a capacity for hard work and foresight; but she too had chosen charity as a way of life.
In fact, they had already started working together: they led the girls’ ‘oratorio’ and Associations, and watched over the Hospital opened at the expense of the Gerosas, who were successful traders in leather.
Making use of her financial means, Caterina concerned herself especially with the poor; she lavished care on them and helped them in various ways.
She loved charity’s modest, discreet ways, done promptly and according to need, until her friend upset her humble daily routine with the proposal to join her in founding an Institute.
Caterina was at first dismayed and against the idea, but she then surrendered herself to the project wholeheartedly, acknowledging it as God’s will; this became more demanding and obscure when, eight months after the Institute was founded, Bartolomea died, leaving it to her to carry on with the undertaking.
“Those who know the Crucified One, know everything”, she used to repeat as she pointed to where she placed her trust and drew light and courage from.
At her religious profession Caterina took the new name: Sister Vincenza: availing herself of her experience and ever faithful to the intuition of the foundress, she led the Institute and watched over its inner consolidation and remarkable expansion.
On her death (29 June 1847), there were 156 members and 25 communities.
For both of them there was a providential presence: that of Fr Angelo Bosio (1796-1863): as Bartolomea’s spiritual Director he wisely encouraged the project from the start and then watched over the first thirty years of the Institute’s life; he guided formalities for its juridical recognition, led its expansion outside Lovere and prepared sisters for their particular mission.
To keep alive among them the memory of the foundress and especially to transmit her spiritual heritage whole and entire, he spared time from his ministry as a parish priest to give them regular ‘conferenze’ (talks).
“It matters very much to me that you acquire well the spirit of our Institute”, he used to say to them.
He also took much trouble to start the processes of canonization of B. Capitanio, and prepared good ground for those of V. Gerosa.
(The long iter of these was to lead to the recognition of their saintliness by Pius XII, on 18 May 1950).
There were therefore three leading characters in the unfolding of our origins: they played different yet complementary roles in the founding of the Institute and its early growth, but all things considered – remarked the first historiographer of our Congregation – “even the most absent-minded will admit that there has been in it the finger of God”.
“The undertaking is of the Lord”, Bartolomea insisted. “He is its author”, re-echoed Caterina.
All three knew that it was He who prompted their thoughts and moved their hands, because they had become so docile to his will.
Our identity and origin
are given straightaway in our official name:
we are “Sisters of Charity
of Saints Bartolomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa”.
We are, however, generally called
“Suore di Maria Bambina” (Sisters of Holy Child Mary”), because in the santuario attached to the Generalate,
in Via S. Sofia, 13, Milan,
we keep an ancient wax image,
coming from the Convent
of Franciscan Sisters of Todi (Perugia)
and donated, after various peregrinations,
to our Institute in 1842.
who soon joined us in venerating the Mother of God
in the mystery of her birth,
began to call us “Sisters of Maria Bambina”.