From seed to tree
Attesting to the foundational act as a witness, Fr Bosio writes: “These two persons alone, by love and sentiments bound more closely together than by family ties, started the holy Institute … and they were that gospel mustard seed which in a marvellous manner grew and spread.
“It grew” with the unfolding of human history, afflicted by temporary events, as all God’s works are, but always concerned with people’s needs and blessed by them as a providential presence.
“It grew” in its membership amounting to 2620 in 256 communities by the end of the nineteenth century and, in 1964, reaching its peak: 8941 (including novices and postulants) in 640 communities.
“It grew” in its passionate dedication to charity which soon sent the sisters far outside Lovere and its neighbourhood, to care for orphans and girls: these were left to themselves in moral danger arising in the wake of cholera and war, that marked the nineteenth century.
Later on they promptly reached patients in hospitals generally found poorly managed, in desperate financial straits and with poorly-trained personnel.
In between the end of the century and World War I they met the emerging need for education in day schools, boarding-schools and youth re-education centres, and supported factory girls in hostels that sprang up with the developing textile industry in North Italy.
They performed heroic deeds of self-sacrifice during World Wars I and II, staying with the people in refugee camps, looking after the wounded and converting their boarding-schools into military hospitals.
Their assistance was also badly needed in sanatoriums, preventoriums, mental hospitals, ‘colonies’ …
Besides, they have always been available for catechesis and animation work in oratori and parishes.
Their wide range of activities, at times of a complex nature, has always been enlivened by one spirit: charity.
“It grew” in the understanding of its spiritual gift, which has been cultivated faithfully and lived with the creativity that changing times and different places demand. The spiritual and affective link with the origins has been strengthened by the impetus to renewal that Vatican Council II required of religious Institutes. In those years our identity and mission in the Church emerged with greater theological and charismatic clarity.
“And it spread” in Italy at first concentrating largely in the North, with fewer communities in Central and South Italy A true-and-proper expansion in South Italy was effected in accordance with the commitment, undertaken during the Special Chapter 1969-1970, to provide for places where personnel and service are most lacking.
However, it soon responded to worldwide requests. In 1860, hardly thirty years since it had sprung, four sisters landed in Bengal (India) in answer to an appeal made by the Missionary Fathers of San Calogero (PIME), and from there they spread to other parts of Asia. In 1909 other sisters set sail for Buenos Aires, Argentina, and started spreading in America; from 1959 the Institute has been actively present in Africa.
The sisters have everywhere carried with them an “ardent love for the good of every human person” because – as the foundress said – “charity must reach out to all” and in order that all may share in universal brotherhood in Jesus our Redeemer.