Venerable Mother Elena Bettini
Elena Bettini was born in Rome on the day of the Epiphany, January 6, 1814, to Vincenzo and Lucia Cardinali. It was a family of five children, they lived simply and modestly, where the presence of God was felt. Elena often remembered, filled with gratitude, as she spoke to children who were raised in dysfunctional families and shared with them about her life: "My parents nurtured me in the faith, it was from them that I came to know God and the way He was guiding me."
A providential encounter with Father Lodovico Tommaso Manini in the Church of St. Charles ai Catinari was to reveal God's vision for her life. She was only 18 years old, when God called her to leave everything, to place all her trust only in His providence and to give her life to the young girls on the streets, who were uneducated. These girls were awaiting her response which would change her life and their lives forever.
On September 8th, 1832, Mother Elena along with two companions, consecrated themselves to the Lord, and the congregation of the Daughters of Divine Providence was born.
Illumined in the darkest nights of the newly formed institution the Father graced the Sisters with simple and serene faith as people criticized: "without any foundation" they are "destined to crumble". They thought this because they did not rely on human resources and the very idea bewildered human logic.
On Via dei Falegnami, November 21st of the same year the school of Providence opened, it was totally free, it was an unusual way of how schools were run at that time. The people were going with their "noisy and uneducated children" to the school on Via dei Falegnami. But after some months, people nearby could see every day the transformation of the girls. They were edified by the appearance of the Sisters bringing a long line of quiet young girls into St. Charles Church.
After only three years, Father Manini is transferred to Torino and the difficulties multiplied, as the first house on Via dei Falegnami was to be demolished. This was not the only challenge, the Sisters were growing, and they were opening up two new schools. The girls had already been accepted without paying, all the while they were living total abandonment to the providence of God. The biggest challenge was yet to come. God looked into Sister Elena Bettini's heart and He knew He could count on her to accept the transformation and death to self which is like the "seed", ready to die so that it may flower. Sister Elena Bettini was the superior and Mother of the little congregation since 1837; it was she who considers herself the smallest, unworthy and incapable of all the responsibilities that God was giving to her. When the dark night in desert surrounded her she wrapped herself in the faith of God and from it God's work grew and branched out producing abundant fruit. It was only in the light of humble security that we now can understand the courage of Sister Elena Bettini. She transferred the Mother house to Testaccio a place where no organization would go let alone a religious community. She would rapidly say with all simplicity "This is our work for us".
Always attentive to the needs of the least, she opened a nursery, a soup kitchen, a trade school for girls and a boarding school for orphans. The new house became a center of welcome and was a light of hope. That light sprang forth far and wide and from it brought forth the first church of that area; the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Providence.
Total obedience characterized the existence of Sister Elena Bettini, she was always attentive and welcoming the prompting of God in her life and responded to the needs of the people before her. One of the biggest sufferings for her was surrendering herself to the will of God. The Holy Father Pope Pius IX in 1856 gave to her a difficult responsibility. She was to take charge of the Conservatory of the Holy Conception at Trastevere in 1863. The Holy Father also asked her to transfer, as the Superior, to another religious congregation to help the young community flourish under the guidance of an experienced superior. She remained with their community for 13 years.
Humility was her strongest attribute and her gentleness was her greatest secret. She is a Mother for the times, full of love, prayer, trust, and joy. Her mantra is rooted in her mission: "My daughters, always use with your children the way of gentleness and persuasion... where one word is enough, the reproach is to superfluous and the punishment harmful... love your children, raise them with simple and motherly ways... Oh how much Jesus loved the little children"!
Now advanced in age, Mother Elena Bettini repeatedly asked to be excused from her responsibility as Superior of the Daughters of Divine Providence. When the day arrived in 1892, her heart overflowed with joy, kneeling before the new Superior General whom she embraced with infinite gratitude: it was Mother Cherubina Camerata who was one of the children in our boarding school. She had truly breathed fully of the charism which was incarnated in her teacher, Mother Elena Bettini.
From that day, her way of life became prayer and love, accepting preciously the suffering of a declining life. Just as at once her preoccupation was with work; prayer became her offering. It was like life giving bread from her hands to her daughters.
On the night of December 21st, 1894 her journey was to come to an end, she senses the presence of her spouse, her heart beat with happiness while her last glance fell upon the crucifix, she saw Him in front of her, in all His light, the resurrected Lord, the love of her life.
The funeral procession on the road in Rome was a triumphant procession of songs, of flowers, and prayers: "The Saint is dead" could be heard repeatedly from the crowds and one mother who cradled in her arms her paralyzed child, realizing that it was Mother Bettini her teacher. Full of spontaneous youth she followed the funeral procession all the way to the cemetery. When all had gone, she placed her child on the tomb, certain that Mother Elena would cure him, through her tears she didn't see that her child was already standing and walking for the first time on Mother Elena's newly closed tomb.
Today the remains of our Mother Elena Bettini is in Via Galvani and there she is present more then ever in our lives. Every Daughter that returns home, stops and remains in prayer with her, many visit her room, which is now a small museum full of precious memories. It is thought these objects that we sense the heart and love of Mother Elena Bettini still present with us today.
On Dec 15th, 1995 with immense joy and profound gratitude the Church proclaimed Mother Elena Bettini Venerable.
Father Lodovico Tommaso Manini
Father Manini was born on May 7th, 1803 at Reggio Emilia, his parents were Pietro and Giuseppina Rocca. At 19 years old he entered the congregation of regular clerics of St. Paul and the following year professed solemn vows in the Barnabite family.
He studied in Rome philosophy and theology. After a brief stay in Naples at the college of St. Dalmazzo in Torin, he returned to Rome, and was assigned as pastor of St. Charles in Catinari.
In 1829, Fr. Manini was 26 years old and had in his heart the enthusiasm and fire of a zealous young religious consecrated to God and charism of his father founder.
In the center of Rome's historic section he comes in contact with people who are frightened and degraded socially and spiritually. "That neighborhood was a den for mobs looking for trouble"... He walked everyday through the streets of Rome and often crosses the area of Campo dei Fiori (Field of Flowers) he then comes to the Piazza Venezia. It is from there that he walks the narrow streets, those hidden streets, were he hears the noise of the children left alone. He can not find peace with himself and feels determined that he must do something. He can not ignore what he sees, and preach the gospel without living it. He knows that he must try and help the situation for the children and their families. So one morning while Fr. Manini sat in the confessional praying, the heavens over Rome darkened with ominous clouds; that burst open and sent a deluge upon the people. In the street was a young lady on her way to teach catechism in another church. In search of shelter from the rain she enters the church of San Carlo ai Catinari. Father Manini notices that she remains a long time in prayer in front of the image of our Lady of Divine Providence. After her prayer she notices that Father is in the confessional and goes to the sacrament with humility and sincerity. Father Manini sees the beauty in her soul and feels led by the Holy Spirit to approach her with his vision and desire to help to guide the lost children he encounters on the streets. It is a blessed moment as Elena Bettini explains to Father that she has in her heart the same passion to give a response to the poor that she encounters every day in the same streets. They both perceive with awe the awareness that Someone was awaiting them both to meet.
After their meeting, Fr. Manini was in haste to start a school completely free able to accept all the children. He wanted to teach and instruct them in the faith, and to free them from the dangers if the streets. It was in Elena Bettini that he finds the soul available, open-minded and with a heart already drawn to the path God was revealing to him.
By November 21st, 1832 in the small, poor house in Via dei Falegnami that Mother Elena along with two sisters opened a school in St. Charles Parish.
The beginnings were hard for the sisters and there hearts were heavy. It didn't help that other were so skeptical, they would say things like: "how can you believe in this endeavor to open a school without any foundation"? The school depends only on Divine Providence, you are unrealistic. It will not last for those sisters "they won't talk any donations to compensate for the expenses from their students families"... they are destined to fail".
Providence was working in mysterious ways, for all the children. The work of God's love was the at core in the children life, it was like nurturing deep roots that spread out far and wide, it sustained them, transforming them and when they left the school they were capable of facing life. They were ready to create families blessed from God, and able to educate their children in a Christian way.
Fr. Manini, the Founder, was far away, he was only able to gave his support and guidance to the "blessed" Foundation for 3 years. To him it was very dear, meaning more than life it self: "I feel that I am capable, with the help of God, to give my life for the Foundation and for the sisters, if it would be for God's glory"- he wrote this in Venice on July 4, 1854. The distance was difficult for him, he would have liked to be back with the sisters and to be their Father, but he knew better. "This holy foundation is sustained because it is built on the virtue of the Cross... it is time now for me to be quiet and also suffer, but the will of God be done," he continued, as he wrote from Venice, the following year.
With every letter from Mother Elena, Fr. Manini feels as if he is reliving and sharing in all the graces of the beginnings of the community. With a heart full of gratitude to Divine Providence and he never gets tired of repeating: "My Daughters, live entirely abandoned to the Providence and the love of the Father: it will have for us the most care and always will provide".
We find Fr. Manini is always present, even though he is far away and even though he is silent, his prayers, sacrifices, and his renunciation is a witness to his Daughters and each of us can say of him: "That he is the Father that God deigned to give to us from all eternity".
On April 2nd, 1872 at Martinego (Bergamo) Fr. Manini died.