Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità

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An Offering to the Father

Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagghedu, a Cistercian nun of Grottaferrata in Italy, died on April 23rd in 1939. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1983 and in his encyclical on Christian Unity, Ut Unum Sint, presented her again to the whole Church as a model of “the total and unconditional offering of one’s life to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit."

Silence Turned to Praise

Blessed Maria Gabriella is one of those who, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, having heard the Word, held it in silence: in the silence of awe; in the silence that confesses God present; in the silence that allows the Word to sink into the deep and secret places of the heart. For Maria-Gabriella, this silence turned to praise: a praise that she found expressed in the priestly prayer of Christ given in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. At the end of her life she murmured: “I cannot say but these words, ‘My God, your Glory.’”

A Discerning Abbess

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The Trappist Cistercian monastery of Grottaferrata (moved to Vitorchiano in 1957) was governed by Mother Maria Pia Gulini (1892–1959), an intelligent and discerning abbess with a broad vision of all things Catholic. She corresponded with the Abbé Paul Couturier (1881–1953), the Apostle of Christian Unity. The Italian abbess nurtured a passion for Christian Unity and communicated that passion to her community. Maria Gabriella was receptive to Mother Gulini's spiritual teaching. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she asked permission of her abbess to offer her life for the Unity of Christians. The Father accepted her offering, drawing her into the prayer of Christ and into His sacrifice.

The Priestly Prayer of Christ

Blessed Maria Gabriella’s monastic life was brief; she entered the abbey of Grottaferrata in 1935 and died in 1939. She suffered from tuberculosis for fifteen months. The Bridegroom Christ came for her at the hour of the evening sacrifice on Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel of Mass that day had been from Saint John: “There will be one fold, and one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). After her death, her little New Testament, worn from use, opened by itself to the seventeenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. The pages of Jesus’ priestly prayer, so often touched by Madre Maria Gabriella’s feverish hands, had become almost transparent.

Unity

Blessed Maria Gabriella’s offering for Christian Unity witnesses to the fundamental thrust of every monastic life. Monastic conversion is a movement from the divided, fragmented self to the whole self, healed and unified in the love of Christ. The restoration of unity is the great monastic work; it is the end and fruit of every Eucharist. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that the end proper to the sacrament of the Eucharist is the unity of the Mystical Body. Blessed Maria Gabriella, pray for us that we may go to the altar, letting go of the things that damage the unity of the Body of Christ, and ready to receive the gifts by which unity is repaired.

3 Comments

Thank you for this post, I like her very much. I tried to sell her biography in our Store (and catalog - it was rejected) and very few were interested in her, so strong is the suspicion nowadays aginst Ecumenism by many traditional Catholics. Such a pity!

We need Blessed Maria Gabriella's intercession more than ever today. The example of her offering her life for the Unity of Christians is poignant. As Terry points out, the work of ecumenism is held with high suspicion (not without good reason in some instances) but we ought to hold up great models of ecumenical dialog today: Benedict XVI is a good earthly model and Blessed Maria Gabriella is a good heavenly model. To think in contemporary terms, it might be a matter of how the work ecumenism is packaged keeping in mind that we never shrink from our Catholic faith.

Dear Father Marco,
Thank you for introducing me to this amazing blessed nun.
Also, you reminded me that this Friday another 'ecumenical' blessed is remembered (here in Croatia, especially among Dominicans) - blessed Ozana of Kotor.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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