VIRGIN (JULY 12, 1982)
SHE TURNED HER BACK ON A LIFE OF LUXURY TO WORK WITH GOD’S POOREST CHILDREN
Teresa was born in Milan on October 10, 1878 and was baptized in the parish church dedicated to St. Francis de Paul. She belonged to a well-to-do family. While still a young man, Teresa’s father Joseph, had moved to Egypt where he opened a chain of hotels that made him wealthy and highly esteemed even by important and powerful persons. While there he married Giuseppina Viglini, an Italian of the upper classes.
In 1882, foreseeing the intolerant trends that were infiltrating the Middle East, Joseph moved his family definitively to Italy. They lived first in Milan and then in Florence. In 1890, Joseph died, leaving his wife and three children: Italo, his firstborn, Teresa and Giuseppina. This loss was a hard blow for the family, but in particular for Teresa who was very attached to her Dad. Teresa’s mother procured the best education in Florentine schools for her children. Later, when Italo registered at the University of Rome, the whole family moved to the capital.
For some time Teresa had cultivated a profound spiritual life that offered a style of behavior suited to her social position, but modeled on decisively evangelical criteria: a preferential love for God that led her to live extended times of prayer, a strong sensitivity toward the poor, whom she helped generously and with a spirit of closeness, and an outstanding educational sensitivity. She felt the call to a life of consecration and, overcoming harsh obstacles after the death of her mother, she entered the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians on February 2, 1901. She was 22 years old. At the time of her decision to become a religious, she had written to her brother Italo, “I have decided irrevocably.” This certainty was an attitude that she always maintained, along with the choice to “pass unobserved” – faith and humility marked her whole existence.
Teresa spent a great part of her religious life at Trastevere, in Rome, beginning from the time of her novitiate. The houses of Bosco Parrasio and of Via della Lungara housed the oratory for the poorest girls of the neighborhood. These girls were laundresses, and they worked in the homes of wealthy people. Among the religious of the community, Sr. Teresa was the most loved by the young people who felt the attraction of the smiling, refined presence. She had precarious health when she began to work in this environment, but did not hold back in the face of sacrifices and never allowed her former life of well-being to weigh on anyone.
In the house of the Sisters there was such marked poverty that it became necessary to ask for help, to the point of asking for alms. So it was that Sr. Teresa, though not liking this work at all, did not exempt herself from this commitment. She, too, would knock on the doors of those wealthy people whom she knew from former times. Teresa was a strong woman, dedicated entirely to the poorest. She was decisive in defending the rights of others, especially when some inhabitants of the neighborhood tried to put obstacles to the work of the Sisters or complained about the presence of girls who were rather rough.
Following the example of Don Bosco, she immersed herself in the difficult situations of the young people entrusted to her. Sr. Teresa sought in every way to elevate their culture and to refine their lifestyle. She gave music lessons, prepared theatrical presentations, and invented games that could interest girls who were already exhausted from heavy work. In community she was an attentive and discreet presence.
Sr. Teresa said, “The Lord has helped me and now I am ready for one of three things: to die, to be ill for a long time or to get well.” Then with a glimmer of a smile she added, “Well, I will guess one of the three correctly, right?” Sr. Teresa’s earthly life concluded in the house of Mary Help of Christians in Turin on September 3, 1907 as she had foreseen.
Teresa Valsé Pantellini was a young woman who lived concrete daily availability, totally given to God and to others, imitating the Virgin Mary – the poor, free woman. She dreamed great dreams. She would have liked to be a missionary in China. Almost as though to realize her apostolic desires, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians have entrusted their missionary activity to Sr. Teresa. She was declared Venerable by the Decree of the recognition of her heroic virtue on July 12, 1982.