In order to discover the path traced by Divine Providence and find, in history, the birth of the CONGREGATION OF THE BENEDICTIN SISTERS OF THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE we will go through some traces of the life of the Venerable Servants of God Maria and Giustina Schiapparoli, founders of this Religious Family.
Clemente Schiapparoli was born in Chignolo Po on November 18th 1792, and on October 6th 1812 he married Marianna Passera, who was born on September 15th, 1779, at Chignolo Po. In April 1815 the family moved to Castel S. Giovanni, in Piacenza. At Castel S. Giovanni, Clemente Schiapparoli rented a house with a shop in Via (road) Romea, then predominantly inhabited by craftsmen and merchants, where he, with the help of an employee, exercises the grinder craft that at that time also meant to manufacture nails and to prepare and caring for agricultural tools. Here, in this house, the most lively and important part of the Schiapparoli family takes place, which will have a good impact on the future life of the two Servants of God. It is an alternation of births and deaths, as it was typical of that time: On April 19th 1815, Maria Antonia was born; in 1817 born Carlo and he died on 1820; July 19th 1819 Maria Teresa Giustina; in 1821 born Luigia Maria Teresa; in 1822 born another daughter which is again given the name of Maria Antonia; on February 15th 1824 two twins, Angela and Pietro, who died after a few days; the same mother, Marianna Passera, dies on April 18th 1824. On October 9th that same year, their father marries again Marta Reguzzi. But from her as her third wife, Cristina Orlandi married in 1840 Clement did not have any other children. Only then will the two sisters Maria and Giustina survive, and then they will be the beginners of the Religious Family of the Benedictine Sisters of Divine Providence.
In Castel San Giovanni, the two sisters grown up in a family as we have seen much suffered. In the Parish Church of S. Giovanni they receive baptism and confirmation; they probably attend the school that was then held by the canons of the Collegiate. The family left Castel S. Giovanni on 1832 to move to Voghera. Maria is 17 years old, Giustina 13; was with them the two surviving sisters: 11-year-old Luigia and Maria Antonia of 10.
From the “State of the Souls” of 1835 we know that the girls Schiapparoli: Maria, Giustina and Luigia are in Pavia, at the “Benedictine Establishment”, run by Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello: a brave woman, in 1826, had founded a house to welcome the girls who, without family and subsistence, wandered through the streets of Pavia.
The Rules governing the life of the small community of Mother Benedetta lay the foundation for abandonment to God and full confidence in his Providence.
Maria and Giustina, now grow up and both teachers, are among the closest collaborators of Mother Benedetta, but their stay at Ronco Scrivia is marked by serious family concerns: their sister Maria Antonia had died in 1836; their father, left widower for the third time, is also sick, so he can no longer work, their sister Luigia became blind.
The repeated visits of Clement Schiapparoli persuade Mother Benedetta to let go, “with anguish in the heart”, Maria and Giustina in order to fulfill the duty of Christian piety. At the beginning of May 1847, the two sisters left Ronco, and Mother Benedetta, as farewell from them, said: “My dear daughters, God want something from you; I just have to let you leave. So, go in the name of God, and His Providence will not miss you.” (Mother Giovanna Zonca, p. 19)
The two sisters arrive at Voghera without money. The situation they find in the family is heavy; their sister Luigia must be hospitalized in a hospital where she died on April 15th 1848. Furthermore, there is the problem of daily subsistence; have been necessary work to live.
Immediately the two sisters are concerned with the reorganization of the cathedral’s linens: an employment they can do at home. Their good and hard work makes them immediately notice the priests of Voghera: “They behave pressingly, attend the Holy Sacraments and the Sacred Functions exemplarily, and show themselves to be active and resourceful at work.”
Maria and Giustina, as soon as they have arrived in Voghera, open a little school for the girls. But the little ones do not just teach to sew embroider, but also the notions to read and write, and especially the catechism. In 1850 they rented some premises in “Via (roads) della Maddalena” and began to welcome the abandoned and poor girls, although probably staying with their father.
The abandonment on Divine Providence of the two foundresses also manifests itself in their continuous “mobility”. As the number of girls and the aspirant girls grows, they change their homes.
The Community lived in extreme poverty. All confidence was placed in Divine Providence, for what the girls of rich families paid was not enough to provide food for the orphans who were the majority. Admirable is the work done by the two Foundresses and also the first Sisters. Yet there was nothing missing from the girls who continued to be accepted, and despite so much poverty, that whole life of God and the poor inflamed the heart of so many young women, even of a good family like sisters: Sister Veronica and Sister Pia Piccinini of Tortona, whose family greatly helped the Institute.
In fact, the community grows in number: in 1859, there are four new Sisters who have made the Religious Profession, while a large group of aspirants, some very young, complete their religious formation.
The two Founders did not neglect anything to get what they needed, they turned to the mayor of the city to ask for some subsidy that could help them to keep the many little ones that they had at home. In another plea of December 20, 1860, they wrote that, thanks to the help of the Municipality, they were able: “To increase the number of girls removed from misery, to be trained in religion, in the virtues and in the work proper to their age. But the lack of peculiar means is felt strongly and continuously, in this unknown and poor nascent Institute. The zeal of the supplicants, who were also born poor, cannot supply that money that they renounced, from their hearts, when they embraced the poverty of Jesus Christ.” (Giustina and Maria Schiapparoli to the Mayor and the Councilors of Voghera. 20.12.1860).
Meanwhile, the increased number of nuns and novices pushes the two Foundresses to expand even outside Voghera with the opening in 1860 of the community of Agneto Ligure. In 1862 the opening of the house of Broni followed. Note that often the sisters are asked by the parish priests: “So many virtues, so many heroisms – writes Mother Giovanna – the scent spread. Many priests who needed nuns for their parish works came to ask the Mother Superior for the help of some of her daughters.”
In 1865 the Sisters Schiapparoli returned to their hometown: Castel San Giovanni. There they open a girls’ hostel on Via Torricella, soon frequented by numerous girls and teenagers.
In 1868 the House of Pizzale was opened, closed the year after July 31; in May 1869, the House of Vespolate opens, where Mother Giustina, “certainly with great sacrifice”, sends as superior Maria Schiapparoli.
It is the first time that the two sisters separate after a past life together in communion of intentions and ideals. Vespolate continues with her own life, with her highly valued work school and still Sisters are kept in great care.
Mother Giustina died almost suddenly by pulmonary congestion on November 30th 1877.
At the death of Mother Giustina, the government of the Institute were entrusted by order of the bishop to Sr. Maria Schiapparoli. But this did not feel like taking such heavy weight and almost immediately preferred to return among little girls in Vespolate, where she remained Superior until her death, which occurred on May 2, 1882, leaving, above all, good memories of her virtues. Sister Maria was in fact very loved either by her community, who considered her “a true mother”, or by the people who venerated her as a saint.
And she was elected to take the position of Superior General Sr. Giuseppina Amodeo and, in a period of a few years, numerous other foundations followed.
And it is with this heritage that each Benedictine Sister of Divine Providence continues to build her story in the most diverse corners of the world, especially where life is most threatened.
It happened that, in the same year 1936, during the government of Mother Elena Arbasino, seven pioneers arose for overseas, to seek the new horizons in the Brazilian land; specifically in Nova Veneza and Santa Catarina. With this opening, the Congregation begins its expansion overseas, contemplating new horizons and expanding to other Brazilian states and other countries in Latin and Central America: Paraguay, Bolivia, Mexico and Argentina.
Being faithful to Divine Providence, the Congregation arrived on the African continent in 1984, seeking to live alongside the poorest. On this continent, today the Congregation is present in the following countries: Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
In 1991, we were given the possibility to carry the Charism of Mary and Giustina in Eastern Europe: Albania and Romania. In 1996, the Congregation extended itself to another continent, this time Asia, with the opening of a mission in India, where the Sisters are dedicated to assist the poorest children. In 2019, a community opened in Sri Lanka, in the Diocese of Badulla. In this mission, the Sisters will dedicate the formation of young women in formation and the pastoral activities of the local Church.
“The poor Institute born of the love and effort of the Servants of God Mary and Giustina and guided by the attentive gaze of Divine Providence continues, in this way, with its prophetic strength, spreading in several countries where the same Divine Providence, which sustains it, sends him to defend and promote the lives of the most vulnerable. In their spiritual daughters, the Servants of God Maria and Giustina, continues to be witnesses of the Gospel because, they know how to load on their shoulders the weight of the needy and the oppressed; repeating daily the words of Jesus: ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and i will give you rest’ (Mt:11:28)” (Sister Sonia Mabel Medina Arguello).
“Following the invitation of Christ, with enthusiasm arising from trust in Divine Providence, the Congregation responds generously to the missionary call of the Church, even in its mission territories”. (Art. 8 Const. BSDP)