Sister Giovanna (Marianna) Ferrari was born in Pratopiano, a hamlet near Sambuca, a small town in the province of Pistoia, on March 22, 1832. Marianna’s mother worked as a spinner; her father probably alternated farm-labor with wood chopping and “charcoal making.”
From one of Sister Giovannina Vettori’s manuscripts, we know that Sister Giovanna was educated by the sisters at the “Conservatory”, the school at Sambuca, which was situated near the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Lily. There she grew in Christian piety and she learned all the various working skills required of women in her day, such as sewing, knitting, embroidery.
She became a Tertiary of the Order of Servants of Mary and received the habit on October 4, 1861. Together with Sister Filomena Rossi and their small group of followers, they were “established in Treppio from this very day October 6, 1861.” Sister Giovanna taught all the feminine working skills, such as needlework, sewing and knitting to the young girls of the town as well as cared for giving assistance to the poor and the sick. She often went out on “begging expeditions,” spending long periods of time travelling. Indeed, in order to raise funds necessary to maintain themselves and to carry out their free educational activity as well as their assistance to the poor, the sisters relied on the generosity of people who gave them wood, wheat, oil, cheese, beans, money, grapes and wool.
In 1873 Sister Giovanna succeeded Sister Filomena in the leadership of the community at Treppio. After opening new houses, in the first General Chapter she was elected as the first Major Superior of the Congregation and held that office until 1892. She died in Treppio on December 4, 1900.
It is reported that when her office expired “she remained the head of the Community of Treppio, always an exemplary religious model, adorned with humility, a spirit of sacrifice, prayer and charity.” (cf. “Two Women and a Town” by Sister Philomena Spidale, Rome 2007).
Filomena Rossi and Giovanna Ferrari are a living memory for the Mantellate Sisters. Two women, humble and simple, hidden and watchful like Mary, they dedicated themselves entirely to the service of the “poor,” to whom they gave themselves completely, along with the bread which they obtained by “begging”. They were attentive to those who suffered, and were committed to the human, cultural and social promotion of the youth.
Filomena Rossi was modest and reserved while Giovanna Ferrari was more active and enterprising. For us who are Servant of Mary, today they represent a synthesis of an apostolic life in which contemplation turns into a caring and penetrating glance as that of Mary at Cana; our service turns into an operative movement towards those deep multiple forms of poverty besetting our society and makes us available and caring as Mary in the VISITATION.