History of the mantellate sisters

Our Congregation, “Mantellate Sisters, Servants of Mary of Pistoia” originated in Treppio in 1861, the foundresses were two Tertiaries of the Order of Servants of Mary: Sister Filomena Rossi and Sister Giovanna Ferrari. They received the habit of the Third Order from Father Giuseppe Ducci, OSM in the Basilica of SS. Annunziata in Florence. From the information that we have gathered about the two women, we know that they did not live in community, but at their respective homes and that they used to meet only occasionally.

Inserted in the movement of Servite spirituality, at a certain stage of their own lives they responded to the appeal made to them by the people of Treppio and the local parish priest Father Evangelista Colti. They were called, “with the approval of the Ordinary of the place, to teach the young girls and to care for the sick.” Thus they started to live a community life with a “style of their own.” Our foundresses did not leave any writings, but the heritage that they handed down through their own lives suggests that they answered the urgings of the Holy Spirit, of the Church and of their needs of their times.

The requests of the parish priest and of the whole population of Treppio is inserted into the broader demand for education and human promotion, which was gaining force in the course of the nineteenth century, especially in Tuscany where Pietro Leopoldo’s repressions had prevented the clergy from exercising the rights to dedicate themselves to works of human as well as cultural and social growth, especially in regard to women.

The two sisters, Filomena Rossi and Giovanna Ferrari, began their educational mission on October 6, 1861. Other young women joined them, bringing the first religious community into being. They lived Servite spirituality profoundly, responding to the urgings of the Spirit, to the requests of the church of Treppio, to the needs of the times and of their territory.

A document of the utmost importance for our religious family is Bishop Enrico Bindi’s letter, which is dated October 6, 1868, that is, seven years after the birth of the Congregation. It certified an explicit approval of the community of Treppio, an acknowledgement of the service that our first sisters had carried out along with the recommendation to the bishops and parish priests to welcome and to assist them when they went on their “begging expeditions.” But the letter is, above all, a significant confirmation of the charism that lies at the heart of our foundation: “providing young girls with education and instruction and assisting the poor and the sick.”

As the sisters continued the service of providing young girls with an education and assisting sick people, our Congregation expanded to such a remarkable extent that in a few years’ time the sisters were asked to carry out their service in other dioceses. On February 11, 1909 the Institute received the Papal Decree of Praise and Approval.

Sister Agnes Andreani, the third Superior General, gave a further impetus to the Congregation, as she worked on the drawing up of new Constitutions, which were approved definitively in 1920 and provided us with guidelines for our life until the Second Vatican Council.

The period following the Council was characterized by the values of religious life. The revision of the Constitutions, which was wanted by the Church, started with a Special General Chapter in 1969 and was concluded with their approval in 1980.This revision gave the Congregation a new vital impulse through the rediscovery of the biblical-theological and Marian spirituality characteristic of the Institute in the light of our original charism.

The commitment to offer the service of education and human promotion through education in the respect of pluralism, in quest of justice and professional competence has always been present.

Right from the beginning the Institute has taken upon itself the burden of human suffering by taking care of sick as well as elderly people in hospitals, in rest homes and in clinics. Stimulated by various needs, the Congregation, always, but particularly in these times, has opened its heart to the needs of the moment, caring for people affected by AIDS, collaborating for the recovery of drug-addicted people, and caring for immigrants.

In the course of its history, the Congregation tried to meet the urgent needs with courage, ardour and openness when various emergencies or calamities occurred, for example, under such dramatic circumstances as the two World Wars the sisters remained near the wounded.

The promotion of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is the Congregation’s specific mission, the missionary spirit ever lively in the heart of the Institute, has seen the presence of the sisters in Swaziland since 1922 and in Kisoga, Uganda since December 2000. We have assumed a welcoming attitude towards the young Churches to respond and insert ourselves in new social and cultural realities. With the same missionary spirit and openness to the different cultural as well as pastoral needs, we have been working in the USA since 1913 and in Spain since 1955.

The fundamental characteristic of our charism is “humble service” with and like Mary. This is expressed through our solidarity as well as our mercy and it is carried out in apostolic communities. Communion and service are two aspects of our daily life along with an inseparable reality, whose primary motivation is Jesus Christ. An essential aim is our service to our brothers and sisters, as signified by our witness to the Gospel. Our lifestyle is modelled on Mary’s merciful open-minded attitude towards men and women.

Sharing the same spirit, the community of Treppio was aggregated to the Order of the Servants of Mary in 1868. In 1879,the aggregation was extended to the whole Congregation. By drawing inspiration from the Holy Virgin we want to imitate her careful as well as prompt response of “yes” at the annunciation and the compassion that our Lady of Sorrows showed at the foot of the cross. Indeed her “yes helps us to say our “yes” and take upon ourselves the burdens of men and women asking for love, justice, peace and mercy. Our apostolic lifestyle is that of the Holy Virgin Mary who, open and available to the Spirit’s fruitful force welcomed God’s Word, walked towards Christ and committed herself to communicate him to men and women.

Filomena Rossi and Giovanna are a living memory for the Mantellate Sisters. They were two humble simple women, they were reserved and watchful like Mary. They committed themselves to the service of poor people to whom they dedicated their whole lives. Besides providing them with supplies which they obtained through begging, they tried to alleviate people’s sufferings and encouraged young women’s human, social as well as cultural promotion.

Filomena Rossi was modest and reserved while Giovanna Ferrari was more active and enterprising. For us who are Servants of Mary today, they represent a synthesis of an apostolic life in which contemplation becomes an attentive and penetrating glance like that of Mary at Cana. Our service is a constant operative movement trying to alleviate the deep, many forms of poverty affecting our contemporary society and that makes us as available and prompt as Mary when she visited Elizabeth.