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For the love of Christ on the ways of the world

The Sisters Daughters of St Francis de Sales of the Convent of San Cerbone

Francesco 2Surely many people are familiar with San Cerbone, the ancient convent that stands in the hills between Lucca and Pisa and that, as a house of spirituality and prayer, organises courses of spiritual exercises open to all and welcomes groups, families and anyone wishing to spend a few days in contact with the peace and tranquillity of nature, immersed in an atmosphere of silence and spirituality.

The monastery has a very ancient history, as the earliest documents mentioning it date back to the 9th century, indicating a church dedicated to Saint Cerbone. From the 12th century onwards, Benedictine nuns, then Cistercian nuns took over. Later, from the 15th century onwards, the convent passed to the Franciscans, initially the Observant Friars Minor, then the Reformed Friars Minor, and finally, from 1950 onwards, it was managed by the congregation of the “Daughters of St Francis de Sales”, founded in Lugo di Romagna in 1872 by the Provost Don Carlo Cavina, with the spirituality and style of St Francis de Sales, whom he so admired. But what is it that so deeply links the Bishop of Geneva, who lived between the second half of the 16th century and the first two decades of the 17th century, and a Parish Priest of a small town in Romagna, who lived in the 1800s? What spiritual affinity can unite them? Certainly what makes these two pastors of souls close and in part similar is first and foremost a strong and overwhelming love for God and the apostolic zeal that animated them from the very beginning of their priestly vocation, making them both tireless and creative pastors, missionaries in love with Christ Jesus and burning with love and passion for souls.

Walking in the footsteps of these two great figures: one a Saint and Doctor of the Church, the other officially recognised as Venerable, the Daughters of St Francis de Sales bring to the world the gift of their founding charism and their love-centred spirituality.Francesco

They are contemplatives in action, women committed to service to the Church, wherever there are brothers in need of proclamation and help, doing “the things of Martha with the heart of Mary”, women whom the Founder wants “inflamed with the love of God”, dedicated to the apostolate of prayer and education in the faith.

In the ‘Rules of Life’ – the Spiritual Directory written by Fr Carlo Cavina for the Daughters of St Francis de Sales – the mission they must fulfil in the Church is indicated: to be apostles of prayer and educators of the faith.

“Let your heart always be in God and let your gaze be fixed and steadfast in order to glorify – in every possible way – your beloved Lord” (RdV chap. VIII art. 12).

For the Daughter of St. Francis de Sales, prayer is the daily breath, the heart to heart contact with the Lord to whom she has given her whole life, and from this intimacy she draws the energy, the strength, the impetus to fulfil every other mission entrusted to her.

The words of the Gospel in which Jesus says to “pray always and never grow weary” (Lk 18:1) seem an unattainable utopia, so one wonders: “How to do it?”. Fr Cavina responds by exhorting the sisters to have their hearts always in God, but also to practise what St Francis de Sales called “vital prayer”, that is, to live every moment of one’s existence as a praise to God, an unceasing prayer made up of works, putting into practice what St Paul says: “None of us lives for himself, and none of us dies for himself, because if we live, we live for the Lord, if we die, we die for the Lord. Whether we live or die, we are therefore the Lord’s’ (Rom 14:7-8). Hence, for the Daughters of St Francis de Sales, being apostles of prayer is linked to the second aspect of their mission: being educators of the faith, which means following the example of the Good Shepherd and “shepherding” the flock, educating them to faith and love, both with their own testimony of life, and with the concrete and daily commitment of listening to each brother and sister. The sisters live out their founding charism by committing themselves, in Italy and in many parts of the world, such as in Africa, Asia and Brazil, in various fields of apostolate ranging from schools to parish pastoral work, from educational and care communities to homes for the elderly and hospitals, from family pastoral work house to house to serving the poor in cities and villages.

The commitment of the Daughter of St Francis de Sales is to proclaim Christ and ‘infect’ his love first of all with her life, then with apostolic service in whatever sphere she is destined. The style that distinguishes and gives a characteristic imprint to her apostolate is that of Salesianism, which Fr Cavina has always recommended. It is a style that dresses everything ordinary and daily with the extraordinary, because it is enlivened by a strong love for Christ and dedication to the brothers and sisters, a style that is evident in doing everything “with pleasantness on the face, with a smile on the lips and with words that emanate kindness and gentleness” (RdV 190).

Sister Mariapaola Campanella


  • Sister Mariapaola Campanella


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