he life of Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce was a whole series of great projects and great ideals, which she achieved with constancy and fortitude, with patience and courage.
Maria Teresa of Cascia was born in Torriglia, a small city near Genoa, Italy, on 27 December 1881 to Eugenio Fasce and his second
wife, Teresa Valente. The Fasce family belonged to the high Genonan bourgeoisie. The child was baptized with the name Maria, but she was always called “Marietta.” At eight years of age, her mother died and her oldest sister, Luigia, personally took charge of bringing up her other younger brothers and sisters.
Marietta grew up in a healthy environment where religious values were taught and care was also given to girls’ education, within the limits possible in those times. She did well in elementary school and also began secondary school. She had a vivacious and lively character but she was docile to the teachings of adults. In Genoa she attended the Augustinian parish of Our Lady of Consolation, a fundamental place for the spiritual growth of young Marietta Fasce. There she met her confessor, Father Mariono Ferriello, who had such a great part in her vocation. Maria Fasce collaborated with great effort in the parish, taught catechism and singing, and took part in the religious functions. In the Consolation parish she learned to love the spirituality of St. Augustine.
On 24 May 1900, Pope Leo XIII canonized St. Rita of Cascia. The Augustinian Order made this new saint known through lectures, liturgical celebrations, and other events. In Genoa also they presented to their faithful this fascinating saint who would become famous throughout the whole world precisely through that girl Marrieta, who was listening with interest and passion to the dramatic events in Saint Rita’s life.
Her introduction to the Saint of Cascia created a very strong impression on her to the point that it conditioned her entire future life. Actually, Marietta Fasce had already been nourishing the desire to become a religious, but she had not made it known to anyone. Only when she was absolutely sure of the solidarity of her vocation did she make it known to her family: she wanted to become an Augustinian nun in Cascia. Here brothers’ reactions were very negative but she resisted tenaciously. Her older sister, Luiga, did not contest her religious vocation, but she could not understand her strange obstinacy about going to that remote place. After some attempts to make her enter a Ligurian Augustinian monastery, her family became resigned and Father Furriello wrote to Cascia; the answer, however, was negative. The abbess, Madre Giuseppina Gattarelli, thought that a young lady accustomed to the conveniences of the city could never become accustomed to the hard life in a monastery in the mountains. But Marrieta Fasce was not the type to be discouraged, and so she repeated her request for admission and this time was accepted in June 1906
After six months of postulancy, Maria received the Augustinian habit on Christmas night of 1906 and the following year, again on Christmas night, she took the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The names “Teresa Eletta” were given to her. She was convinced that she had left the world forever and that she had found paradise, but soon she would realize that it was not so. The environment she found in Cascia was different from her dreams: the monastery was in crisis which was worsened by the arrival in Casci of seven young sisters from Visso. This caused a generational crisis with the older sisters who were there before. Even the spirit and the habits were endangered, leaving room for laxity and laughter rather than silence, meditation, and diligence. This situation made the young sister suffer because she was not the type who would make compromises, and she never accepted that lifestyle. Disappointment and doubt also got hold of her, and she wanted to re-examine all her choices. Therefore, she left the monastery in June 1910 and returned there in May 1911, confirmed in her intentions to be an Augustinian nun close to her Saint Rita.
On 22 March 1912 she made her solemn profession of the vows. She was well aware that in order to renew the monastery spiritually it was necessary to act and not retreat. She wrote two letters to the superiors to denounce without any hesitation the situation of her monastery. In 1914 she was appointed mistress of novices, in 1917 she became vicar, and on 12 August 1920 her sisters unanimously elected her abbess. She kept that position for twenty-seven years until her death. Maria Terese incarnated the role of mother abbess so well that she became for everyone, sisters and others, the mother par excellence. Her rule was distinguished by prudence, wisdom, firmness, and sweetness. She had strong psychological insight and heightened intuition which made it possible for her to read into hearts. Moreover, her experience during the first years was always before her and so she wanted her sisters to be occupied always in prayer, in meditation, or in practical work. In that way, the community became a model of cloistered life.
Maria Teresa had her eyes set on heaven, but her feet were on the ground. Her practical sense and concreteness had become proverbial. She maintained that Jesus does not love “dolls” but that he wants active and laborious brides. She was authoritative because of her maternal charisma but she was never authoritarian; she was rigid in observing the Augustinian Rule and scrupulous in its application, which at times must have been hard and demanding, but she was never a dictator; on the contrary, she was always very tender and affable.
Maria Terese had great stamina. This was true for her vocation and for the spiritual renewal of the monastery, and it was especially true in building the new church of Saint Rita and a girls’ orphanage. As soon as she was elected, she tried to make Saint Rita known. In order to do this, she understood that adequate structures were needed to receive the pilgrims. The first step was to create a publication, which could inform people about the saint. On 22 May 1923, the first issue of the bulletin, From the Bees to the Roses, was published. The first work done was the altar, built with the offerings of the devout, in the small church where Saint Rita’s body had been kept previously. Since that undertaking was so successful, Blessed Maria Terese tried to take the next step: to build a new church in honor of Saint Rita where the ever growing number of pilgrims would be welcomed. In 1925 the bulletin launched a campaign to collect offerings, but it was a road filled with obstacles that sorely tried Blessed Maria Terese yet exalted her prudence and firmness. Twelve years went by before the work of setting the first stone took place. The construction work proceeded slowly and was later interrupted because of the war and only resumed in the spring of 1946. The new basilica was inaugurated on 18 May 1947, but Blessed Maria Terese never saw it because of the death four months earlier. One sign of Blessed Maria Teresa’s immense spiritual motherhood was the creation of the girls’ orphanage, which began in 1938, when the first “bee” of Saint Rita, Edda Petrucci, was welcomed. Soon there many little girls and the Mother followed them lovingly and took care of their spiritual and physical development. She would play with them and become like a child in their midst.
Maria Terese was an Augustinian though and through. For almost thirty years she suffered from a malignant tumor on her right breast which gave her enormous pain and for which she had to undergo two surgical operations. She called it “her treasure,” the most beautiful gift which her heavenly Bridegroom had given her. But Jesus gave her many other gifts: heart problems, asthma, diabetes, and circulatory problems that caused great burning in her feet. These illnesses made her very heavy. She was tall but obese and this kept her from walking, and so the sisters had to carry her on a chair.
However, the Blessed never let her illnesses cause disturbance to anyone; she never complained and she did not want to talk about them. Her fragile physical condition was for Teresa a slow, painful, and sustained calvary. She died January 18, 1947. Her remains rest in a crypt, which lies next to St. Rita. Pope John Paul II beatified her in July 1997
The Augustinian Family celebrates her feast on 12 October.
Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000