Bl. Gaetana Sterni


Foundress
(1827-1889) 
Memorial : 26 November 

Gaetana was born on 26 June 1827 in Cassola, in the province of Vicenza, Italy, as one of six children. In 1835 the family moved to Bassano, where it was hit with tragedy. Gaetana's elder sister died at 18 and her father who was sick for six years died shortly afterwards. Her brother Francesco left home to become an actor, leaving the family in financial straits. These events made a deep impression on Gaetana who, sharing life's daily trials with her mother, was forced to grow up before her time. She received a sound religious education, based on her mother's example of living faith. Not yet 16, after much thought and prayer, she married a young entrepreneur, Liberale Conte, who was a widower with three children. Unfortunately after only eight months of married life, Liberate died. Gaetana was expecting his child at the time. Her baby also died after only a few days of life. She was 16 years old now, overwhelmed by sorrow but putting her trust in God. She had to face problems with her husband's family and her subsequent separation from his children when at 19 she returned home to her mother. Despite the forced separation from her children, she defended their rights, was generous in her forgiveness, and obtained the full reconciliation of the two families. From 1843 to 1853 Gaetana felt called to belong to God alone and through prayer tried to find where she should live her call. She joined the Canossians in Bassano but her mother's sudden death five months later obliged her to leave to take care of her brothers. She was 26 years old when she was finally free of family obligations and could at last follow God's call. In 1853 "only to do the will of God" Gaetana took charge of the municipal poor house, which gave shelter to 115 people. 1860 became the year of the foundation of the congregation because in that year Gaetana took a vow of chastity and was privately clothed as a religious. In November 1860 she was professed adding the specific vow of total self-giving to God and so became the first Daughter of the Divine Will. She stayed in Bassano for 36 years until she died in 1889. She treated everyone in the poor house with the sensitivity and gentleness of those who know they are serving the Lord in the poor.

The Congregation of the Daughters of the Divine Will grew with the profession of her first two companions in 1865. The Bishop of Vicenza approved their Rule in 1875 officially recognizing the valuable work of the congregation. Gaetana died on 26 November 1889 lovingly assisted by her daughters. Her mortal remains are venerated in the Mother House, and today her congregation has spread in Europe, America and Africa.


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