It is very important to know Elena da Persico, her history and her intuitions to understand her outlook on the world, which led her to start a new vocation in the Church. A vocation which is still modern and reveals us a life of grace moulded by contemplation in action in the service of our brothers and sisters as Jesus did.
Elena da Persico was born in Verona on 17th July 1869, the first born to Count Carlo III da Persico and Countess Maria Barbavara of Gravellona.
The family of noble origins was having financial difficulties and in 1878 moved to Milan where Elena’s father found a job and where he died four years later.
Elena had soon to face the problem of earning her living: she obtained degrees both as Primary School teacher and as teacher of French. Yet she did not start a teaching career but began writing and translating and later became a journalist, a profession she carried out all her life though it was not much appreciated in her time, namely for a woman.
Her fundamental choices
In 1904 she privately consecrates herself to her only Lord Jesus, continuing her usual life, full of work and relationships but abiding in Christ’s love. She says: “The external action is but an irradiation of such abiding” .
In the same year she becomes the Editor of “Azione Muliebre”, a magazine for women aiming to form and stimulate them to take an active part in social life. She gives lectures and organizes activities for the emancipation of women all over Italy in a very difficult period for Italian Catholics who are starting to get involved again in politics, after the “Non expedit” issued by Pope Pius IX soon after the occupation of Rome by the Italian army in 1870.
During the first “Italian Catholic Social Week”, held in Pistoia in 1909, she meets Giuseppe Toniolo, an eminent Catholic economist who is working to put into practice the encyclical “Rerum Novarum”. They develop a great friendship and collaboration for the foundation of the Italian “Women Catholic Union” to work alongside the political movement “Popular Union” and later in the organization of the annual “Social Week”.
Elena travels extensively in Veneto, Lombardia and Toscana, stimulating the involvement of Catholics in social affairs.
Elena, the foundress of the FRA
From 1911 and 1914 she had the intuition and insight regarding a new vocation, a new project which developed in her mind during the hours spent in intense prayer mostly after the Holy Comunion. In obedience to her spiritual director, she wrote down her intuitions, attentive to ban from her mind any thought of her own, as she was - she said – “only God’s instrument”.
Her social work and role in the Church
During this period of intense spiritual experiences, Elena is always concerned with the problems of her time: the first world war is on with its consequent sufferings for men, women, soldiers, civilians. She tries to help everyone while she takes active interest in school, educational projects, problems of factory workers and local farmers, becoming a key figure in all social spheres of the Diocese of Verona.
Her activity is inspired by the profound need to give an authentic response to the problems of her time, urged and sustained by Christ’s love.
She writes to the FRA: Our abiding in the heart of Christ makes us apostles
with a wide vision of individual and social needs and enables us to attend to them with love and efficiency.
She is also active in the cultural field, not only as Editor of the magazine “Azione Muliebre”, but also with meetings and lectures on a wide variety of problems. These activities are the expression of her being a disciple of our Lord and of her union with Him, in order to respond to the new needs of the world.
From maturity to death
Elena continues to be involved in the Italian catholic movement, while the first groups of FRA are formed in different parts of Italy and Elena is engaged in their development and organization and she is also starting the iter for the Church approval.
They are years of engagement and difficulties and her health begins to suffer. She is following with great concern the Italian political events which will lead to fascism and to the second world war. In spite of her age and poor health, she is involved in various works aiming to help the war victims, trying very hard to overcome the political censorship and her financial problems.
In 1943 she has heart problems and in 1945 she is hospitalised for a serious anaemia. But her spirit is still vivid and, when the war is over , she is active in the political strife for the right of women to vote and for the political and administrative elections, becoming, at the age of 76, a member of Affi’s Local Council.
On Christmas Eve 1947 she is informed that the Holy See has officially approved the Secular Institute FRA: it is the fulfilment of her entire life.
On the 16th of May 1948, in the Chapel of Villa da Persico, Affi, Elena renews her consecration to God according to the rules of the new Secular Institute FRA. She dies on the 28th of June 1948 after long sufferings. To the FRA who are caring for her she says: “I am in peace. Go to sleep…”
She had struggled all her life for the rights of the needy and the weak, but she had maintained a deep interior peace as she had always tried to be detached from her projects and achievements. In a letter, in fact, she had written: We are, it is true, dedicated to the apostolate, but not even the apostolate is our food: the will of God is our food and nourishment.
She expressed this interior attitude in few words: “My food is to do the will of God”.