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Social engagement and dedication to the Church

Elena’s work was multifaceted; she was operationally present in the Catholic life of the time, to the extent that she received the affectionate title of “my Auxiliary” from Cardinal Bacilieri (1910) in her diocese of Verona.

She oversaw family, school, educational and re-education projects, in the world of culture, work and agriculture; she worked enthusiastically to encourage Catholic and social movements, promoting initiatives or offering collaboration.


However, she was not superficially fluttering from one sector to the next without grasping their respective deeper needs, driven by activism or curiosity; rather, hers was an effort to provide an authentic response to emerging needs, aimed at eliciting other, more organic, wide-ranging answers that could address the vast complexities of such problems, in response to the urgency of Christ’s love. She writes to the FRA:


“Dwelling in the cell of the Sacred Heart allows us to learn to be true apostles, acquiring a greater breadth of vision and thus embracing a wider apostolate, greater insights regarding individual and social needs and greater security and sensitivity in providing them aid.”


She witnessed a number of significant upheavals in her lifetime (e.g. consider the experience of the two world wars), great social, cultural and ecclesial changes (several popes: Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI and lastly, Pius XII). In this historical context, women emerge from the domestic setting, to become workers, voters and politicians. Da Persico fully embraced the policy of women’s social participation and dedicated herself to the cause with refreshingly humble intelligence.


She worked on several projects in the social field, but far from being distracted by these varied activities, through them she lived her life in profound and radical obedience to the will of God, which she expressed in her own words:


“I am close to Him, but especially so in carrying out my mission where He wants me: in the press and through social action. And I must do both, so to speak, on my knees.”


The defence of women and female workers was a central tenet of her social engagement. She was involved in numerous projects in this area. Condemning the inhuman poverty in which female cottage industry workers found themselves, Elena supported them and promoted professional unions to replace overly paternalistic charitable institutions. For example, she met with the many lacemakers of Burano, encouraged them and urged them to establish their own professional union, which they then went on to successfully form. She fought for fair wages and holidays; she took an active interest in trade unions, defended the right to strike (supporting, for example, the seamstresses’ strikes in Turin and Rome), courageously denounced abuses of power by the business magnates, never tiring of reminding them of their responsibilities (which is even more significant when one considers her own aristocratic origins).


In addition to her social engagement, Elena was also very active in the cultural and social fields, where she worked not only through Azione Muliebre (Feminine Action), but also through conventions, conferences and meetings at various levels. She dealt with a variety of issues, from the most complex to the most minute. Toniolo got her involved in the 1908 Social Week. This collaboration with Toniolo, who became a mentor and guide to Da Persico, was then to continue for the rest of her life. Da Persico followed the various editions of the Social Weeks with great interest and thanks to her work as a journalist, she helped to disseminate the subject matter they highlighted. Extensive articles on this subject can be found in her magazine.

Through her life, which was a patchwork of projects, actions, sacrifices and a wide variety of modes of dedication, her way of being a disciple of the Lord took concrete form, in deep communion with Him, to meet the new demands of the time, including the need for justice as the highest form of love.

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