It was not just an ordinary anniversary celebrated in the house of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo. Rather, September 15, 2015 was an occasion to remember the Missionaries’ first years when everything began. “As days go by,” recalls Superior General Sr. Rachele Paiusco, “the more luminous the beginning becomes: the encounter with the Fraternity, the way I was looked upon and taken seriously, and the first women that came. As time goes by, those beginning years become more and more precious in my memory. They were pure years; our desires in those years were clear. I will always keep in my heart that privileged beginning that I lived. When I look back on those years, the difficult moments in the present take on a different light.”
Looked upon in a special way
The adventure began in 2001 when Rachele, then a freshman studying Letters at the State University of Milan, encountered Fr. Paolo Sottopietra. Rachele desired a religious community inside the life of the Movement of Communion and Liberation, with a religious habit, a rule, and a missionary impulse. She saw in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles “a house that one belongs to forever” even if, as she remembers today, “it seemed impossible because the Fraternity was only for men.” After three years of discerning the form of her vocation, Fr. Paolo proposed that she meet Fr. Massimo Camisasca, the founder and then superior of the Priestly Fraternity. It was August 28, 2004. She remembers that meeting as a watershed; it was a moment that revealed a wealth of possibility.
“He could have told me many things: ‘You are 23 years old, you are small, and this proposal has no precedent.’ Or he could have said, ‘Since you are alone, go back home, live your life, then come back after a couple of years when there are two or three of you.’ Or even, ‘Grow a little bit more, look for a job.’ Instead he told me that we needed to ask ourselves if it was a calling from the Holy Spirit or something that came from men. It took us a year to begin to respond to this provocation.” She felt looked upon in a special way.
Among the many provocations that Fr. Massimo gave, one in particular struck her: “Do you feel called to begin something new?” Rachele answered, “If there are also others who have my desire, yes; I would begin something new with you. The presence of others would be a sign that it is not simply my idea.”
“Let yourself be led”
A year of suspense followed, full of waiting and work. Rachele had just graduated in piano performance and decided to continue university studies. The words of Camisasca and the companionship of Fr. Paolo gave her wings. Between 2004 and 2005, she passed 14 exams. She continued her relationship with Fr. Massimo through letter writing. When she told him that she had a profound desire for the kind of silence that places God at the center of everything, he invited her to go to a monastery in Vitorchiano, a municipality in central Italy north of Rome, for a couple of days. He suggested, “Let us see if what you are looking for is there, and find out if that is a more practical way.”
On the first of January 2005, Rachele was visiting the Trappist monastery, fascinated by the beauty of monastic life. To Mother Rosario who welcomed her, she said, “I would like to live the same beauty, the same seriousness—silence, the rule, obedience, the work of personal conversion—the same intensity of life, full of the presence of Christ, that I see here. But I would also like this beauty to go around the world; I would like to see it enter houses and walk on the streets.” Mother Rosario also took her seriously and told her to continue her journey of discernment with Fr. Massimo and Fr. Paolo. She wrote Rachele a note advising, “Let yourself be led.”
An intimate companionship
Meanwhile, in the little group that Fr. Paolo was following in Milan, other young women saw the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles as a sign. Among the first that joined the community were Elena who decided to enter after spending one year in the district of Sanità in Naples, then Mariagrazia, Ester, and others.
Rachele left for Rome on September 15, 2005, the feast of the Our Lady of Sorrows. She was hosted by sisters from Iraq called the Daughters of Immaculate Mary. She maintained a very close friendship with the priests of St. Charles. That companionship in particular would reflect how the Sisters would live their first six years, with Fr. Paolo becoming Superior General when the diocese of Rome recognized the community as a Private Association of the Faithful in 2007.
Before the world
The sisters moved to the Magliana neighborhood southwest of Rome in October of the same year, in a house where common life would start to take the form of a rule of prayer, study, and work. The following May, Rachele professed the vows of virginity, poverty, and obedience. She said, “It was a moment in which something as intimate and private as giving one’s life to God took on an objective form before the world.” The choice coincided with receiving a veil, making visible her belonging and incorporation. She said, “The moment when you say ‘yes’ to Christ, you promise to obey Him through the concrete community of the Sisters.”
From that moment on, an ordered life began to take shape. An internal school in the House of Formation was founded, and charitable work began both in the parish where the new sisters taught catechism and sang in the parish choir, and in homes and hospitals with the elderly and the sick. The house was restructured to give space to new bedrooms, a chapter room, and a library. Women from Argentina, Chile, the United States, Spain, and the Czech Republic entered the community. Their cultural histories varied from that of the Italian founders, but all shared the common awareness of an extraordinary adventure, an encounter with the priests of St. Charles, and the yearning to live the experience of the Fraternity.
Today, ten years after that luminous beginning, there are 28 sisters. Many things have changed, but they remain firm on one thing: the importance of relationship. “Throughout this journey, I have never been alone. I’ve been accompanied by the relationship with God where everything is at stake, the fatherhood of Fr. Massimo, the close guidance of Fr. Paolo, that dialogue woven in prayer which has been one of the most precious things in my life, the friendship with those who entered with me, and the common calling to give all of one’s life.”