When Work Takes Time From God

Canonization to Recognize Nun Who Sought Room for Virtue

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By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, APRIL 7, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Italian Sister Mary Gertrude Comensoli died as she was adoring the Eucharist — a fitting end for a nun who dedicated her life to making room for God in the midst of an increasingly industrialized society.

Sister Comensoli founded an institute of women religious dedicated to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, in response to a papal indication to do what she could to help workers find space for God in the midst of long hours on the job.

She will be canonized by Benedict XVI on April 26.

Born in 1847 and baptized with the name Caterina, the future founder wanted to join the convent by age 15. She sought one order but left because of ill health and eventually consecrated herself privately.

“From her childhood, she was very sensitive to the constant presence of God in the midst of men through the Eucharist,” the postulator of her cause of canonization, Father Riccardo Petroni, told ZENIT.

Her great concern was that Italy’s traditionally rural society was being transformed by industrialization. Families had to face new work demands, which she perceived led to great moral degradation. What most bothered the future saint were the excessive hours of work, which “left no room for the soul.”
Given this situation, Comensoli managed to gain a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, who encouraged her to do something about the difficult social and moral environment that was so affecting the world of workers, and especially to focus on the education of young women.
“It was a powerful voice that was calling me,” Comensoli would later write in a brief autobiography. “I was saddened by anything that did not tend to God and the practice of the virtues.”

Thus on Dec. 15, 1882, she founded an institute for adoration and education, the Congregation of the Sacramentine Sisters of Bergamo. She received the company and advice of Father Francesco Spinelli, and the support of the diocesan prelate, Bishop Gaetano Guindani.
The first objective was perpetual adoration so that, thanks to profound prayer, her nuns would help the neediest. Two years later the young founder took the habit and the name Sister Mary Gertrude of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
“The sisters committed themselves to seeing that careers would not be a risk to the salvation of the soul and would not lead to the abandonment and detriment of those supernatural values that belonged to the Christian and social fabric of Italy at that time,” Father Petroni explained.

In 1900 the congregation received its first papal recognition from Leo XIII.

“Jesus Christ lives in our midst to be close and ready to help us always,” Sister Gertrude would write. “Love keeps him a prisoner in a Host, hidden night and day in the holy tabernacle. He has his delight in the inaccessible light of the Father and yet delights to be with men.”
Today the congregation has some 90 communities, present in Europe, Africa and South America. Nourished by a spirituality dedicated to love of the Eucharist, the sisters carry out their daily service in welfare, educational and liturgical endeavors.

Sister Comensoli died in 1903 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1989.

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