Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity (1914-1939)

Sister Maria Gabriella Sagheddu was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1983, for having given her life for Christian unity.

A personal and community devotion to Mary

The worn pages of John's Gospel chapter 17 (the priestly prayer) in Maria Gabriella's New Testament, witness to a special meditation of the Son crying to the Father: "That they be one...". In addition to this, her rosary, exposed today in the small museum adjoining the Chapel for Unity where she is buried in the convent of Vitorchiano in Italy, never left her person. This object is the witness of her constant fidelity to the prayer of the Rosary, lived out like a true spiritual respiration. Those two "relics," her New Testament and her rosary, are a perfect reflection of the two main hinges of her spiritual life, from the time that her religious vocation germinated in her, as her spiritual counselor Dom Meloni would testify: "When she made the decision to consecrate herself to God, she did it out of a sincere and solid piety, oriented toward the Eucharist and the Madonna" (Summ. P. 156, §470).

During her growing years, even if her mother, Catherine Sagheddu, prayed the Rosary fervently and regularly (since Marian devotion was very alive in all of Sardinia), young Maria Sagheddu seemed to prefer secular readings to the Rosary. Yet from the moment of her birth the hand of Mary and the figure of Christ seemed to rest on the child: baptized under the name of Mary, her family decided to celebrate her saint's day on February 2, feast of Mary's Purification and of Jesus' Presentation in the Temple. The Virgin Mary was like the path that led her day after day to Christ in the Eucharist. Maria Sagheddu entered the convent of the Trappistine sisters of the Grottaferrata, near Rome, to become the spouse of Christ, on Saturday, October 5, 1935, the eve of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The spiritual formation she received, in the Cistercian tradition, confirmed and strengthened a Marian devotion that was always joined to the Lordship of Christ.

Strongly influenced by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux's spirituality

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153), who left a strong mark on the whole Cistercian spirituality, liked to promote a deeply biblical Marian devotion that gives Mary an important role in the history of Salvation. Mary the Mother of God, Mary the Queen, Mary the advocate, are not personal privileges but the conditions for something necessary for the salvation of all, subordinated to the One who gives salvation. Jesus saves, his mother intercedes. The "Salve Regina," sung each night after complines in Cistercian monasteries, is a reminder of her role as a Mother and a Queen who intercedes and protects. This is why each Cistercian convent is placed under the protection of Mary and bears the name of Our Lady.

Thus Maria Sagheddu was able to enrich her personal piety with a deeply Christological and biblical Mariology, expressed and sung in the worthy patristic and liturgical tradition, with each office having an antiphon to Mary. In this liturgical context, her fidelity to the recitation of the rosary (many witnessed that her rosary never left her) can be seen as a mark of trust in the efficacy of Mary's intercession with her Son. The intention is to abandon ourselves to the Father's goodness, in Christ and through Mary.

She saw herself as a servant and nothing else: "I am the servant of the Lord," for Christian unity.

One aspect of Marian devotion especially resonated in her. The postulant Maria, although she was endowed with a strong personality and prone to anger and certain impatience, was nonetheless perfectly conscious of her poverty. For the little Sardinian girl, to become nun in an important religious order, and the spouse of her adored Lord present in the Eucharist, seemed an honor of which she was absolutely unworthy.

She wanted nothing else but to be a servant and live in a perpetual act of thanksgiving. So she was overjoyed when she received the name of Maria Gabriella at her clothing ceremony, seeing it as a call to cling to Mary's "yes" spoken to the Angel Gabriel. She later shared this with her mother superior, Mother Pian: "I have always had a great devotion for the "Ecce ancilla Domini," (I am the handmaid of the Lord).

In the secret of her heart, this "yes" of the humble servant was an echo of her total "yes" to Christ's priestly prayer in the Gospel according to John: "That they may all be one!" (Jn 17:21).

During the long illness that followed her personal offering for Christian Unity in late January 1938, until her death on April 23rd, 1939, she continued to entrust herself to Mary. Sensing that death was near, she asked to receive the Sacrament of the Sick on Good Friday, if possible, when Our Lady of Sorrows is also commemorated, so it would be as if the Virgin herself was administering it (Summ. P.82 §239). To receive the anointing of the Son from the Mother of Sorrows, in an act of thanksgiving at the end of the ceremony inspired by the Psalm 103: "Bless the Lord, my soul" was Maria Gabriella's final way to remain in the joy of the humble servant, like the Handmaid of Nazareth.


Books and articles of reference:

- Summarium of her cause of beatification, Roma 1976. Dionigi Spanu sj.

- La présence de Marie dans le chemin de perfection de la Bh Maria Gabriella Sagheddu OCSO.

- Article in Ascetica e Mistica 2002 p. 103 à 128. Dom Jean Leclercq, Bernard de Clairveaux, Bibliothèque de l'Histoire du Christianisme no 19 Ed Desclée, Paris, 1989.

- Dom Jean Leclercq. St Bernard et l'esprit cistercien, Ed. du Seuil. Collection Maîtres spirituels, Paris 1966.

- Bernard Martelet. La petite sœur de l'unité, Maria Gabriella 1914-1939, Ed. Médiaspaul, Pris 1984


Patrick Balland