Clelia Barbieri was born to Giuseppe Barbieri and Giacinta Nannettil on February 13, 1847 in Budrie, a village in the outskirts of Bologna, Italy. From an early age, her mother taught Clelia to love God, placing in her heart the desire for sanctity. When she was just eight, she lost her father to cholera.

From the day of her First Communion at the age of 11, the crucifix and Our Lady of Sorrows inspired her saintly soul. She was far more mature than her age. She worked with joy and love, praying and thinking of God at all times and even speaking of Him to her companions. Clelia lived in charity, and fervent faith burned inside her, and she felt that she “must go” to give herself to all of God’s poor.

During this time, there was a group called “The Christian Catechism Workers” who were mainly men. At Budrie, the group was led by an elderly school teacher. Soon, Clelia became one of their Catechism Workers. This Catechism group elected Clelia as their leader and conceived the idea of a community devoted to an apostolic and contemplative way of life. On May 1, 1868, Clelia and her young friends moved into the “teacher’s house” where the Workers for Christian Catechism had formerly met. This was the humble beginning of Clelia Barbieri’s religious family which later was named the religious community of the “Suore Minime dell’Addolorata”. This small group was inspired by Clelia’s physical and moral sufferings in her darkest hours and in the absurd humiliations she endured at the hands of those who should have been more understanding. However, her faith and devotion in prayer were always extraordinary and was the moving spirit.

Slowly, people began to see Clelia as a leader and teacher of the faith. They started calling her “Mother” although she was only 22-years-old.  The dormant tuberculosis she had always carried, suddenly flared up; two years after she had founded the order. Clelia died prophesising to the sister at her bedside, “I’m leaving, but I’ll never abandon you. When in that alfalfa field next to the church there will be a new community house, I will no longer be with you … You will grow in number, and you will expand over plains and mountains to work in the vineyard of the Lord. The day will come when here at ‘Budrie’ many will arrive with carriages and horses.” And she added, “I’m going to Heaven and all those who will die in our community will enjoy eternal life”.

She died on July 13, 1870, with the happiness of one going to meet her spouse and beloved Lord. Today, the sisters following in Clelia’s footsteps continue their work of assistance to all in need and now number 300 spread over 35 community houses. Her voice is miraculously still heard today

Being only 23 years at the time of her death, Clelia Barbieri is the youngest founder of a religious community in the history of the Church. She was canonized in Rome on April 9, 1989 by John Paul II.

By Linu Deepak