Yolanda Ricci – Mother M. Lucia
Praise to the Most Holy Trinity for the Easter period spent in faith, in hope, in the continuous (search) for Him, for the One who is the whole reason for my life in view of eternity. On this Easter journey, the Gospel expression burns in my heart like a flame: “There is no greater love than this: to give life!”. This is what Jesus Master did, this is what Blessed Timothy Giaccardo did. I constantly and consciously want to do this also. Our way is different, but I believe it corresponds to the will of God, this God I desire to “please” (from the writings of Mother M. Lucia Ricci).
Yolanda Ricci was born in Corpolò, a small town in the province of Rimini on 11th February 1914. On this occasion her father joyfully rang the bell to celebrate her birth. Yolanda was born after five brothers, some of whom died while very small.
She was the sixth of 15 children, 8 girls and 7 boys. Her parents, Primo and Maddalena Tonni were deeply Christian. Yolanda was baptized in the parish church the day after her birth. At the age of five she went to the school of the Augustinian Sisters in Sogliano sul Rubicone, a tourist place in the province of Forlì-Cesena. At this school she received the sacrament of Confirmation and the Eucharist for the first time.
On the day of her First Communion, the eighth of December, the feast of Mary Immaculate, she was dressed in white for the occasion. She was told that in the first meeting with Jesus Host she could ask for anything with the certainty of obtaining it. It was then that Yolanda asked for the gift of a religious vocation!
After finishing elementary school, Yolanda returned to her family and worked hard with the enthusiasm and vivacity that had distinguished her in college. From her own words we grasp her exuberance and vitality:
“At fifteen, the definite idea of becoming a nun came to me, although it was not yet clear in all the details. The attraction to a higher ideal became the animating force of my entire teenage years. I did not experience the so-called sentimental disappointments, but I strongly felt the invitation of a pure, sincere human affection, which I might have known and could respond to (…) In the awareness of having to follow a path that was not a common one, two things were then and later the object of the deepest and most costly renunciation: that of not having children and that of renouncing my freedom! I knew that I had to renounce being a mother: I knew that I would have to submit. I wanted one thing and the other, in the hope of a more beautiful motherhood and the conquest of a higher mountain. On this path was the complete sacrifice of the will.
She spent most of her days in the store. She was the daughter of the owner of a cooperative that, although located in a provincial village, was the commercial center to which many people flocked from the surrounding districts. The work was hard. In the ceaseless contact with all types of characters and customers, between the flow of the coin and the fluctuation of the scales, Yolanda felt a great need for prayer. To satisfy this desire for prayer, Yolanda was an extremely early riser. She got up at four o’clock in summer and at five o’clock in winter. This schedule was very demanding and required a great effort of her will.
“The cool dawn woke me up me as I walked. I needed to meet Him. I was aware that every day was for me not only the fulfillment of a demanding duty, but a struggle to nurture my vocation. Sometimes, this was very difficult and very challenging. At times during the day, I returned to the church. I was already able to stay for five minutes in before the Tabernacle, without thinking about the weights, the bicycle, my little brothers … they were fleeting but intense moments, and then off in a hurry, literally running!”
She loved Catholic Action intensely but soon understood that she could not stay there all her life.
“For me, the idea of becoming a nun meant doing good, dedicating myself unreservedly to the salvation of souls. This desire took on proportions as vast as the world, most often absurd. I would have liked to assist children without a mother and the elderly without children; sitting in the chair to teach or approaching the bedside of the suffering to heal bodies and comfort souls. Rarely did the possibility of a cloistered life cross my mind … More than anything else I felt the need for humble and effective collaboration with the clergy. The word “Mission” exerted an extraordinary fascination on me. I wanted to orient myself in the choice towards a Missionary Institute”.
In 1931 she met for the first time with the reality of the Pauline Family. It was beginning to take its first missionary steps outside Italy, and she was most enthusiastic about it. She herself bears witness to this: “Once after praying, I had a clear idea that I would choose a religious institute alongside a male institute. This responded to my inner need, a desire to collaborate with the priest”.
She met, in an unexpected way, the Congregation of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master which was then seven years in existence. Experts in the field advised her to choose an Institute already tried by experience but I wanted to celebrate a decade, not a centenary! What exerted a particular attraction on the soul of the young eighteen-year-old Yolanda was the name Disciples of the Master… and in pronouncing these words she experienced a particular strength.
“I was eighteen years of age. It was a beautiful age to consecrate myself consciously to the Lord, but for about three years I had been a great support to my large family. A financial collapse had reduced us to a pitiful condition. Before taking the vow of poverty I knew poverty to the point of misery, I tasted the bitter humiliation that follows a wealth now gone away and mocked. From the shop that we owned; I went as a saleswoman to another. I did not have the courage to deprive my family of my help, but one day, the very day my father found the long-awaited job that put him in a position to earn something, he called me to tell me: ‘Now, go. It is not right that we keep you any longer, go where the Lord calls you, and be blessed!'”
Towards a new life
After about a week of preparations, her father took her to Bologna in the carriage. She arrived at Alba, the Mother House on June 27th, 1932. “I entered the great church of St. Paul, and all my sentiments were poured into the heart of Jesus. At that moment, I lacked enthusiasm. I wanted to see up close the Pious Disciples in Adoration with their heavenly dress. The face of my mother and my loved ones, returned to my imagination. I thought of the freedom I had sacrificed and I seemed to hear my youngest brother calling to me in anguish. I was strongly tempted to go back immediately, without even getting acquainted with what was to become my new Family! It lasted a few moments. I covered my face with my hands, and I heard a voice echo: “Be generous.” I gazed at the Holy Host, renewed, and with great determination, I got up.
At Alba on January 25th, 1933 Yolanda was given the religious habit: we received from the hands of the Founder the blue habit of the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master. On February 2nd, 1933 she welcomed her first destination and was sent to France, to St. Mandé and Vincennes (Paris). She remained there until 1936 and was committed to the work of spreading the Gospel. The expectation was that she would return to Alba after a few months. However, she waited until August 1936 when she was summoned to participate in a course of Exercises in Alba. This was with the Pious Disciples and held at the Daughters of St. Paul in Borgo Piave. At the conclusion of these exercises, the group of Pious Disciples made their first profession. When it was her turn, she was called by name by Fr Timothy Giaccardo to profess her religious vows. After that she left for Paris under the name of Sr. Maria Lucia. However, in late November, the news arrived that her profession had not been canonically valid. She was expected to go to Rome and join the novitiate at the Daughters of St. Paul. She left on 21st November 1936 and arrived in Rome on the 22nd November.
On 19th January 1937 she entered the Novitiate in Rome with the Daughters of St. Paul. Her Novice Mistress was Sr Nazarena Morando (1904-1984). The novices formed a large group, preparing for Pauline religious life. They included a group of twelve novices of the Pious Disciples, including Yolanda. They stayed in the community of the Pious Disciples during the day at the Pious Society of St. Paul. They devoted themselves to the various activities and collaborated well together.
Each evening they returned to the novitiate where they spent the night and participated in the morning prayer. On a practical level, this situation was difficult and uncertain for both the Mistress and the novices. The novices of the Sister Disciples strongly desired to participate with the others in the whole course of the novitiate, but the apostolic needs of practical service hindered a total participation in the lessons on the various topics of formation. Sr Nazarena was a guide who listened to their personal reflections and sharing. She gave them brief, sincere instruction and helped them to see with the eyes of faith. She desired that they were formed to be strong and integrated religious women. After completing her novitiate, Yolanda was admitted to religious profession which she made on 20th January 1938.
Later, on 2nd February 1938 she returned to Paris (Nogent). The founder, Fr James Alberione, entrusted her, together with Sr Graziana Dogliani, with the task of presenting themselves to the Ordinary of the following Dioceses: Nants, Reims, Arras, Lille, in the hope of obtaining permission from some Bishop to start a Pauline community. They all refused. But the sisters continued to pray through the intercession of St. Joseph. Through the kindness of Mother M. Augusta, then superior in Marseilles, and with the help of Fr Giovanni Costa SSP, they were received with much good will by the Bishop of Nice, H.E. Msgr. Paul Remond. They then left for Nice and, after about twenty days they already had a home: they entered Villa Magdala St. Maurice and were followed by other sisters.
From Nice, France Sr. M. Lucia was called to Alba by Mother Scholastica for a new mission: to help in the Novitiate. The young age of Sr. M. Lucia and the fact that she was not yet professed for the required 10 years, did not allow that she held the juridical position of “Mistress” although, in fact, she was the Mistress of Novices. “Mother Scholastica wrote to me and said I would go and help her in the Novitiate. It was such beautiful news, so beautiful that only Jesus, who saw into the depths of my heart, can tell how grateful I was to him”.
She arrived in Alba on the morning of Ash Wednesday, February 22nd, 1939. Immediately entering the Church, she received the Ashes, happy to begin her new duty on a day of penance with an act of humility. While exercising the ministry of Mistress of Novices and assisted by Fr Timothy Giaccardo at the explicit request of the Founder, Sr. M. Lucia made her perpetual profession on 20th January 1944. In her memorial card, Sr Lucia of the Eucharist has the words from the beginning of the prayer: Lord, I offer you … This expresses all the mystical and apostolic intensity of the offering of her life as a Pious Disciple in the Pauline Family and in the Church.
Several groups of sisters followed one another in the various novitiates. They created a deep spiritual bond with the Mistress. This was consolidated in the Jubilee celebrations of the 25th and 50th professions. Mother M. Lucia always continued to accompany the spiritual journey of the sisters she had formed in the novitiate.
As Mistress of Novices and with the novices themselves she lived the Calvary of our Institute during the years of 1946-1947. The Divine Master intimately associated his disciples and in a very special way, the Venerable Mother M. Scolastica Rivata in his Paschal Mystery.
An engaging mission: to give life
On April 3rd, 1947, the Congregation of the Sister Disciples finally received diocesan approval. It was Holy Thursday! In the Decree of erection of the Institute Virginis Ecclesiae of the Bishop of Alba we read:
“By apostolic indult, transmitted to us by the Reverend Father Angelico Alexandria OFM Conventual. The Apostolic Visitor of this new Institute, with our authority appoints and constitutes as the Superior General of the Congregation the Reverend Sister Maria Lucia Ricci, … who the same Visitor had previously chosen and dispensed her from the age limit. The venerable Mother General, beloved in Christ, and willed by us to govern the whole Congregation, will make her profession of faith, and take the Vows according to the Constitutions now approved, before us or our delegate. To her we also give the faculty to erect the Novitiate in this our episcopal city and to provide for other things as necessary. May the Divine Master who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, in whose honour we have instituted this new religious Family, through the intercession of the Queen of the Apostles and Saint Paul, always protect the new foundation and grant us to grow always in his love. Aloysius M. Grassi, Episcopus Albensis Feria V – in Coena Domini A.D. – MCMXLVII
With this event, Sr. M. Lucia Ricci, as the appointed Superior General, succeeded Mother M. Scolastica Rivata, the First Mother of the Pious Disciples and the first Superior General, in the governance of the Congregation.
From this period, she was known as Mother Maestra because the name of Mother had been added to that of Teacher. Our Congregation received Pontifical Approval on January 12th, 1948, the day on which Fr Timothy Giaccardo celebrated the Eucharist for the last time. Mother Maestra, together with the Founder and the whole Pauline Family, lived with faith and pain this passage of God that deprived them of precious support.
The life of Mother Maria Lucia Ricci is intertwined with the history of our Congregation. She affirmed herself as the mother and sister of all the Pious Disciples of the world, who she repeatedly visited during the years of her ministry as Superior General. The many apostolic initiatives bear the seal of her prayer, of her obedience to the Founder and of the urgency of the Gospel.
Mother M. Lucia was very concerned about the pastoral care of youth and vocations. She was convinced that the vocation and mission of the Pious Disciple was timely and urgent and asked for the collaboration of everyone in supporting vocations.
“We should be many, prepared, qualified. Do not get tired of the refrain, which is repeated time and again as a lively desire, a trusting and at the same time, a heartfelt prayer: “It is the hour of the Eucharist, the priesthood, and the liturgy”. It is therefore the hour of the Pious Disciples. In every time and place, may each person faithfully correspond; let each one pray and work for vocations, choice, formation, stability” (Circ. April 18, 1967).
Mother M. Lucia accompanied the growth and expansion of the Congregation in the world
During her term of office, the Congregation of the Sister Disciples opened its horizons to fifteen new nations, from East to West, from South Korea to Chile and Africa. The government of Mother M. Lucia corresponds, in the first mandate, to that period in which Blessed James Alberione was still alive and active. This means that the founder is still the mind that inspired, that motivated, that took great strides. Therefore, the docility and the collaboration of M. Lucia was very much appreciated. If we look at the sisters sent to begin the new foundations, with today’s categories, we would say: they were too young. They had neither preparation of language nor culture. The faith of the founder was shared by Mother M. Lucia and the sisters that were sent. sent. In the name of this faith, long journeys were made by ship, people arrived in the new country, they searched for a place to live. Often, they relied on the Pauline family who were already present in the country.
They searched for local young people who were eager to place themselves at the school of Jesus the Master and would be committed to communicating the charism. M. Lucia, in her ministry as Superior General, had direct contact with all the sisters and communities on the five continents. Some “missionary” journeys were made in the Pauline Family style: they traveled together: the Founder, Father James Alberione, Maestra Tecla Merlo, Superior General of the Daughters of St. Paul and Mother M. Lucia Ricci, Superior General of the Pious Disciples.
In visiting the sisters present in the various nations, she showed particular attention to the different cultures. She kept a diary of her travels, and she transmitted them to the other communities. This helped to nourish the missionary spirit throughout the Institute, helping all the sisters share in the vitality that flourished in the different realities, nations and continents.
The last continent was Africa, and she shares the following: “We have been requested to send three Pious Disciples to Africa, to the Vocational House of the Society of St Paul in the Congo. It is a new gift from the Divine Master to the Pious Disciples, a new invitation to the Disciples to the Master. In August – September, God willing, also the Little House in Africa will be a comforting reality; to give joyfully and generously the contribution of our prayer and charity” (Circ. July 2, 1961).
The missionary sensitivity that Mother M Lucia carried in her heart, as a vocation within a vocation, enabled her to rejoice in contact with different cultures. As she visited the various nations, she felt a great apostolic fascination: every place always seemed to her the most beautiful of all, with great possibilities for the mission. To try to find out if in her heart there was a preference for Africa or for Asia would be to do a disservice to her desire to become “all to all”, with the apostolic heart of St. Paul.
She was characterized by an intense commitment to communicating the values that, as Pauline Family, we live in following Jesus the Divine Master, sustained by Mary Queen of the Apostles and by the example of St Paul the Apostle. Her circular letters, her meditations, the formative schools, the travel diaries, the countless personal writings, as well as the publication of biographies of some of the Pious Disciples and the many contributions of creativity in the various sectors of apostolic production, show the sensitivity of her heart as a Pious Disciple. She had a taste for beauty, an intense liturgical spirit, a great sense of mission with a missionary spirit. She taught the sisters to nourish themselves with every word of the Gospel, as the daily liturgy offers it. She taught us to listen and to dialogue with Jesus the Master, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, not a distant Jesus, but a person who was alive and present to his disciples, in the totality of the Eucharistic Mystery.
She introduced us to the vital experience of silence as a condition for the intensity of love between the disciple and the Master. Sensitive to the magisterium of the Second Vatican Council, she encouraged the practice of the Liturgy of the Hours with the community celebration of morning Lauds and Vespers and promoted the care of singing in the various liturgical celebrations.
Her entering into the sweetness of the charity of the Divine Master made her a participant in the apostolic desires of Fr James Alberione. She was sensitive to the new needs of priests, consecrated persons, the sick or the elderly, without neglecting the formative collaboration of the youngest. For many brother priests and Pauline disciples, she was a person of capable of listening, encouragement, and consolation.
Her natural giftedness inclined her to understand the harmony and beauty that she favored for the encounter with God. So, it was not difficult for her to interpret Alberione who invited the Pious Disciples to place art at the service of the liturgy, so that the people would pray in beauty. With almost blind trust in the Primo Maestro, she challenged young sisters to take these new paths.
Until the end of her earthly existence, she was characterized by her ability to relate and to pay attention to others. She had an exceptional memory for names and for the names of the relatives of the sisters. She was interested in various events, health, a school exam taken. The sisters felt her accompaniment and closeness.
Passing of the baton
In the General Chapter of 1981, Madre Maestra was succeeded in her ministry as Superior General, and Mother M. Tecla Molino was elected. Mother M. Lucia left the Generalate and lived for a period at the Casa Gesù Maestro/Rome. While she was able, she continued her collaboration with Fr Stefano Lamera SSP. He was the Postulator General of the Pauline Family and worked for the beatification and canonization causes. It began with Fr Timothy Giaccardo.
In particular, she took care of all the documentation and the explanation of the material for the cause of Mother M Scholastica Rivata. Mother Lucia always kept alive the memory of the deceased Sister Disciples and she took special care for the historical documents of the Congregation. This has made it possible to continue in depth studies of the history.
On the level of the Pauline Family, she offered various contributions with a view to reviving the spirituality and charism transmitted by Blessed James Alberione.
Marked by the experience of a car accident on November 26th, 1998, the Divine Master seemed to hasten the preparation for the eternal wedding. Serene and full of faith, she lived final years in the way she had always lived.
Following further complications, her health declined until the passage full of peace in eternity, in our community of Albano Laziale (RM). It was August 10th, 2001, the hour of Vespers of the feast of the martyr Lawrence.
We thank God for having given this Sister and Mother to our Congregation, to the Pauline Family, to the Church and to the world. “I thank the SS.ma Trinity for the gift of supernatural life received in Baptism. I believe, I renounce, I want to live my Baptism in increasing fullness (12th February 1997).”