Metilde Gerlotto – Sr. M. Margherita
In Diano d’Alba, on one of the beautiful hills of the Langhe, on April 7, 1899 Giovanni Gerlotto and Bianco Paola welcomed the birth of Metilde.
Each week, while still a child Metilde walked almost 7 km to go to Alba and participate in lessons for catechists. They were guided by Canon Francesco Chiesa who became her spiritual director. Noting her attraction for the life of prayer and her desire to consecrate herself to the Lord in religious life, at first Canon Chiesa directed her to the Dominican monastery of Alba, where she entered for a trial period. Only because of health reasons, the abbess said that she must leave the monastery. The Abbess had concerns regarding the physical frailty of Metilde.
A short time later, Canon Francis Chiesa sent her to the family of Fr. Alberione who, upon meeting her, reassured her: “The Lord will give you the necessary strength.” On May 28, 1923, she entered Saint Paul’s, Alba. It was there that she found a beautiful group of young people, including the seven who, with her would become the first Pious Disciples. But let us listen to what she told us in her “memoirs”.
On the fortieth anniversary of the foundation Sr. M. Margherita wrote:
“On November 21, 1923, the Primo Maestro said: “This evening, Orsola and Metilde will go to sleep in the old house, they will bring their beds, and from now on it will no longer be called the old house but it will be called the Divine Master House. Ready and jubilant like the paralytic who has heard the word: Take up your bed and walk! All was done! We had nothing else to carry – there were no chairs, no tables, a basin under the bed was all we had. The floor tiles of the room were movable and old and if you did not put your foot in the center, you would spin around …, some windows were replaced with cardboard to protect us from the cold.
A second room served as a laboratory. It was a bench with many socks on top of it, with a rough basket containing a few balls of wool, and the two of us sitting – one on each side and there we did the mending. We prayed, we laughed, but we did not dare to ask us: why? maybe? Everything consisted in obeying.”
When Fr Alberione said: “put Orsola and Metilde aside”, it was Metilde who, remaining surprised for a few moments, and opening wide her big black eyes that seemed to question even before pronouncing the words, she asked: “And what will we do?“. The answer came: “You will do silence, silence, silence“. It was a mandate that created the atmosphere in which the interior and apostolic life of the Pious Disciple would be carried out. For the rest of her life Metilde held in her heart the Founder’s response, and she had a special commitment to these words.
“In the meantime – continued Sr. Margherita – others joined us … when there were eight of us, the Primo Maestro, gave us our first lecture. “You are eight”, he told us, “the number of Beatitudes; I want to make of you eight holy-cards, be faithful, correspond to your vocation, to the call of Jesus the Master.” He told us about St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica, and then told us: “Orsola, who will be your teacher, will take the name of Scholastica”. It was February 10, 1924.”
And then the moment of the Vestition arrived, the reception of the Habit:
“A month later we wore the religious habit of the Pious Disciple. What a lot of preparation! So many headaches to prepare a new habit to be worn in the Church! Meanwhile, March 25, 1924 arrived. We paraded to the Chapel (now transformed from a sacristy) through the garden or rather the vegetable garden, carrying everything in our arms: the blue dress and cap and everything, a white scapular edged with black to remind us of death. It was embroidered with a large red ray symbolizing the Host, a common veil, 15 prayer books, prepared by us, knotted with large string and a crucifix. We did not forget the scissors to cut a lock of our hair according to the ceremony.
When the Primo Maestro came to the words: “If you feel like embracing and following this state of life, take a step forward”, our foot was already ready and lifted off the ground, impatient for the words to end. This is the day that the Lord has made! It was not possible to express the joy that enveloped our entire being, no one spoke, we understood each other with our eyes, we felt like queens, we felt we possessed everything, the Bridegroom, the King of Kings; we did not understand fully, but we felt that the One who chose us with the name of Pious Disciples of the Divine Master was working.
At the vestition, Metilde received the name of Sr. Margherita of the Souls in Purgatory.
Silence – recollection – prayer
“Do not invite any relations for the vestition”, said the First Master, “nothing must distract you, you must all belong to the Lord in silence, recollection and prayer”. After the vestition, we began the two hours of adoration until nine o’clock in the evening; After the arrival of some vocations, it was extended until 11 pm, then during all the night. It was a real race to see who could stay longer in church, and when the priest in charge of closing the Tabernacle remained asleep, we rejoiced in the good fortune that had befallen us. The Visit brought us great joy, the work completed our contentment, great simplicity, and forthrightness, we had the feeling of passing on this earth almost without touching it. Every word that came out of the mouth of the Primo Maestro was for us as a truth of faith, a commitment to practice it.”
The family grows and the Primo Maestro guides
“Other vocations joined us to strengthen the small family; the Primo Maestro had prepared for us a small bedroom capable of holding about 12 beds, with an internal wooden staircase to the laundry, with steps no wider than 6 –7 centimeters. It was funny to see the Theologian, the Primo Maestro as he was called, climb the ladder to make sure that everything was in order … ” You will progress as much as you will be silent, with silence you will obtain the conversion of sinners, you will be silent and children will hear the voice of Jesus who calls them to the religious life; You will be silent, writers will write better and their books will touch the hearts of those who read them, confessors will have the grace to convert sinners, missionaries will bear fruit in their labors. Not a surplus from your lips, you have to say: yes, yes, no, no, the rest comes from the evil one. Let your home be a Bethany, imitate Mary who chose the best part and also imitate Martha who was a little anxious, but this was also necessary. Now I cannot tell you many things; pray, pray for vocations, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send good workers; When you say: give us our nest too, put the intention that this nest be occupied, not only for you but for male vocations to become holy priests … Learn to love with a big heart…. There are high tasks to be accomplished.”
The directives of the Founder were always followed under the guidance of Mother Scholastica: “… She was always seen to be industrious, humorous, and happy even when she was put to the test, her gaze showed innocence, she was the living rule … She prayed continuously, she gave herself to those in need, she spent herself for priests, she instilled respect and prudence, her example was a continuous witness”.
Fr Alberione “spent each day in the various departments. He taught, advised, listened, and encouraged. Each person shared difficulties, doubts, and small annoyances … We lived our religious life happily, content with everything; we prayed, we sang as Primo Maestro did, personalizing the words of St. Paul: Sing hymns and spiritual songs to God.'”
Sr. M. Margherita carried out various services in the Pauline house in Alba, often they were very demanding. For several years she took care of the bakery and the oven. She was attentive, skillful, generous, happy to help prepare the daily bread for the family that was becoming more and more numerous.
Mission and apostolate of suffering
In 1931 the mission horizon was opened for her: she was chosen to go to Brazil to offer her collaboration to the newfound community of the Pious Society of Saint Paul. She left enthusiastically with the Daughter of St. Paul, Sr. Addolorata Baldi and arrived in Sao Paulo on October 21, 1931.
Unfortunately, after a few years, Sr. M. Margherita’s health declined considerably, and the Primo Maestro thought it best to withdraw her. In 1936 she returned to Italy and stayed in the House of Alba, bearing all in her heart, praying and offering her missionary experience for all. She was not limited to Brazil, but she prayed for all the foundations that followed in the various countries.
Due to lung complications, she lived for three years in the sanatorium of Robilante (CN), where physical suffering and distance from the community required renunciation and sacrifice. This was more costly than any activity. Later, after a brief period of a return to activity, always in the service of the priests, she spent the remainder of her life in Sanfrè, in a state of illness and was not always understood by those close to her.
During those years, we find in her writings a particular light that illuminates and strengthens her initial yes. In total awareness, she consented to the responsibility of a consecrated life faithfully lived in any situation that arised. It nourished her silence, with ongoing attention to the formative guidance of the Founder: silence to listen to the voice of God, to live in communion with him and to give herself for the salvation of all.
Almost on tiptoe we glimpse her intimate sanctuary, and absorb from her notebooks some expressions that can also be light for us on our journey today:
* I will try to speak little, but in the right time and place. I will listen to the voice of God who always puts wise words on my lips.
* If I could accept everything for God’s sake, I believe I would have enough to erase all pain of sin.
* In the Eucharist I find everything! I find Jesus the Way, Truth, and Life.
* If to become saints, it is enough to do the will of God in every moment, why should I not take advantage of this and develop so much good, so many graces bestowed on me?
* I can affirm that I am always in conversation with my Bridegroom. The days are too short, because until noon I desire to thank him for having deigned to come and take possession of this heart; I desire that the afternoon is a preparation for His coming anew, and here the days are no longer counted.
* If I am in church, I gaze on the Tabernacle. I know that Jesus is there, I tell him that he has forgiven all my sins, that I want to love him, and my soul is well nourished. If I am in my room, the walls nor the distance do not prevent Jesus from speaking to me and from guiding me.
* The mantle of charity must always cover the weaknesses of others, and so my sins will be covered by the charity of Jesus. Those who may cause me suffering have a greater right to my gratitude.
Towards the end of 1946, at a time of great suffering – physical and moral – and of misunderstandings, she contemplated the situation of Mother Scholastica: I must not deceive myself. She who truly deserves esteem and veneration, who has given herself totally to all, full of merits before God and before people, no longer counts for anything before creatures. Our dear Mother Scholastica! Shouldn’t your first daughter resemble you?
During the long night hours
* During the night, when I cannot sleep, because of my physical pains, I offer them to Jesus for some intention, for example: a night for the missionaries, so that they can rest and begin their labors the following day; another to make reparation for sins caused by the corrupt press; another so that sinners repent of their sins, etc. So, I hope to be able to catch some fish without spending the long night hours in vain.
* Kindle in my heart and in that of all priests so much zeal for the good of others, and with your grace help us to snatch many souls from the devil to bring them to You.
* O Jesus, manifest yourself to the world; grant that your Ministers, those who have the mission to make you known, do so zealously, and reveal to souls the enchantment of your Mysteries. May all souls have a holy desire to know you and love you.
* To the millions of people to whom the light of the Gospel has not yet come, and who are in the shadow of death, may he send zealous workers.
* What makes me desire Heaven is the hope that I will be able to accomplish a greater mission. I will not rest up there, I want to be useful to the church, to souls; While in this miserable valley of tears I must stand with my head bowed, recognize my misery, my nothingness.
* Our soul feels that it is created for Heaven, to enjoy beautiful things. Here on earth, we must, willy-nilly, suffer, carry the cross that God puts on our shoulders, carry it for love of him until we enter Paradise. Oh, in Heaven it will always be a party, we will see clearly and we will worship God for all eternity.
* In Heaven the perfection that is sought on earth will never fail. The stronger the love, the more nostalgia for the heavenly homeland grows.
* The desire for heaven is not born of weariness, of disgust of many pains or sufferings; It’s only because I can love you without fear of offending you again.
* I am a pilgrim on this earth, and I must not stop; my thoughts are fixed on the Holy City, the destination of my journey”.
* Days pass, strength is lacking, the heart is weakened. I feel the approach of the great moment, the big step: Life without … Paradise! Paradise!
Indeed, her strength weakened daily and while the signs of the end of her life was evident, Sr. M. Margherita remained confident and increasingly oriented towards the final Goal:
* O Jesus, I am tired of waiting. I want to be by your side. Oh, come and get me, I’ll wait for you.
At 6:30 a.m. on Friday, January 19, 1965, Sr. M. Margherita fell asleep peacefully in the Lord and entered the luminous silence of eternity.