You’re standing at Newman University because one woman set in motion a series of events that created an expansive religious order dedicated to education, ministry, and compassion.
Saint Maria De Mattias (1805-1866)
Maria Matilde De Mattias, foundress of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, was born on February 4, 1805, in the small mountain village of Vallecorsa, Italy. At that period in history Italy was suffering from political and social upheavals caused by the Napoleonic rule. Everywhere practical and religious education were being neglected, the moral life of the people had declined so as to be almost non-existent and, in the outlying districts particularly, contempt for authority found expression in ruthless banditry.
Maria was destined to be one of the instruments in God’s hands to accomplish the spiritual renovation so sorely needed in the Italy of that day. Her parents, particularly her father, had not only transmitted to their daughter the culture of their own noble ancestry but, as pious and God-fearing individuals, had instructed her well in practical Christian living.
When Maria was in her late teens, and was praying one day in her bedroom before her favorite image of Mary, she heard deep within, and very distinctly, the invitation
Come to me.
She prayed, “Mary, most holy, help me…. Give me light.” Again and again she prayed to that precious image, her heart moved to love Jesus Christ more and more, especially in the mystery of his passion. Then one day, our Lady showed her Calvary and the Cross and invited Maria to ascend. She was frightened and found herself holding back. However, Jesus himself approached her and with infinite love drew her to himself. Though fearful, she continued to pray to the Madonna until on one occasion she felt herself carried lightly in secure arms. In that moment she made a total offering of herself to God and felt her heart completely change and full of courage. Not yet knowing how she was to proceed she continued to pray even more intently.
A few months later, Maria came under the influence of a zealous missionary, known today as St. Gaspar Del Bufalo, founder of the Society of the Precious Blood. From him the young girl received encouragement in her work and the assurance that God wished her to strive for sanctity by exercising the active apostolate. Two years later, in 1824, another missionary priest and friend of Gaspar, Father John Merlini, came to Vallecorsa, and, providentially, Maria approached him for counsel. He saw that she was a woman with a very special calling from God. He became her spiritual director and encouraged her to reach out to the girls and women of the village, so much in need of religious instruction and guidance in prayer. In time, it was clear Maria had a genuine gift for teaching others about God.
The apostolate did not take definite shape and form until ten years after this meeting. In 1833 the Bishop of Ferentino called for a teacher to open a school in Acuto. At the suggestion of Blessed Gaspar, Maria made application for the position. In her reply of acceptance, she wrote that she would go with the intention of teaching, but also of founding an institute with the title of the Most Precious Blood. The opening of her school on March 4, 1834, marks the foundation, not merely of a secular school, but of a congregation of Sisters devoted to the adoration of the Most Precious Blood and to the apostolic work of ministering to the souls for whom Christ died.
Within a short time new recruits, attracted to the teaching apostolate by Maria’s example, begged to be allowed to assist her and placed themselves under her instruction. Maria rejoiced at this providential care, for already other schools were being offered her in various sections of the country. Directing and providing for the fast-growing community, training novices and postulants, writing a set of rules, in addition to opening schools and staffing them, was no easy task. But Mother De Mattias discharged her office of superior and teacher with consummate zeal and prudence.
During the thirty-two years that intervened between that first foundation at Acuto and her death in 1866, Maria established nearly seventy schools. Most of these were located in small towns and rural areas, for the foundress had a special love for the poor and underprivileged. Not content with founding schools, Maria made regular visits to them, often traveling from place to place on foot or by horseback. On these travels, Maria De Mattias endeared herself to all by her Christlike charity. To her Sisters she was an understanding Mother — solving their problems, befriending them against maligning attacks of prejudiced individuals, and rekindling their zeal with words of encouragement. The simple Italian folk revered this zealous Sister as a saint. It was in their behalf that she expended her physical and spiritual energies and her intellectual talents- instructing the children in Christian doctrine, and endeavoring to elevate the moral tone of their social lives by her conferences and retreats for the women. They in turn repaid her labors by reforming their lives and by returning to the Sacraments.
On October 1, 1950 Maria was beatified and declared a saint May 18, 2003.
Adorers in the United States
A month short of ten years after Maria’s death Mother Clementine Zerr founded the Adorers’ first American mission at Ruma, Illinois, and began undertaking teaching and hospital ministries. In 1893, Mother Clementine began sending Sisters to teach in Kansas, which led to the establishment in 1902 of a motherhouse in Wichita. Pilgrim Adorers from Bosnia came to Illinois in 1906, later establishing a ministry to the elderly in 1925 in Columbia, Pennsylvania. In 1929, the vicariates of Columbia, Ruma and Wichita became provinces and, in October 2000, converged to become the United States Region of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ.