MARIA CROCIFISSA CURCIO (1877-1957)
Maria Crocifissa Curcio, foundress of the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, was born in Ispica (Rg), southeast Sicily, in the diocese of Noto, on January 30, 1877. Her parents were Salvatore Curcio and Concetta Franzò. Being the seventh of ten siblings, she spent her childhood in a highly cultural and social home environment, in which she quickly exhibited lively intelligence and a pleasant personality. She was very strong-willed and determined, and in her early teens she developed a strong tendency towards piety, with specific attention and solidarity towards the weak and marginalized.
At home she was raised under the strict moral guidelines, by virtue of which her father not only impeded her yearning for an intense life of faith, but according to the customs of the era, he did not permit her to study beyond grade six at the elementary level.
These deprivations cost her greatly. However, eager to learn, she drew comfort from the many books in the family library, where she found a copy of the Life of Saint Teresa of Jesus. The impact of this saint enabled her to come to know and love the Carmel, and so she began her "study of celestial things".
In 1890, at the age of thirteen, she succeeded, and not without difficulty, in enrolling in the Carmelite Third Order, which had only recently been re-established in Ispica. Because of her regular attendance at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and her deep devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who "had captured her heart since childhood" by assigning her the mission of “making the Carmel reflourish”, her knowledge of Carmelite Spirituality made her understand the divine plans in store for her.
Her desire to share the ideal of a Missionary Carmel, which unites the contemplative dimension with that of a specifically apostolic dimension, she began an initial experience of community life with a few fellow members of the Third Order in a small apartment in her ancestral home, which her siblings had bequeathed to her. She then transferred to Modica (Rg) where she was entrusted with the management of the "Carmela Polara” conservatory for the acceptance and assistance of young females who were orphans or in any way needy, with the firm resolution to turning them into "worthy women who would be useful to themselves and to society".
After several years of trials and hardships in the vain attempt to see this undertaking of hers in some way supported and officially recognized by the local ecclesiastic authorities, she finally managed to obtain the support and agreement of her missionary ideal in Father Lorenzo Van Den Eerenbeemt, a Carmelite Father of the Ancient Order. On May 17, 1925, she came to Rome for the canonization of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and the next day, accompanied by father Lorenzo, she visited Santa Marinella, a small town on the Latium coast north of Rome. She was struck by the natural beauty of this region, but also by the extreme poverty of a great number of this town’s inhabitants and it was here that she finally realized that she had reached her landing place. Having obtained an oral permission “of experiment” from the bishop of the Diocese of Porto Santa Rufina, Cardinal Antonio Vico, on July 3,1925, she definitively settled in Santa Marinella, and on July 16 of the following year, she received the decree of affiliation of her small community with the Carmelite Order, hence sealing her belonging to Mary in the Carmel forever more.
In 1930, after many sufferings and crosses, her small nucleus obtained the recognition of the Church and Cardinal Tommaso Pio Boggiani, Ordinary of the diocese Porto Santa Rufina, erected the Congregation of the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus as an institute of diocesan rights.
“To bring souls to God” is the objective that brought to life the numerous openings of educational and charitable institutions in Italy and abroad. For this reason she urged her daughters to bring a Christian point of view to families. She was able to achieve her missionary yearning in 1947 when, on the ashes of the second world war, she sent the first sisters to Brazil with the mandate to “never forget the poor”, continuing to dream of increasingly vast horizons towards which to drive the sails of her missionary Carmel.
With her entire life marked by poor health and diabetes, which she forced herself to always accept with strength and a serene adhesion to the will of God, she passed the last years of her life in illness, continuing to pray and to give of herself to her sisters, to whom she offers a precious example of virtues, which became all the more transparent and bright.
Her prayer was an imitate and constant dialogue with Jesus, the Father, and all the Blessed, inspired by a filial confidence, spousal love, sentiments of gratitude, praise, adoration and amends, that she sought to transmit, first of all, to her spiritual daughters and to all those who had the opportunity to know her through the example of her life, always nourishing the “desire to have holy daughters, eucharistic daughters, and daughters that know how to pray”.
She intensely cultivated the union of love with Christ in the Eucharist by giving all of herself to satisfy the desire to make amends “for the immense number of souls who do not know and do not love God” and by offering to be the victim of atonement along “with the Great Martyr of Love”. An amends which made her capable of sharing the pains and anxieties of humanity; of becoming aware of their various needs, with charity and justice; of providing a voice to those who do not have one; and of perceiving the image of the Crucified Christ in those whose image had been distorted by pain and suffering. For this reason she urged the sisters to “love with holiness the treasures with which the Divine Goodness entrusts you; the souls of the youth, the hope of the future.” And to not spare oneself in the service of the youth most humiliated and abandoned by “freeing in them the gold from the mud”, in order to restore in every creature the dignity and the image of being a child of God.
From the Mother of Jesus she learned to be a mother to those in need. With St. Therese of the Child Jesus she found spiritual bliss in the “regular and faithful fulfilment of one’s duties”, doing “with love and dedication even the smallest deeds”; experiencing with humility and simplicity, joy and tenderness, every human relationship and everyday achieving that unity of life and faith “by peacefully combining” the untiring activity of Martha and the profound mysticism of Mary.
On July 4, 1957, in Santa Marinella, she serenely returned forever to Christ, her spouse, leaving behind in everyone’s heart a live memory of her love and of her holiness.