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Like three sisters

· Cardinal Barbarigo and women ·

Between the 17th and 18th centuries Cardinal Marco Antonio Barbarigo embodied the ideal of the bishop outlined by the Council of Trent, becoming an authentic father and pastor. Barbarigo’s pastoral approach is expressed in the text Disinganni per i vescovi, [undeceiving bishops], in which he wrote: “The bishop and his subjects must always be together, because the former without the latter perishes and the latter without the former teeter… the bishop must care for all: poor artisans, abandoned widows, wretched pupils”. 

These personal convictions led Barbarigo to implement a pastoral initiative which provided for reform and the formation of the clergy with the foundation of the seminary, the pastoral visit, and the celebration of diocesan synods. With these he combined the human, Christian and social advancement of women as a qualifying point of his episcopal ministry.

Barbarigo had had this attention for women since he was a young priest when he asked the Patriarch of Venice for the faculty to teach Christian doctrine to women and little girls. And from the beginning of his episcopate he proposed “to contribute to the good Christian living of entire families, to the good education of women and especially of little girls”. It was through three women that he made this wish, the subject of his prayers, a reality: St Rose Venerini, St Lucy Filippini and Caterina Comaschi. With the latter he restored life to an ancient monastery in Montefiascone, founding the Sisters of Divine Love, while with Rosa Venerini and Lucy Filippini he founded “schools”, which were later called “pious”, in all the centres of the diocese. The Cardinal’s will-power and action were so determined that between 1692 and 1694, the years of his collaboration with Rosa Venerini, at least 11 schools were opened which were later run by Lucy Filippini who impressed on them her personal charism and her educational method. Through these women Cardinal Barbarigo created new spaces for women in the Church, inserting them into pastoral life and recognizing their educational and apostolic role.

The cardinal’s relations and pastoral collaboration were particularly intense and “filial” with Lucy Filippini, whom he had met in Tarquinia in 1688 and taken with him to Montefiascone, having her accepted as a boarder at the Conservatorio [college for girls] di Santa Chiara. As an expert, the new bishop had instantly recognized her “excellent character” and “great openness of talent and ability”. These gifts, as well as well as the young girl’s sensitivity, also impressed Rosa Venerini who was living with her at the same college. It was precisely this teacher, older and more expert, who presented Lucy to the prelate as a suitable person to continue the work of the schools. Despite her young age, Barbarigo accepted the suggestion and Filippini accepted the office which became her mission.

In becoming teacher, missionary and apostle, she proved to be an authentic disciple of the cardinal. Thus her first biographer describes her: “A truly apostolic woman, as a catechist, teacher of women, a help to prostitutes and a friend of the poor, and she herself wrote “I would like to multiply myself in every corner of the earth to be able to cry everywhere and tell every person, regardless of their sex, age and condition: ‘Love God, love God! O my Lord! Why don’t you make me become a multitude of Lucies so that by being multiplied I may expand your glory everywhere?”. This was her answer to the cardinal’s invitation “Lucy, Lucy, go out on all the streets and squares and seek cripples, the handicapped and the weak, and see that this place is filled”.

The streets and squares themselves were the place of Lucy’s mission; in crossing them she would call little girls and women to her school, whose popular character was a distinctive feature from the outset. The schools were open and welcoming houses where the formation of the personality and religious development were taught through manual work, religious reflection, study and prayer.

It is not difficult to imagine this teaching’s social impact on families and on the communities themselves. Women no longer depended on someone else; rather they themselves understood and could express themselves. It was a fundamental first step on the way towards the emancipation of women.

With the institution of the Religious Teachers Filippini of which Lucy was the foundation stone, Cardinal Barbarigo made a significant landmark in the insertion of women into ecclesial life. The Cardinal wanted women to be integrated pastorally into the parish apostolate, thereby creating “a third state of life”, as the Rules say, to carry out the pastoral mission without being bound by religious vows, precisely in order to be available to apostolic life in the Church. Barbarigo thus paved the way for the apostolate of women after the Council of Trent and this happened thanks to his collaboration with the teacher, united as they were in pastoral charity. If the cardinal’s personality was crucial, equally incisive were the female sensitivity and tenderness of Lucy who helped the cardinal to mature in episcopal fatherhood.

Marco Antonio Barbarigo and Lucy Filippini are united with those pairs of saints who made a mark on the Church, such as Francis and Clare of Assisi, and Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal. Their collaboration was particularly fruitful for the life of the Church and will continue to be so in the future too.

Fabio Fabene




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 21, 2020