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The Ursuline Sisters on a mission to help the least

A life of simple and humble service

 A life of simple and humble service  ING-023
07 June 2024

The story of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family began with Sister Rosa Roccuzzo’s work of complete and humble dedication to those most in need. From her suffering as an orphan emerged a love capable of embracing everyone. Today the Sisters continue her mission, responding to society’s pleas for help, according to their foundational charism.

Rosa Roccuzzo was born in Monterosso Almo in 1882, in the then province and diocese of Syracuse, today of Ragusa. Her mother died when Rosa was 14 years old, but she did not remain withdrawn in her pain, says Giuseppa Inzinga, one of her companions.1 Faced with her solitude, she immediately thought about dedicating herself to those most in need. Rosa went out among the people because she wanted to take personal responsibility for the needs of her town’s people. She immediately got to work, with the firm intent to strive to give everyone a bit of respite in body and soul.

So, starting in 1896, Monterosso Almo had a young woman who would travel from slum to slum offering assistance to the children and the elderly who were sick and abandoned. She would set out early in the morning to do their laundry in the river, and while she worked, she would invite the other women doing their family’s washing to pray. When she visited the poor and the sick, she would give them sheets and linens according to their needs, items made out of the fabric her mother had woven and kept for her daughter’s dowry.

A small woman who, in a Sicily wracked by hunger, poverty and the plague, dedicated her entire life to caring for the sick, for the abandoned elderly and for orphans, in whose faces, marked by pain and suffering, she caught glimpses of Christ’s face. With great courage and faith, this young girl managed to inspire and involve other young women in heroic good deeds, thus giving way to what today is the Congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family, in which she spent the rest of her life in great humility and discretion. Wherever she went, Rosa left her mark of humble and brave service to the least. She died in 1956.

Faithful to the foundational charism — today, as at the beginning of its history — the Congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family is called to provide its apostolic service in the evangelization and integral development of the human person, through educational, formative and social activities aimed at promoting life in all its dimensions and at building a more just and fraternal society. The Congregation is currently present in Italy, Brazil and France.

Since 1967 the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family present in Brazil have built their story alongside society, sustained by the people’s trust and credibility. The sisters there work in the city’s most impoverished areas to promote the full inclusion of the most disadvantaged people in society.

Starting about 20 years ago, with the inauguration of the social centre today known as “Nascente de Vida”, in Santo Angelo, a peripheral town of Mogi das Cruzes, the Sisters have accompanied children and teenagers from seven to 17 years old, with learning difficulties, prioritizing those who live in situations of social risk. At the same time they seek to reawaken in the families of these children and teenagers the responsibility to collaborate in caring for their children, incentivizing them to participate in moments of formation to make them active and aware citizens, integrating them in their local community so that they can become workers using the skills and knowledge they have acquired. In order to help these families the Sisters organize a variety of skill development courses in alternative nutrition, sewing, craftsmanship, hygiene and cleaning products, manicures, and adult literacy. The goal of all these initiatives is to create opportunities for families to make money and improve their quality of life.

Sister Rosa Roccuzzo’s charism, marked by an intense inner life and by tireless and heroic service to the poor, continues in the Church today with the Congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family. In the daily experience of a life at the service of one’s neighbours, in simplicity and humility, every Ursuline Sister of the Holy Family carries within her the vocation of Sister Rosa, who in her historical context, looking around at her town, saw children deprived of a Christian education, the poor deprived of basic essentials, the sick without care: every morning she would go to Mass and ask the Lord to help her do a little bit of good.2


1  Cf. Inzinga, G., Notebook n. 2, manuscript from 1968, Archive of the Congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family — Historical Collection session.

2  Cf. Giaquinta, R., Notebook n. 7, manuscript from the 80s, Archive of the Congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family — Historical Collection session.

By Sr Marzia De Lima, osf