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THE MIRACLE OF GALLIPOLI
from issue no. 02/03 - 2010

“I shall spend my heaven doing good on earth”


The centenary of one of the most singular miracles of St Theresa of Lisieux is being celebrated: the one that in 1910 solved the serious economic problems of the Carmel of Gallipoli and confirmed to the Church the goodness of her “little way”, opening the path for her beatification


by Giovanni Ricciardi


Gallipoli in an early 20th century photo

Gallipoli in an early 20th century photo

On 12 July 1897, weakened by tuberculosis and near death, Sister Theresa confided to the Prioress, Mother Agnes of Jesus, her sister by blood: “I’m left with nothing in my hands. Everything I have, everything I earn is for the Church and for souls. The Savior will have to fulfill all my wishes in Heaven, because I have never done my will on earth”. Her sister asked her: “You will look down on us from above, right?”. Theresa, surprisingly, replied: “No, I shall come down”.
Ten years later the French text of the Story of a Soul, Theresa’s autobiography, was already on the table of Pope Pius X. Some time earlier an unofficial translation had been published in Italian, which ended up in the hands of Sister Maria Ravizza, a nun who arrived at Lecce in 1905 to head a women’s college entrusted to her Congregation, the Marceline Sisters.
It was she who in 1908 spoke for the first time with the prioress of the Carmel of Gallipoli of this Carmelite of Lisieux who had died a few years earlier in the odor of sanctity. Mother Maria Carmela of the Heart of Jesus was the same age as Theresa and had to deal with the great many problems that faced the community which was already feeling the economic crisis that was spreading throughout Italy and which brought the convent to the brink of ruin the following year. The prioress asked to borrow the Story of a Soul, and was greatly impressed. She made it known to her fellow sisters.
Three hundred liras was a big sum in 1910. Such was the debt accumulated by the convent and the nuns were unable to pay it back with embroidery work and the preparation of hosts for the diocese. At the beginning of the year Mother Maria Carmela, certain that little Theresa would hear, decided to offer a three days’ devotion to ask the Blessed Trinity, through the intercession of Sister Theresa of the Child Jesus, for a solution to the serious problem of the convent’s survival. “Trust works miracles,” Theresa had once written to her sister Celine, inviting her to pray ceaselessly without tiring. And so the answer to the prayers of Mother Maria Carmela was not long in coming.
On the night between 15 and 16 January, the prioress dreamed of a young Carmelite who smiled and invited her to go with her into the room of the wheel, where there was a box with the register of the debt: “Listen,” she said, “the Lord uses heavenly beings as He does earthly ones, here are five hundred liras with which you will pay the debt of the community”. The prioress protested that the debt was three hundred liras, but she replied: “It means that the others will be left over, anyway you can’t keep them in your cell, come with me”. Thinking she was dreaming of the Blessed Virgin, Mother Maria Carmela called her by that name, but was told: “No, my child, I am not our Holy Mother, I am instead the servant of God, Sister Theresa of Lisieux”. So in claiming that title Theresa anticipated the opening of the process of beatification that was being prepared and opened on 12 August of that year. The next morning, to the amazement of the whole community, five hundred brand new liras were actually found in the chest.
Mother Maria Carmela hastened to write a letter to Lisieux (see box), which described the miracle in detail and filled Mother Agnes of Jesus with emotion, especially because of a detail whose importance the prioress of Gallipoli had not grasped: in the dream, after handing over the money, Theresa had started to leave, the prioress stopped her saying, “Wait, you might go the wrong way!”, but Theresa had replied: “No, no, my daughter, my way is safe, nor am I wrong!”.

The drawer where the five hundred liras were placed

The drawer where the five hundred liras were placed

“No miracle has struck me like this latter”
Sister Theresa of the Child Jesus had thus confirmed her “little way”, which could now be followed without hesitation. And so Mother Agnes replied to the prioress of Gallipoli on 4 March 1910: “My good and reverend Mother, imagine with what joy we received your most interesting report. Theresa told us when she was down here: ‘If my way of trust and love is suspect, I promise not to leave you in error. I shall return to tell you and, if this way is safe, you too will know’. And now to you, dearest mother in Jesus, this angel comes to say how things stand: ‘My way is safe and I was not wrong.’ Perhaps you gave only a literal meaning to this phrase, but here things are different. What makes me marvel, still, is that Theresa has come to tell us this precisely when her cause is being dealt with, where her “way” is being studied. Oh, mother, since her death my little Theresa has worked many miracles, but none has struck me like this latter”.
Also because of that the miracle of Gallipoli was given a special session in the beatification process. The saint, in the last years of her life, especially in what is known as “manuscript B”, had condensed the doctrine of her “little way”, which for its limpid simplicity was to merit for her the title of Doctor of the Church a century later. She had often talked of the matter with a young novice particularly dear to her, Sister Mary of the Trinity, who also testified at the process. She too had received the promise of being advised from Heaven on the goodness of the lessons received: “Once, Sister Theresa asked me if after her death I would have abandoned the little way of trust and love. ‘Certainly not!’ I said: ‘I believe so strongly in it that I think if the Pope were to tell me that you deceived yourself, I wouldn’t be able to credit him’. ‘Oh,’ she added brightly: ‘We must credit the Pope first of all, but don’t be afraid he’ll come and tell you to change way, I wouldn’t give him time, because if, arriving in Heaven, I came to know that I have led you into error, I would get the good Lord’s permission to come immediately to tell you’”.
Asked to clarify the content of these teachings, Sister Mary of the Trinity explained, “What Sister Theresa called her ‘little way of spiritual childhood’ was the constant topic of our conversations. ‘The privileges of Jesus are for the little ones’, she repeated to me. She was inexhaustible on the trust, abandonment, simplicity, uprightness, humility of the young child, and always offered it to me as a model. One day, when I expressed my desire for more strength and energy to practice virtue, she went on: ‘And if the good Lord wants you weak and powerless as a child, do you think you’ve less merit? Then accept faltering at every step, even falling, carrying your cross weakly, love your helplessness, your soul will derive more profit than if, carried by grace, it performs heroic deeds with a bound, which would fill your spirit with personal satisfaction and pride’. Another time, when I still grieved for my failure, she said: ‘Here you are again off the little way! A hurt that depresses and discourages comes from self-love, a supernatural hurt restores courage, gives a new impetus for the good; one is happy to feel weak and miserable, because the more you recognize humbly, expecting everything gratuitously from the good Lord with no merit on our part, the more the good Lord stoops towards us, to generously fill us with His gifts”.

The front of the banknote of the miracle preserved in the convent of Gallipoli

The front of the banknote of the miracle preserved in the convent of Gallipoli

A year long miracle
But the “miracle of Gallipoli” was not limited to the event in January 1910. That first “gift from Heaven” was followed by others, all serving to keep the convent out of debt. At the end of January there was an unexplained cash surplus of twenty-five liras, which was repeated until April.
In May, Mother Carmela again saw little Theresa in a dream, and she assured her of the renewal of the miracle and promised that she would find in the chest a new fifty lira note. Whereas they found as many as three. Finally, in August, another hundred liras appeared. That same month the process of beatification opened in Lisieux.
To clarify the many mysterious happenings Monsignor de Teil, vice-postulator of the cause, arrived in Gallipoli. Mother Carmela’s story remained in line with the report previously sent to the prioress of Lisieux.
Meanwhile, the bishop of Nardò, Nicola Giannattasio, learned of the prodigious sums found by the prioress. He also knew that the Carmelites, keen to embellish the poor church of the convent, had begun again to invoke their little sister of Lisieux to obtain the necessary amount, about three hundred liras. Thus, to show his devotion to Theresa and to celebrate the first anniversary of the miracle, at the start of the new year he decided to give the Carmel a sum equivalent to what was found the previous January. He took a five-hundred lira note and put it in an envelope. He also included one of his visiting cards, on which he wrote: “In memoriam, My way is safe, I was not wrong, Sister Theresa of the Child Jesus to Sister Maria Carmela, Gallipoli, 16 January 1910. Orate pro me quotidie ut Deus misereatur mei”. On this envelope, left unsealed, he again wrote “In memoriam”. The envelope was then put inside another larger one, which was sealed with wax and his episcopal insignia. In place of the address, the Bishop wrote this recommendation: “To be placed in the usual little box and to be opened by the mother prioress, Sister Maria Carmela of the Heart of Jesus, on 16 January 1911”. He had the envelope delivered to the Carmel, and a few days later, on the anniversary, went there himself to preach the spiritual exercises.
As soon as he arrived he learned that the envelope was intact and was still in the box where it had been deposited according to his wish. Invited by the bishop, Mother Carmela went to get the envelope, removed the wax seal, opened it and handed it to Monsignor Giannattasio, who was surprised to find four new bank notes: two hundred liras and two other fifties, for a total of three hundred. The bishop thought his note had been changed with others of lesser amount, but was surprised to see that the five hundred lira note was still there, in the smaller envelope. He could make no sense of it. The prioress then concluded: “This money is yours, count it. If there are three hundred liras more, wouldn’t it be what the community has asked so trustingly of Sister Theresa?”.
It’s not surprising, when one thinks of it, that Theresa was moved precisely by a plea made with the “great trust” that belongs to the child, and that is the very heart of her “little way”. And then, Theresa also knew just how painful it is for those who can’t pay their debts. In the last phase of her illness she learned with regret that she was also dispensed from the Office for the Dead which every Carmelite must recite for the sisters who have died in all the convents throughout the world. And she had said to Mother Agnes: “I can’t lean on anything, on any work of my own, to gain trust. So I would have liked to tell myself: I’m even with all my Offices for the Dead. But this poverty has been for me a true light, a true grace. I thought in my entire life I haven’t been able to redeem a single debt of mine towards the Lord, but that this was a real treasure for me and a strength if I accepted it. So I made this prayer: ‘My God, I entreat You, meet the debt I have towards the souls in Purgatory, but do so like God, that is infinitely better than if I had said my Offices for the Dead’. I remembered with great sweetness those words in the Canticle of St John of the Cross: ‘And He pays all debts!’. I’d always applied this to love. I feel that such a grace cannot be repaid! There is a peace so great in being utterly poor, in counting only on God’s mercy”.
To this love, this poverty, this peace Theresa had added, from Heaven, a very real and overwhelming charity.


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