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UNPUBLISHED
from issue no. 10 - 2010

Spiritual Reading

“... keep the spirit elevated by acts of trust and abandonment to God”


Giovanni Battista Montini’s letters, from 1935 to 1963, to Sister Maria Ignazia of the Holy Innocents, an Augustinian nun of the Santi Quattro Coronati Convent of Rome


edited by Pina Baglioni


Giovanni Battista Montini in the years in which he was in the Secretariat of State. In the background, the cloister of the Santi Quattro Coronati, in Rome

Giovanni Battista Montini in the years in which he was in the Secretariat of State. In the background, the cloister of the Santi Quattro Coronati, in Rome

By kind concession of the Augustinian nuns of the Santi Quattro Coronati Convent of Rome we present some unpublished letters sent by Giovanni Battista Montini to Sister Maria Ignazia of the Holy Innocents, who was Mother Superior of the very ancient convent between 1949 and 1968.
The exchange of letters between the nun and Montini spans a period ranging from 1935 to 1963.
Montini and Sister Maria Ignazia came to know each other in 1929 at the Augustinian Convent of Santa Prisca on the Aventine, where the young woman had just started her novitiate. There, the thirty-two year old priest from Brescia, who had just begun his diplomatic career at the Secretariat of State and as national ecclesiastical assistant to FUCI, went to celebrate Mass almost every day.
Thus begins the spiritual friendship that saw Montini support, advise, admonish the sister just initiated in the cloistered life. A friendship that will be strengthened by the exchange of letters, after the transfer of Ignazia from Santa Prisca to the Santi Quattro Coronati, on 3 May 1931.
From Montini’s responses one senses that Sister Maria Ignazia was full of religious fervor, often inclined to “go beyond” what the Rule of St Augustine prescribed about sacrifices and mortifications. She, of course, took the advice of her steadfast guide: Giovanni Battista Montini. “I would not say that you should impose other penances on yourself, in addition to those required by the rule”, he replied on 10 July 1936. “I prefer instead that you keep the spirit elevated by acts of trust and abandonment to God. Be thereby strong, peaceful and happy”.
At the outbreak of World War II, Montini, since December 1937 Deputy in the Secretariat of State, began to engage in intense activity in the Vatican Information Office to find soldiers and civilians arrested or missing. And, as evidenced by some letters, Sister Maria Ignazia lent her help.
In 1949, the nun was elected Mother Superior of the convent. From a letter to Montini, kept in the Santi Quattro Archive, it is clear that the Mother is taking in hand the reforming of the rules of the convent, with the addition of mortifications and prayer.
Montini replied: “I would not normally add particular practices beyond the common acts, because it is enough to do these well. I would perhaps keep only the entire crown of the Rosary for the solemn feastdays of Our Lady”. And he concludes: “So it takes only a few intentions when you love a lot”.
Meanwhile, on 1 November 1954 Pius XII appointed Montini Archbishop of Milan. Despite the high office, the affection toward the Augustinian nuns of the Santi Quattro and the exchange of correspondence with Mother Ignazia did not cease. Thus writes the Archbishop of Milan on 12 August 1958: “To Sister Maria Ignazia, my blessing and my greeting, in the Lord, in exchange for the good feelings expressed in your letters. I always remember and bless”.





1 January 1935
Reverend Mother,
Thank you most sincerely for your good wishes and I warmly return them by asking of blessed Jesus all those graces, those comforts, those gifts that can render appreciated and luminous, though not always easy, the way of your vocation.
Unfortunately, I will not have the opportunity to come to the Santi Quattro: I will feel all the more obliged to follow in spirit with best wishes the generous and persevering efforts of your path toward the Lord.
God bless you as you wish,
Yours in Christ devoutly,
Don G. B. Montini


From the Vatican,
Holy Saturday 1936
Reverend Sister,
Thank you for your lines and the good remembrance: I return best Easter wishes. May these holy solemnities, that renew in the soul the memory and the grace of the mysteries of the Lord, regenerate in you also their energy, happy and peaceful, to fulfill well all the duties of your religious profession.
Try to read a good book, especially of Christian doctrine or of holy souls, and to make of the recitation of the Office the most dear and important of occupations. Thus the spirit will be inwardly rich and happy, and feel the pains and external distractions less.
God bless you.
Yours most devoutly in Christ
Father G. B. Montini


10 July 1936
Reverend Sister,
I thank you most sincerely for your good and welcome letter of congratulations for my name day. I am so busy that I could not answer before now. I reciprocate, however, with my most sincere best wishes, so that the Lord may preserve you in the holy dispositions of spirit with which you undertook the religious life.
From the information you give me I see that work is not lacking: and this is a good thing, as long as it does not take from you the time and fervor for the common acts: see that you do these as best you can, and do not feel anxious if you don’t have the means to do more. So I would not say that you should impose other penances on yourself, in addition to those required by the rule; and this especially you must not do, if you can not first of all see your spiritual director. I prefer instead that you keep the spirit elevated by acts of trust and abandonment to God. Be thereby strong, peaceful and happy.
Remember me to the Lord, which I will also do for you.
Devoutly,
Don G. B. Montini


14 February 1937
Reverend Mother Maria Ignazia,
Thank you for your good letter that allows me to participate in the joy of your religious profession and the feelings with which you inaugurate your life completely and forever consecrated to the Lord.
I rejoice in knowing your wonderful dispositions, and since they are not based on the momentary state of mind, but rather on the profound and central thinking of your whole life, and better still, on that bond that joining you to God, allows you to claim unfailing support, I’m sure they will never fail you, even in dark days and trial, but that they will always grow stronger and bloom in an increasing intimacy with the divine Master.
It displeases me too not to have seen you before your profession, but I did not forget to recommend you to the Lord.
As regards what you ask me, I can not but entrust myself to your judgment: do as you think best, but, I repeat, with good judgment and moderation.
Continue always to pray
for your devout in Christ,
Father G. B. M.


Letters

Letters

6 May 1937
Reverend Sister Maria Ignazia,
I’m glad you enjoyed the book. It’s a small thing. It will serve for you to remember me in your prayers.
As to the questions that your letter proposes me, I can now say only a few words. 1) Do not be afraid of the difficulties you meet, but live not only in the full good will of serving the Lord, but also in the filial and joyful confidence of being helped and supported by Him. 2) For exterior penance do not do more than is required by the Rules. Regarding acts of mortification, also exterior, do something by all means, also in accordance with the Rules, but without becoming too singular in front of the other sisters. 3) What counts most is the inner self-denial, practiced especially through union of your spirit with your community, in charity and obedience.
God bless you.
Devoutly,
Don M.


1 August 1937
I received your letter and that of M. Chiara. I hope to come next Sunday to the Santi Quattro, at 16.30, and I will also have for both of you – and for this time only – permission for the confession.
In the Lord devoutly,
Don M.


17 February 1938
Sister Maria Ignazia,
Your good prayers are very dear to me: continue to practice this charity for me, which I will repay with similar remembrance at the altar. I do not know if and when I can make a quick visit to the Santi Quattro. But do not await my coming to remain calm and confident, as always, in the service of the Lord. You will find the best comfort and the best light in prayer: I wish them to you from my heart.
In Christ,
Father G. B. M.


24 October 1940
Reverend Sister Maria Ignazia,
I receive, always with anxiety, your letters and those of your good fellow-sister; and I regret that I can not come to the Santi Quattro, and unfortunately don’t have a way of bringing a remedy to the inconveniences that cause these sufferings. The Lord wanted to prepare this Cross, not another; and to dispose you to sanctity, not with peace and fervor, but with affliction and desolation. But He is not absent, and will not fail, to support and to console those who trust in Him and walk with a spirit of humility and charity on the hard and difficult path.
I hope next month to make a short visit to the Convent.
Meanwhile, I recommend you to Our Lady of Sorrows, and I request of you a remembrance to the Lord for me.
In the Lord devoutly,
Father G. B. M.


22 January 1941
Reverend Sister Maria Ignazia,
I received the letter both for Christmas, as well as that of the 20th of this month. Time is needed for the research, unfortunately; it is so difficult to correspond! If you have it, send me once again the exact address, and I will request the office that deals with these things to try again.
I pray to God to help you and never leave you without His consolations as you never are of His trials. Courage: by suffering one loves more, atones more, imitates Christ more, merits His rewards more.
Devoutly in the Lord,
G. B. M.


[No date]
Reverend Sister Maria Ignazia,
It is not possible to transmit sealed correspondence to prisoners. One must limit oneself only to the briefest news and greetings: you can write on the small sheet I enclose.
I thank God that your brother is safe; let’s pray that He may protect us all.
Devoutly,
G. B. Montini


11 June 1941
Reverend M. Ignazia,
Unfortunately to be able to have news and even more so with such little data is not now considered possible. Communications have become very difficult, and if you do not know the place where a prisoner is located it is no good to request information where we usually ask for it. However, we will try to do what can be done.
God comfort and assist you.
A blessing for you and Sister Maria Chiara.
Devoutly in Christ
G. B. Montini


Montini at a FUCI gathering in 1931

Montini at a FUCI gathering in 1931

10 January 1944
Reverend Sister,
Thanks for the Christmas wishes, so good and so dear. Please receive mine in return, that ask the Lord comfort, grace and virtue for the good Maria Ignazia. Welcome also with trust the sense of peace that the Lord puts in your heart, even in the midst of so many adversities. Saint Paul had an overabundance of joy in his tribulations, because he was full of the grace of God. Let us remain united to the Lord; and offer our trials to Him for the good of all; with lively love! I bless you in His name.
In Christ most devoutly,
G. B. M.


30 January 1947
Wonderful and Reverend Sister,
Despite the good will, it is always very difficult for me to help those looking for work. It’s a real preoccupation! So that I can in any case follow the matter, tell your cousin Vito Ferrari to send me again his personal details, address, and the opportune indications to know his abilities (but it would also be useful to know who from the Vatican dealt with him).
I give you many wishes for good peace in the Lord; and please also share them with your good sister Maria Chiara.
In the Lord most devoutly,
G. B. Montini


From the Vatican,
9 June 1949
Reverend Mother,
I have received, not without surprise, your first letter, with the announcement of your new duties. I want to hope that your soul will have great benefit from it: he who has the responsibility of leadership becomes more humble before God, and more charitable to neighbors; has many crosses to bear; must speak a lot, and be silent a lot; must console and support others, while needing to be comforted and supported first of all. But God will help you. Don’t ever be afraid. Do everything calmly and carefully, always guided by the good of other spirits, with great sweetness and firmness. I’ll try to pay you a visit. Meanwhile be assured that I’ll remember you to the Lord in a special way.
I conveyed to His Excellency Monsignor Traglia the letter that was addressed to him, recommending that matter.
As also for the petition sent: I hope that some small help will come of it.
Remember me to Sister Maria Chiara: tell her to be of good cheer and to humbly trust in God.
Many wishes for the entire community.
I commend myself to your prayers, and I remain most devoutly in the Lord,
yours
G. B. Montini

I received the second letter today. Thanks.


SECRETARIAT OF STATE FOR HIS HOLINESS
From the Vatican,
23 December 1949
Reverend Mother,
I am pleased to let you know that the Holy Father, on the occasion of the Christmas holidays, has graciously deigned to allocate the sum of 100,000 lire to the Convent.
The Supreme Pontiff willingly accompanies his gift with the comfort of the Apostolic blessing.
In sending the aforementioned sum to you, here enclosed in a bank check, I avail of the opportunity to declare myself in a sense of religious esteem, yours
most devoutly in the Lord,
G. B. Montini


22 February 1950
Most Reverend Mother,
I happen to have an offering at my disposal, that you will find included here, and that you can devote to the needs of the community.
Could you please send a small thank you to Monsignor Andrea Landi, Via Lucullo 6, Rome. Pray for him and me.
Devoutly,
G. B. Montini


SECRETARIAT OF STATE FOR HIS HOLINESS
26 February 1950
Reverend Mother,
Monsignor Pignedoli, secretary of the Central Committee of the Holy Year, confided in me that five and a half million [lire tr.] were obtained for the hospitality to pilgrims, at the Santi Quattro Convent; it seems that only the sum of four million will have to be returned later. We thank the Lord.
Devoutly,
G. B. Montini


SECRETARIAT OF STATE FOR HIS HOLINESS
From the Vatican, 13 July 1950
Reverend Mother,
I received your esteemed letter of the 4th of the current month and the appeal with which you sought fabric to remake the habits of your religious. I am pleased to convey to you that the Holy Father has graciously provided that all the convents of Italy in need will be given free material at the rate of two meters for each religious. The Pontifical Commission of Assistance, to which the task of carrying out the distribution was entrusted, has already approached the Vicariate of Rome to have the lists of the convents of the city. As soon as they are ready, distribution will begin and I am sure this convent will not be excluded. However, if this community were afraid of being forgotten, you should notify the Vicariate which is compiling the lists.
Meanwhile, happy to be able to send you and all your sisters the comforting apostolic blessing, with a sense of religious esteem I remain
yours,
most devoted in the Lord,
G. B. Montini


[Undated note accompanying proposals of Mother Maria Grazia]
It seems to me that this reform can be approved.
I’ve only made two changes, marked in red. I would not normally add particular practices beyond the common acts, because it is enough to do these well. I would perhaps keep only the entire crown of the Rosary for the solemn the feastdays of Our Lady. Also it is to be noted that those who belong to a religious order can not be enrolled in any other Third Order.
A general observation on this reform is the following: it contains many things that the Rule and the religious life already recommend. It can therefore be summed up by the faithful observance of the rules and above all, in the love of the spirit of the rules themselves, which is the spirit of holiness. So it takes only a few intentions when you love a lot.
Monsignor Montini


The register of celebrant  priests  in the church of Santa Prisca, in Rome in 1929, preserved by Sister Maria Ignazia of the Holy Innocents. In the registry pages the surname Montini often recurs

The register of celebrant priests in the church of Santa Prisca, in Rome in 1929, preserved by Sister Maria Ignazia of the Holy Innocents. In the registry pages the surname Montini often recurs

22 July 1955
The Archbishop of Milan
To Sister Maria Ignazia I send a special blessing, assuring her my spiritual remembrance.
G. B. Montini


[No date]
Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini
Archbishop of Milan
Warmly thanks for the courteous expressions addressed to him on his entry into the archiepiscopal Ambrosian See; and blessing returns good wishes and compliments.


12 August 1958
The Archbishop of Milan
To Sister Maria Ignazia, my blessing and my greeting, in the Lord, in exchange for the good feelings expressed in your letters. I always remember and bless. The death of Mother Magdalena Benaglia reminds us, even more than the memories of time past, our destiny in eternity, for which we must prepare in patience and in trust in God.
In the Lord
G. B. Montini


23 March 1959
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini
Archbishop of Milan
thanks for remembering, returns good wishes in the Lord,
and blesses from the heart.
G. B. M.


Milan, Holy Easter 1963
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini
Archbishop of Milan
expresses his pleasure and his gratitude for the good wishes sent to him on the occasion of Easter, and in the spirit of the great festivity returns them from the heart, distinctly and devoutly greeting.


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