Maria Oliva, the fourth of nine children, was born on 26 March 1893, in Castelfranco, Veneto (Treviso, Italy). Her birth coincided with the Palm Sunday that year, and the day before was the feast of Annunciation. Hence she was given the name Maria Oliva in remembrance of these two celebrations.
Her parents were Giuseppe Antonio Bonaldo and Italica Dionisia Bianco (known as Gioconda). At the time of her birth, they were owners of a hotel, which was located below an arcade in the historical centre of the town. On 1 December 1893, they moved to a place known as “Bassano del Grappa” where they bought a restaurant called the “Stella d’Oro” (the Golden Star). Maria Oliva lived a happy period of infancy and during these years of her childhood, her mother instilled in her the love for the Eucharist, for the Blessed Mother and for the poor. Sadly, her mother died in 1904 while giving birth to the ninth child who also did not survive. With these painful losses, joy and happiness disappeared from Maria Oliva’s life, leaving an indelible mark on her adolescence.In the same year, she began to attend a private school run by the Canossian Sisters in Treviso and continued her Technical School education until the age of fourteen, followed by further studies in Venice from where she obtained in 1910 the Diploma in Education.
As a young teacher Maria Oliva was first assigned to the elementary School in Castello di Godego (TV) and subsequently to other Schools located in the nearby places. Being an intelligent, educated, creative teacher, she dedicated herself to the pupils with exceptional pedagogical ability. Attentive and tender-hearted, she used to give away her salary to the poor whom she called “Jesus”. In 1911, she was transferred to Castelfranco where she was courted by an young Venetian painter whom she intended to marry and have a family. With an unexpected event, God broke through her life and transformed her completely. On 22 May 1913, for the feast of Corpus Domini, Maria Oliva decided to take part in the Eucharistic procession. She describes this event in the following words: “I was twenty years old when, on the occasion of the feast of Corpus Domini, I felt inspired to take part in the Eucharistic Procession, but at the thought of facing the derision of some people, my ego resisted to go along… In fact, only a few persons were participating in the procession and they were considered as religious fanatics… Finally, we reached the Georgian Square (Castelfranco). There the Lord was waiting for me to pay me like a Lord. When the Priest raised the Sacred Host to give the Benediction, I sensed something very special: I understood Jesus. I had a very clear insight into the Mystical Body; I felt changed, I felt like being in heaven… The things of this world, all that did not belong to God, seemed vain and empty. I returned home a different person. Before taking off the veil I wore, I wrote in my diary that I was going to be a nun.”
Converted to Love and with an overflowing joy, she immediately abandoned her plans for marriage. She was captivated by the ideal of consecrating herself to God and by the inspired intuition of founding a new Religious Family, dedicated entirely to the service of the Church. Maria Oliva, however, was not understood by her spiritual director who told her that he did not see her as the true instrument capable of realizing such a Project. On hearing this response, she continued with her teaching job, sacrificing her own will in heroic obedience.
During the First World War, while a refugee with her family in Portiolo (Mantova), she dedicated her time to an attentive reading and study of the Sacred Scripture. This opened her heart to an ever-growing love and care for others. While in Portiolo, she did parish apostolate for the first time and dedicated herself to an intense evangelization of the youth.
In October 1920, at the age of 27, Maria Oliva joined, in obedience to her spiritual director, the convent of the Canossian Congregation called “Daughters of Charity”, at Treviso. There, on 7 September 1923, she made her First Profession and on 24 October 1928 the Perpetual Profession. From 1924 to 1928 she attended the Higher Institute of Education at the Sacred Heart University of Milan from where, in 1930, she obtained the degree in Arts and Philosophy, with her thesis entitled “La Vergine nell’Umanesimo” (The Virgin in Humanism).
Later Maria Oliva became Principal of the Teachers Training Institute of the Canossians where she fulfilled her educational mission with great commitment and creativity. She drew up an “educational plan” and produced various writings, poetry, oratories and representations for different festal and other occasions in the school and in her religious community.
Maria Oliva lived her religious life in the Canossian community despite her poor health further weakened by tuberculosis. Yet, her continuous inner call to start a new Religious Family remained alive and strong.
She confided her inspirations to her Superiors, and after a long period of waiting, praying and hoping, she was authorized to write down what she experienced in her heart. Thus in 1934 she wrote the 33 Foglietti (33 Pages) in which she delineated the spiritual journey of the future Daughters of the Church. Having gone through many painful moments, Maria Oliva encountered the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Piazza, who understood her inspirations and did his best to persuade the Superior General of the Canossian Sisters to allow her to go ahead with her project ad experimentum. Thus Maria Oliva, together with four young women, began the Congregation of the Daughters of the Church on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 24 June 1938, in the premises of the Canossian Sisters’ Generalate in Rome.
The Holy See granted Mother Maria Oliva the permission to stay with her Daughters and give them formation. During the following years, in spite of various restrictions as to any new foundation and the difficulties created by the Second World War, the new Religious Family spread to different places. On 11 April 1943, Sr. Olga Gugelmo (now Venerable), one of the first four, passed away. She was the one to whom Mother Maria Oliva had hoped to entrust the Institute’s direction, since she could not take care of it herself because of the vow she had taken to remain a Canossian Sister forever.
Cardinal Piazza personally asked Pope Pius XII that Maria Oliva be released from the vow to be a Canossian forever. He then granted the Diocesan Approval to the Daughters of the Church on 21 April 1946. For the explicit desire of the Pope, Mother Maria Oliva passed to the Congregation she founded and made her perpetual Profession on 2 August 1946, thus becoming the Superior General of the Daughters of the Church. The Institute was recognized as of Pontifical Right on 21 December 1949, and received the final approval of the Constitutions in 1957. The years that followed are marked by significant growth in the Institute in number, territory and apostolic life.
The post Vatican Council II found Mother Maria Oliva paying greater attention to the new way of being the Church. The significant Constitutions of the Council: Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Liturgy), Lumen Gentium (The Church), Dei Verbum (The Word of God) and Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), filled her heart with much joy because she found in them an affirmation and a clarification of her own charismatic intuitions. In the two periodicals published by the Daughters of the Church entitled ”Ecclesia Mater” and “Mater Ecclesia” she made these documents available so that the Church’s Mystery be known to everybody. Besides this, she was doing her best to promote and support the collaboration with lay people who, she felt, were invested with a particular ecclesial mission.
This was also the time when Mother Maria Oliva accepted the exhortation of the Church to reach out to countries beyond the European continent. She sent her Daughters among the poorest and the neediest in the countries like Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, North America and India. Mother Maria Oliva of the Mystical Body passed away on 10 July 1976. On 17 June 1987, Cardinal Poletti opened the “Initial Process” in Rome for her beatification. Cardinal Ruini concluded this process on 15 September 1992. Having recognized her heroic virtues, Pope Francis declared her as Venerable on 9 December 2013. Her body now rests in the tomb, adjacent to the altar in the Chapel of the Daughters of the Church’s Generalate in Rome.
The thought of Maria Oliva surrounds us with a sense of mystery that leaves us attracted and dazzled without words, as if we were in the presence of a luminous beauty.
She is a woman who was completely immersed in God. Her eyes were truly contemplating a world beyond. She was a woman of our time who, looking at the Church, knew how to unite the antinomies: greatness and littleness, strength and delicacy, hiddeness and splendour, contemplation and action.Mother Maria Oliva reached the peak of a journey of faith that may be indicated as path not only to her Daughters but also to every lay person. In 1977, Igino Giordani wrote to the Daughters of the Church: “I never cease to thank God for giving me the privilege of meeting in the midst of my political life, a holy woman who reminded me of the values of the spirit. She helped me to live an ecclesial life”.Maria Oliva is a person called by Love to live in Love and to communicate Love. To the inspiring light received during the Corpus Domini procession, her response was total and creative, loving and suffering for all humankind so that that all may become the Church.
This book is available only in Italian
The 33 Leaflets, written by Mother Maria Oliva in 1934 (four years before the foundation of the Institute), published for the first time as a small volume in 1984 (eight years after her death), convey the anxiety of M. Maria Oliva Bonaldo, as the would-be foundress of the Daughters of the Church. In these pages, for the first time, she recognizes herself in the “new name” “of the Mystical Body”, and traces the main features of the identity and mission of the religious family.
With a master hand, she delineates with unambiguous clarity the physiognomy of the new congregation as perceived in her listening to the Spirit. Strongly disinclined she was to legal norms even when they enunciated the principles of practical living, she would surrender to the “anointing” of the Spirit and let herself be taught and guided by Him. Hence, far from being normative, “the Leaflets” often become "tasty" contemplation, enlivened substantially by the Word of God.
“Passion Flower” is indeed a description of the life of Olga Gugelmo, rich in natural and supernatural gifts. While describing her life, Maria Oliva presents her as the model for every authentic Daughter of the Church.
She mentions some of the most significant traits: contemplative and active; or active in contemplation in one’s everyday life, within or outside the house, while doing any kind of work. Even the most simple, the most humble, the most insignificant, the most hidden action, must always be accomplished as fulfillment of a duty, as an expression of love, as collaboration with God, Creator and Father and with Christ our Redeemer.
And while she describes Olga's life, Maria Oliva proves a wave of sincere joy in discovering that this was the ideal towards which her daughter was always tending.
In this book, Mother Maria Oliva describes the short life of Olga of the Mother of God. She was the eldest among the first eight Sisters to whom Maria Oliva had intended to entrust the responsibility of the new Order.
She hardly spent five years in the Institute, when struck by a serious meningitis died on 11 April 1943 when the Congregation was taking its initial steps. Docile to the Holy Spirit, Olga accepted the suffering as a “gift” and joyfully offered her life for the triumph of the Holy Mother Church. Olga is ever present in our midst with the example of a life totally given to God. Many people consider her a heavenly assistant and rely on her prayer.
The vocation, the life and the exemplary death of Magdalene, makes Mother Maria Oliva to present her to the whole Institute - alongside Olga of the Mother of God - as an inspiring model. When still a novice, Magdalene offered her life for the Christian Unity after listening to the Foundress on the importance of prayer for the Unity of the Church. Thus, she is the one who contributed to strengthening the sense of the ecumenical universality of the Church in the Institute of the Daughters of the Church. Magdalene’s smile and the heroic simplicity of her offering, is a small but vivid light in the journey of every son and daughter of the Church towards ecumenism.
Magdalene’s memory is alive among the Sisters and among the many devotees, especially during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Mother Maria Oliva Bonaldo, Foundress of the Daughters of the Church, wrote this short biography of Emma Moser to introduce to the world, a girl, an aspirant of the same Congregation, who offered her life for the intentions of the Second Vatican Council, in response to the appeal made by the then Pope John XXIII to all the children of the world.
“Let us breathe Mary” is a work of Mother Maria Oliva’s adult life. We can say that it is the synthesis of how much she could understand and live of the mystery of God and of the Virgin Mary, deeply inserted in it. Here, we are not dealing with a systematic theological treatise; it is an admired "contemplation" of what the Lord has accomplished in Mary. It is an invitation for us to commit ourselves, following the path of full adherence to the Lord, which is the way of holiness.
Igino Giordani was a novelist, publicist, and an apologist; Maria Oliva, a Canossian religious, in the initial phase of founding and guiding the Work that the Lord had inspired her: the Institute of the Daughters of the Church, and in whose spirituality she wanted also the priests and the laity to participate.
The letters of M. Oliva to Giordani cover a period of 35 years from 1938 to 1973, with peaks of dense correspondence between 1940 and 1943. Later, the correspondence became less as Maria Oliva was transferred from Venice to Rome, where she could directly meet him.
The Letters manifest without reticence the strength of Maria Oliva’s spiritual motherhood in its most beautiful expression, which accompanies and sustains the spiritual son in the path of holiness; they are filled with profound humanity and are a glowing testimony of the love of God that overflows as love of man called to realize fully the Christian vocation in every state of life.
The book “Communion” is the faithfully transcribed version of a series of lessons given by Mother Maria Oliva to the Daughters of the Church on every first Friday of the month, from October 1972 to June 1973, excluding November and December. These instructions were meant to lead her Sisters to the original spirit of the Congregation in keeping with the exhortation of the Second Vatican Council: "The adaptation and renewal of the religious life includes both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes" (Perfectae Caritatis, n.2).
The voice of Mother Oliva resounds in these writings. She speaks from the heart, presenting the charism in a maternally affectionate and compelling way for the constant attention and responsible meditation of all the Sisters. She wanted her Daughters to be “of one heart and one soul” responding faithfully to their specific vocation in the Church.
In the five short chapters of this work, Mother Maria Oliva outlined the spirituality of the Daughters of the Church from a particularly significant and modern angle: that of participation.
To be part of a reality means taking part not as mere spectators, but to be involved from within. It is our vocation to be in the Church, daughters who share the life of God’s family, partake in her riches and take care of her concerns. It means to be sisters of Jesus and of all his brothers, of all the men and women of all generations and nations.
This universal openness lets us breathe free and full in the world of God, and impels us to bear witness, with humility and inner freedom, to the gift received and cherished.
From the unum sint of the priestly prayer of Jesus, our Congregation has drawn inspiration and life. “To be of one heart and one soul” was the constant supplication, aspiration and commitment of Mother Maria Oliva. The book "Ut unum sint" contains two series of spiritual conferences she gave for the communities during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1964 and in 1976.
In 1964, Maria Oliva commented on the words of Paul VI to the Bishops on his return from the Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She also develops her own thoughts on what she wrote for the Calendar of the Daughters of the Church, which she calls “our booklet”, during the period of Christmas.
In the conferences of 1976, she commented on the Oremus of the Liturgy of 18 January: «Infuse in us, O God, the spirit of your Love, so that nourished by the only Bread of life, we may become one heart and one soul».
It is a collection of 11 Spiritual Conferences that Maria Oliva Bonaldo gave for her daughters on the theme of Prayer. Taking up the teachings of the Church, she indicates:
«I tell you: pray as the Holy Mother Church teaches you; she teaches you to pray as Jesus taught and as the Holy Spirit taught recently, with the Constitution on the Liturgy, centralizing everything in that mystery which is the Holy Mass ».
It is wisdom and experience of life that the Foundress transmits to her daughters, to make it their own, trying to live accordingly and proposing it to the faithful.
During "the Holy Hour" (Eucharistic Adoration on the eve of the 1st Friday of the month) Maria Oliva comments on the Priestly Prayer of Jesus (1964).
You all know that the Lord asks three great graces with this prayer. For his own, that is, for his beloved ones: his priests, his apostles, his missionaries and for his beloved missionary daughters; the three great graces are then extended to all, to all those who believe in the word of the priest, "those who believe in me through their word", to all those who believe in the mission of the Catholic priesthood, to everyone; for all of them, the Lord asks these three great, supreme graces: consecration in the truth.
The commitment to the spiritual growth of her daughters has been a significant and constant trait in the life of our Foundress; it was a discreet accompaniment, especially in the intense time of annual retreats, during which through prayer and reflection their bond with the Lord could be better consolidated. The Mother normally followed the preacher's instructions and commented on them, focusing on what was specific to the charism.
In the summer of 1972, her poor health did not permit Maria Oliva to follow this customary itinerary. Far from being discouraged, remaining in her room at the generalate (Sancta Maria), she decided to reach her nine daughters who were preparing for the perpetual profession and the other retreatants in Domus Aurea, Paesetto della Madonna, with a brief commentary on the Magnificat.
On December 4, 1963, at the conclusion of the third session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965), Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) promulgated the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The Council was an event of grace for the whole Church, which has set in motion new energies that have been dormant now awakened by the power of the Holy Spirit for the growth of an increasingly mature and participated ecclesial conscience.
Our Foundress followed the conciliar sessions with great attention, with sentiments of profound gratitude, because she recognized in the pronouncements of the Fathers the full realization of her charismatic Inspiration. In the promulgated Documents, she found the key expressions of her thought: Sentire cum, per e in Ecclesia; thus she made a synthesis, fully acknowledging every content.
Maria Oliva Bonaldo, presented to the Daughters of the Church on December 27, 1965, a commentary to the “Lumen Gentium". Having offered the brief reflections on the "De Sacra Liturgia" she could not deprive them of her comments on the dogmatic Constitution "De Ecclesia" because she felt it her duty to nourish them with the maternal grace that the Lord has given her for their sake.
She writes in her introduction: "The Bread (well prepared and pleasantly smelling), is given by your great Mother", the Church. Your "little Mother" treats it or chews it for those incapable of chewing as all mothers do with their children".
She wants that after having nourished themselves with this "bread", her daughters "speak to all of the breadth of our Mystery with fervour".
This book is available only in Italian
The letters of Mother Maria Oliva Bonaldo (1893-1976) to Fr. Ciro Scotti (1883-1943) form an extraordinary document that reveals the unrestrainable and firm impulse that guided the Foundress in the implementation of the Work inspired by the Lord.
Ciro Scotti was a true "soul brother" in the spiritual itinerary of Maria Oliva and in the full sharing of her charism from early young age to the initial years of the foundation. These letters therefore constitute a fundamental autobiographical testimony, the story of her spiritual motherhood; composed in successive moments and in detail, are an irreplaceable guide to the knowledge of the Foundress and of the charism.