Maria Teresa Spinelli
Maria Teresa Spinelli was born in the centre of Rome on the first day of October 1789. She was the youngest of a family of nine children, of whom only four survived. She received her education at the Maestre Pie Venerini. In the wake of the French Revolution, Rome experienced an economic setback and as a result the Spinelli family suffered great poverty. At sixteen her parents married off Teresa to Luigi Ravieli, a violent man with revolutionary ideas.
Although she was often beaten and threatened by her husband, Teresa managed to suffer in silence and offer everything for his conversion. But the neighbours filed a report to the authorities and the young woman was ordered to live separately from her husband. Teresa found herself once more living with her parents where she gave birth to Maria Domenica. Her financial status led her to go and work as a ‘wet nurse’ with a noble family. Later she became a governess of their daughter. Some time later she returned home to care for her elderly parents who were ill, devoting herself at the same time to prayer and to works of charity.
On the first day of November 1820 she had a vision and received the call for evangelisation. She wished to open a school at Ferentino where she was already well known, but, while praying, she heard a voice telling her ‘it is not in Ferentino that I desire you, but in Frosinone.’ Invited by the Town Council, Maria Teresa opened her first school for girls in Frosinone in 1821. On the 23rd September 1827 she founded the Congregation of the Augustinian Sisters, Servants of Jesus and Mary, with the specific purpose of the education and Christian formation of youngsters. After a life dedicated to the service of God and her fellow humans, she died on January 22, 1850. Through her daughters, the Augustinian Sisters, the seed sown by Teresa has grown over the years into a huge tree that has spread its roots into five continents, to continue the mission begun by this simple woman filled with courage and the love of God.
Servants of Jesus and Mary
For Mother Teresa Spinelli, becoming one with the Suffering Servant Jesus Christ, the sole Mediator between God and Man, meant to give herself up completely to serve others. She lived a life of continual service in order that every person should live within the Church. Her love for the crucified Christ reached the point where she offered herself as a victim for the conversion of sinners. In her letter dated 31 May 1844, she writes ‘I offer to God from the depths of my heart this my life for the needs of the Church and in expiation for sinners.’ She would like to enter the very heart of God and live from there the whole drama of God’s infinite love for man; the love of Christ that calls for the service of one’s neighbour.
Mother Teresa wishes her life to identify with the Crucified Christ in order that His passion may be re-enacted in the Church and for the Church. She prays: ‘I would like from You great mercy for all men.’
The cultural, civil, moral and religious education, especially of women was for Mother Teresa an act of the greatest charity in the society of her times. She believed that education is the surest means to enable a person to reach, more fully, her Creator. She felt that God’s will for her was to serve her neighbour by the education of children and youths.
Mary, the humble servant of the Lord, is the model of the life of contemplation and service to which the Augustinian Sisters, Servants of Jesus and Mary are called. That is why Mother Teresa Spinelli chose her as the ‘Patron and Mother Superior of the Institute’.