Mother Clelia Meloni was beatified on November 3, a saintly intercessor for those of us who find that life is just one long series of trials.
Mother Clelia Meloni founded the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who today have more than 1,200 sisters throughout the world.
Her life was one of trial after trial, beginning with the death of her mother as a small child in Italy. Her father became overly involved in his work and status in the world, drifted from the faith and became a freemason. He planned a luxurious married life for his daughter, but Clelia planned to consecrate herself to God. Her father was angry at the women of the family he felt had drawn her away from a secular life, but Clelia only responded by praying and offering penances, such as walking with a pebble in her shoe, for his redemption.
Clelia entered the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Providence in 1892, dedicating herself to religious life with joy. Then she contracted tuberculosis and wasn’t expected to survive. But after novenas to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, she was completely healed.
She realized God’s plan was for her to found a new order. In 1894, Clelia and two other women were presented as the first “Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” and dedicated their order to the poor, orphans, and the abandoned, offering good works for the salvation of sinners.
Clelia’s years of prayer were answered when her father asked to receive the Sacraments before dying. She considered it a special grace that her father’s death occurred during the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart.
Money inherited from her father brought more trials to her and the order. Corruption and theft by Clelia’s finance administrator led to her leaving the order in 1906. The administrator was a priest, and Clelia refused to bring in civil authorities, not wanting to cause scandal and stir anti-Catholic sentiment. Ousted from her own order, Clelia refused to become resentful, but only urged the sisters to
bear with one another with great humility. This will teach you how to treat your neighbor. Do it with sweetness and patience and so you will exclude murmurs and grumbling, criticisms, sarcasm, stinging barbs, antipathies and impatience with displeasures received. Do this with great charity and this will teach you to treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated yourselves …
Supported by the bishop, she returned to the Apostles after years of undeserved exile, and worked to establish missionaries in Brazil. But disagreements in the order burdened Clelia again, and she was replaced as Superior General in 1911. She wrote to Padre Pio asking for help discerning what to do. She asked for dispensation from her religious vows, hoping that the order’s work could continue without the distraction of its founder. However, late in life she re-entered religious life, and became a sister again.
Mother Clelia spent the last two years of her life in poor health, in a room that overlooked the altar. She made a complete offering of herself to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus for the salvation of souls. She died in Rome in 1930.
Even in death, Mother Clelia’s body had troubles. The cemetery was bombed during World War II and many tombs were damaged or destroyed. Only after the war in 1945 were civilians able to search for her remains in the devastated cemetery. Although it took a few days, her casket was found, still sealed. In the presence of the Superior General, it was opened, and her body was found to be intact. Her remains were then transferred to the Mother House.
The inexplicable healing in 1951 of a Brazilian doctor named Pedro Angelo de Oliveira Filho was the start of the path to beatification. Stricken with Guillain-Barre syndrome, the man became paralyzed and unable to swallow and could barely breathe. Doctors stated there was nothing else they could do and that he wouldn’t survive the night. The doctor’s wife sought out Sr. Adelina Alves Barbos who brought a holy card and relic of fabric from Mother Clelia’s veil. The family prayed for Mother Clelia’s intercession. Sr. Adelina placed the tiny relic in a cup of water and gave it to the dying doctor to drink. Within a few minutes, he was able to swallow and breathe normally.
In spite of lifelong difficulties, Mother Clelia believed that we must “have courage and unlimited confidence in God” and to throw ourselves blindly “into the ocean of divine Providence” – regardless of whether this brings joy or sorrow.
Neither a stubborn father, an unscrupulous thief, or quarreling sisters stood in her way or caused her despair. Instead, she loved her enemies with sensitivity and grace.
The motto of the Apostles is “The Love of Christ Impels Us.”
Blessed Clelia Merloni, pray for us!