She survived a debilitating illness as a baby 100 years ago, got immunized against COVID, and has a message of prayer to share with the world.
A recent edition of Avvenire.it reported news that was extraordinary in many ways: Sr. Anna Maria, at the venerable age of 101, was given the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
But who is this centenarian nun?
In the summer of 1920, in the little town of San Carlo di Roccagrimalda (near Genoa, Italy), a newborn girl just 4 months old, Anna Perfumo, fell ill with a violent bronchopneumonia. At that time there were no antibiotics to cure her, and her fate was considered sealed, Avvenire reports.
So when her mother asked the doctor to return to visit the child the next day, she received a terrible prognosis: The child wouldn’t make it to the next day.
The first special grace
But when medicine cannot work miracles, prayer is the resource to which believers entrust their lives and those of their loved ones, and that’s what this desperate mother did. With all her fervor, she promised God that if He saved her daughter she would be dedicated entirely to Him.
Today, that little girl is Sister Anna Maria of the Sacred Heart of the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament. At 101 years of age, she has recently completed the vaccination procedure without any immediate adverse effects. She participates with her sisters in all the rites and turns of adoration that take place daily at the Monastery of Seregno.
Sr. Anna Maria took her vows at 72 and is being vaccinated at 101
She became a novice at the age of 72, when “the Lord finally opened the door for me,” she says. It had been 65 years since the moment when, as a child, she had asked Jesus to accept her into His service as a cloistered nun. However, God’s plans for her had included a long journey and apprenticeship in the service of her brothers and sisters before she could live her dream.
She graduated with a teaching degree at the age of 17, and started working as an educator for the children of shipwrights in Genoa and Rapallo. At the same time, she was helping her family at home—her parents and two sisters—and dedicating herself to religious teaching at the parish kindergartens in Genoa, as well as assisting a sick priest for 30 years.
A second “miracle”
In a video interview with Mimma Russo (in Italian), she says:
My vocation began when I was still a little girl, but then the Lord always found obstacles, as I saw it. But the moment came when the Lord removed every obstacle, even though it was a humanly insuperable obstacle. And that was when I was 72 years old.
On the dresser of her room, on a doily with flowers, there are photos of Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, a statue of the Virgin Mary, the image of Merciful Jesus … and next to her bed, many books, papers, and folders.
Sr. Anna Maria holds the Bible in her hands with its worn pages, her cane held together with a few turns of Scotch tape to support her in her aches and pains. However, her face is lively and alert, her voice clear and gentle, and her thoughts and memories still sharp.
Sr. Anna Maria and the Sacramentine Sisters
Once she had graduated and her sisters had gotten married, after the death of her parents, her nostalgia for the cloistered life came back. But at the age of 72, could she have found any religious order willing to accept her?
In the video interview, Anna Maria tells us that she didn’t have the courage to ask because she was too old to do so. “It seemed almost presumptuous,” she says.
The Lord’s hand acted by making me meet a parish priest in Genoa who proposed three (possible monasteries): “Go and introduce yourself, and you will see that the Lord will be close to you.”
As the interview with Mimma Russo goes on, the nun recounts that she asked three cloistered monasteries under the advice of the parish priest, and the first to respond—it was the day of the Novena to the Immaculate Conception—were the Sacramentine Sisters. The Lord is generous, since her deepest desire was to enter an order where Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was particularly adored.
The first meeting with the Mother Superior
This is how the second “miracle” happened in 1992, and Anna finally entered the convent. She recalls in the video her first meeting with the Mother Superior:
I introduced myself, but after 30 years of assisting this priest who was in need … I was a bit destroyed, so I presented myself somewhat brusquely … Mother Superior asked me: “When would you be willing to come?” I say, “Right away, even.” And the mother superior replied: “… spend Christmas with your loved ones, then we’ll agree on the date.” My physical condition was not acceptable, and even I had understood that perhaps I was asking for something that wasn’t possible. Instead, the Superior had the courage to accept me.
101 years and the joy of prayer
Today, at more than a hundred years old, she is animated by a mature and total self-giving to the cloistered life. She recites the Magnificat to the Most High, praising and praying to Him at scheduled times with the other sisters but also at any time of the day or night, in solitude.
She told Avvenire, “Praying is the most beautiful thing to do, with love, as well as thanking the Lord upon awakening.” With this attitude, Sr. Anna Maria says, “the days take on meaning and we can feel serene as well.”
When she’s not praying, even though she walks with the help of a cane, she devotes herself to caring for and assisting her younger sick sisters in the infirmary. “I do what I can to thank the Lord,” she says.
Today she’s still ready to “infect” the novices who go to the monastery with her extraordinary faith and joyful, ardent passion for Christ. May her spirit also spread to those of us who still remain lukewarm or even distant in the face of God’s love for His children.