Mother Maria Bollezzoli
First General Superior
Maria Bollezzoli was the only daughter of Michele and Teresa Zata, born in Verona on 25th January 1828. Her family was of comfortable means, and she was able to train as a teacher. From an early age she felt drawn to enclosed life but made the decision to remain with her parents who needed her.
After they died she offered to help her Parish Priest, Don Zefirino Agostani, of the Parish of St Nazaro and carried out parish works, especially with poor girls. She then joined the Pius Union of the Ursulines.
She was initially reluctant when asked by Mgr Comboni to take on the responsibility of the young aspirants to the African Mission. Eventually, with the encouragement she received from Cardinal Di Canossa, Bishop of Verona, she gave in to his persistence, seeing it as a manifestation of the will of God for her. On 6th September 1874, she moved from the parish of St Maria in Organo and entered Mother House: her “yes” to the will of God, was absolute.
She took on the responsibility of an Institute which was still unformed, right at its beginnings. The young women who were entrusted to her had come from negative, tough experiences. She joined them and journeyed with them: on 8th December of 1874 she took the habit with the group and began the novitiate with them. Two years later, on 15th October 1876, she and Sr Teresa Grigolini made their first religious vows in the hands of the Founder, Daniel Comboni, the first professed sisters in the new Congregation.
She was not overcome with dismay on the death of the Founder, 10th October 1881. Faithful to the Word of God in prayer, she found there the strength to repeat her “yes” and to continue to encourage the sisters in their missionary vocation: “My dear daughters, have courage, be strong and generous, do not get discouraged, do not get lost, but stand straight and keep to the place assigned to you by Divine Providence.”
During her time as Superior General, the Institute lived through the horrifying era of the Mahdia, which included the imprisonment of the sisters in Delen and in El Obeid, the flight from Khartoum to Egypt of the other sisters while in Verona, the sisters experienced the flooding of the Adige in 1882; the Institute also suffered serious financial difficulties.
Before she died on 23rd April 1901, Mother Maria Bollezzoli had the joy of hearing the news that, once the Mahdia rebellion was over, on 2nd September 1898, Sudan had been reopened and missionary work had begun again.
Her last testament was:
Love one another. My greatest satisfaction in the next world will be to see that you love one another and bear one another’s burdens. Remember that we are children of the same father.