sr. Costanza Caldara
My Best Costanza,
the door is open to you from this day forward…
There cannot have been many to hear such words from the lips of Daniel Comboni himself, but Costanza Caldara did. She was standing in front of him, at the door, on 9th September 1880, and he told her she could finally present herself at Verona to begin her novitiate.
The founder was finishing his preparations for his last departure for Africa. Caterina Chincarini, who was in Cairo when he reached there, later said he had brought the good news to them, saying: “Rejoice, a young woman called Costanza has entered in Verona and she will lead the Congregation for many years”. Many indeed! She was elected Superior General in 1901 and remained in that post until 1931, long enough to nurture the seedling which the Father had planted “among tribulations and thorns”.
Tall and gracious, Costanza showed herself, from the start, made of the same stuff as the Founder. Even if she was not in time to go to Africa with him, she had received the Plan from his hands and had heard the vows pronounced by the sisters on that tragic evening of 10th October. She knew – because she was in Cairo when the refugees reached it from Sudan – what the Father had in mind when Sister Death had called him. Time was up for him, but not for the Regeneration of Africa. Daniel had fought long and hard to have people around him who would continue his dream, put it into action. They had only to wait until the storm passed, then “his” sisters would start again.
From the time she arrived in Egypt to the end of the Mahdia Rebellion, Costanza had been able to witness all the preparations for the return to Khartoum, which came about in the autumn of 1900. Two years later, on 7th October 1902, as the new Superior General she left Mother House to go to Africa to visit the communities of sisters and to see for herself the possibilities for new foundations. She was determined that the Comboni Missionary Sisters would go there, where their Father had wanted them to go.
Costanza’s plan though, was not only to go ahead but also to remain, to maintain their position, to defend the “right to be” of the woman apostle of the Church: to go, proclaim and witness the Gospel from one woman to another.
The numbers and maps show this well. On the one hand the Comboni Missionary Sisters crossed borders and reached: Eritrea in 1914; Uganda in1918; Bahr el Gazal in 1919; France in 1925; Bahr el Gebel 1927; Equatorial Sudan 1929; on the other, there was constant movement and an always greater number of young women who asked to enter the Congregation. In 1931 the 8 communities at the start of her mandate had become 49; the number of sisters became 470 and the novices numbered 130. These are numbers with a story.
She could die in peace. The door which the Father had opened wide to allow her in, remained open to allow her to go on. New generations could enter the cenacle and stay there for their necessary preparation. They would then leave, open to the Spirit and the signs of the times, for the paths of the mission . . .