sr. Fortunata Quascè

Regenerating Africa with Africa

“The plan therefore which we dare to propose . . . would be to create numerous Institues of both sexes which should be spread throughout Africa. . .

From the group of young Africans who do not feel called to the matrimonial state, would be formed the section called  the Virgins of Charity  . . . the most select of the female group would be destined to direct the schools for girls, carrying out the most important functions of christian charity and exercising the ministry of the catholic woman among the peoples of Africa . .”

(From the Plan of Daniel Comboni)

She was a child of about eight years old when she arrived, without name and without family, in Verona with a group of companions. It was the month of July in 1853 and the welcome they all received in the family, the home, of the Mazza Institute, was warm like the sun which shone on the city.

Founder of the Institute for Women in Kordofan

In January 1873, after about five years of training in the Comboni Institute in Cairo, Fortunata finally began her return journey towards her native land, Central Africa under the guide of “the Missionary for Africa”.

It is interesting to note that in that expedition of 26 missionaries, almost 70% were women. Daniel Comboni remained convinced that the regeneration of Africa would come about above all through the action of women.

After a dreadful journey of 99 days,  the group arrived at Khartoum. For Fortunata, however, the journey was not over. Daniel intended to reach El-Obedi, the capital of Kordofan, a large centre of the slave trade and where a christian woman had never yet been seen. With him, therefore, went three young, courageous and committed women: Domitilla, Faustina and Fortuna. A few weeks later their work among the women in Kordofan was already a reality.

Daniel made suggestions, encouraged and approved what these women did. The day he saw Fortunata offer a young catechumen the white bread which had been prepared for the sisters, he smiled contentedly. By doing this the catechist did not claim special treatment but favoured rather an experience of evangelical fellowship. By that gesture, she wanted Bianca Lemuna to understand that “they,” the women who were so different and came from afar, loved them and considered them true sisters. . . .

First the Gospel, then education . . .

When Sudan was caught up in the islamic insurrection called the Mahdia, and Fortunata was made prisoner with about fifteen other missionaries, her captors were amazed to see how resolute she was not to abandon the God of Jesus Christ, even under torture They did not understand that for her it was not a matter of a foreign God but of the one true God, Mother and Father of all humankind.

However, it was not only the Mahdists who marvelled at her behaviour. Not even Antonio M. Roveggio, second successor of Daniel Comboni, could understand when in the girls school of Assuan, she refused to leave the administration because her colour, too dark, did not please some of her pupils who were lighter in colour . . .

By that time, Fortunata had been a religioius sister for many years and according to the Bishop should have simply obeyed him. Refusing to do so in the name of an evangelical criteria – or because of the Plan of the Founder – she behaved in a way which was not considered the best in a relgious, according to the Veronese model . . .

This was a conflict which became a dark night of the soul for Fortunata. She did not understand, could not understand . . . She resigned herself therefore to drink, to drink the chalice to the last drop without perhaps realising before she died, that her suffering could be “good,” like that of labour pains before the birth of a child, which announce the coming of new life . . .