sr. Francesca Dalmasso

That White Vestment, Stained with Blood…

“19 years after my first arrival in Sudan, I return once more hoping this time to have more luck.
From the first group who had gone there in 1881, only two of us will return this time: Fr. Giuseppe Ohrwalder and myself”…
(Francesca Dalmasso, 3rd January 1900)

The evening of the 10th October 1881, Francesca with the other brothers and sisters of the community of Khartoum were at the bedside of Daniel Comboni as he passed away, she too had vowed that she would consecrate herself to the missions for the regeneration of Africa.

Francesca Dalmasso was the youngest missionary that the Founder himself had accompanied to Central Africa.With the spontaneity and simplicity of a young daughter, it was Francesca – according to the testimony of Ermenegilda Morelli-who helped him in his last moments of life, wiping delicately away the last drops of blood coming from the heart of the great Apostle, and with filial piety she preserved the white vestment stained with blood which he wore.

Francesca had to leave Khartoum in May 1883 when the Mahdist revolt enraged and there was danger that also the Capital of Sudan would be overthrown. Her great fear was then, that she might never see the land and people that Comboni had taught her to love so passionately.

The waiting in fact, was long, and at times difficult. When the time came however, Francesca was ready to resume her journey. It was 22nd October 1900.The British Government gave permission for only one person to accompany her :Maria Bonetti.Both, discretely dressed in borghese, as if they were two governesses entering Sudan to organize at Omdurman- formal capital of the Mahdi – a female school, for the benefit of the Christian families that had remained and with the intention to reorganize trade.

More cautious still, Francesca carried with her “the caftan” that she had the good fortune to possess, the same one that Comboni wore when he died. She had explained to Costanza Caldara in a letter some years before about this precious relic that it was exposed with effect in many cases and without doubt it would help to spread more and more the devotion to the Servant of God Daniel Comboni.

Costanza Caldara had understood the message clearly. She became superior general and having Francesca as her assistant she convinced her, to leave the relic in Mother House before leaving for Verona for the last time. This was in 1919.

After being vicar general for nine years, Francesca returned to Sudan as provincial superior. She did not need the help of the relic to strengthen her prayer now. She had received the greatest gift of grace, that is, to take up the missionary journey laid out by Daniel and which was interrupted so abruptly by his death, has now become a reality. In1904 the Comboni Missionaries arrived in Uganda and opened the first new mission station in Kayango. The sisters were to arrive a few years later in 1918, but before that in 1914 P. Bonomi already wanted them in Eritrea.

Francesca, personally, was not able to achieve the goal indicated by Comboni, but this did not hinder her happiness. Educated at the school of Daniel Comboni, she knew that in the Lord work there are those who sow and those who reap. What is important is to carry on till the end without ever looking behind.