This religious community loves and welcomes children, showing spiritual motherhood in action.
Recently there was a special Mass to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the religious profession of Sr. Melania in Cascia, at the monastery of Santa Rita. Her name may not mean much to us, because she’s quite unlike social media influencers for whom visibility is everything. Indeed, when someone’s heart and hands are truly at work, they may not necessarily be visible. These souls, who are truly present to those around them, may not have “followers,” but they do have children—even from within the cloister.
Over the course of her life as a religious, Sr. Melania has become a mother to many little girls and boys who have found a welcome at the Santa Rita “Beehive,” as they call it (bees being a creature associated with the saint). Once again, the saints prove to be more alive than ever, like an underground river: invisible from the surface, it nourishes the earth from its roots.
“It’s been a long time since Maria (this is Sr. Melania’s baptismal name) ran away from her home in the Marche region at the age of 22 for love of the Lord, and reached Cascia on foot, where she fulfilled her desire to become a nun,” reports the website of the Santa Rita of Cascia Monastery. The choice of a hidden life allowed her to be completely dedicated to charity and prayer.
The Santa Rita Beehive
Rita da Cascia is one of the most beloved saints of all time, perhaps because she’s invoked for “impossible causes.” Many pray to her, and many thank her with offerings that the monastery translates into works of charity.
One of the most impressive works that has blossomed around this saint is the Beehive itself. The Santa Rita Beehive is the principal work of charity of the Santa Rita of Cascia Monastery.
The Beehive was founded in 1938 by the prioress at the time, Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce. It offers housing, education, and other activities to children from families with social and economic difficulties. The children are affectionately called “apette”—”little bees”—and “millefiori,” which roughly translates as “wildflowers,” from which bees make honey.
The current Mother Prioress of Santa Rita Monastery, Sr. Maria Rosa Bernardinis, explains that the “little bees” are young girls who arrive from throughout Italy and live at the Beehive in a welcoming, peaceful, and loving atmosphere. The staff seek to help them mature and become strong so they’ll be ready to face the world.
The “wildflowers” are children from the immediately surrounding area who go to the Hive for after-school and free-time activities. “All of them find at the Hive a safe nest where they can build a better future, thanks to the support of many people,” she tells Acistampa.
It was 1938 when the first “little bee” was welcomed into the monastery. Her name was Edda Petrucci, and she arrived in Cascia on a pilgrimage with her widowed mother.
Her mother asked the superior, Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce, to give hospitality to the little one as the mother didn’t have enough to provide for her sustenance. Mother Fasce transgressed the rules of the cloister (which do not allow anyone but nuns and clerics, under strict conditions, to enter) and kept the child.
The “little bee” was thereafter nicknamed Mercede (Mercy), having arrived on the day in which the Church remembers Our Lady of Mercy — September 24. Such a gesture of charity did not go unnoticed, and the local community generously offered its help, donating what it could.
Mothers … in the cloister
Among the many wonders that flow from this story is that of an embodied example of true spiritual motherhood. That first “little bee” was welcomed right in the monastery, but over time, the Beehive became a separate structure from the place where the nuns live their cloistered life.
The staff that cares for the children (ages 6 to 18) includes lay educators and Sr. Melania who, for 60 years now, brings the embrace of the monastery to the Beehive. Among the many messages of congratulations that have come her way, there are many from girls who have now become women but still consider her as a mother.
This image is a balm that can soothe countless wounds born from the contemporary pressure to become mothers at all costs. Many women experience with great suffering the difficulty of not being able to conceive children naturally. Charity, and not science, can make mothers, even of those who do not become mothers biologically. This is the proposal put into practice by these women who have chosen virginity, seclusion, and love.