Remember that the Heart of Jesus accompanies you…
Footsteps of Mother Clelia, Apostle of Love!
1861: March 10
Clelia Merloni is born and baptized
Clelia Cleopatra Maria Merloni, the third daughter of Maria Teresa Brandinelli and Giocchino Merloni, is born in Forli in the home of the Count Fabrizio and Countess Clelia Merenda at Via Carlo Matteucci 18, for whom Mr. Merloni works as a servant. Clelia is baptized in the Cathedral of Forli the same day.
1864: July 2
Her mother dies
Maria Teresa Brandinelli Merloni, Clelia’s mother, dies, leaving her in the care of her father and maternal grandmother.
1866: July 9
Her father remarries
Gioacchino Merloni moves to San Remo, where he marries the widow, Maria Giovanna Boeri who accepted young Clelia as her own daughter, giving her the care and affection she needs at this tender age. Mr. Merloni has greatly improved his socio-economic status and is now a rich industrialist and a Freemason.
First Holy Communion and Confirmation
Clelia registers at the boarding school of the Visitation nuns in San Remo, where she is educated and receives First Holy Communion and Confirmation. She enters the school as a bright ten-year old, and stands out not only for her lively and sometimes impulsive character, but also her deep capacity for reflection, keen intuition, and great love for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
1883: September 3
Her stepmother dies
Maria Giovanna Boeri, Clelia’s stepmother, dies shortly after she is driven from the Merloni household due to tensions brought about by a mistress of Mr. Merloni. Clelia’s grandmother has already been sent away after a dispute with Mr. Merloni. Young Clelia loses all three pious women in her life who have taught her about God. It is a great sorrow for her. She continues to pray fervently for the salvation of her father’s soul.
1883: November 19
Enters the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Snows
Clelia enters the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Snows in Savona. The following September, Clelia makes her Vestition and is given the name Sr. Albina. In February of 1887, an earthquake destroys the convent; she is miraculously unharmed, even after returning to the infirmary in the rubble to save a sick Sister. But she falls ill and her father comes to take her home.
Opens orphanage in Nervi (Genoa)
Clelia opens an orphanage in Nervi (Genoa) to teach and care for poor children, but closes it the following year amidst legal troubles. Clelia is exonerated of wrongdoing.
1892: August 14
Enters the Congregation of Daughters of St. Mary of Divine Providence
Clelia enters the Little House of Divine Providence in Como (now the Daughters of Saint Mary of Divine Providence), founded by Blessed Don Luigi Guanella, who recognizes Clelia as a remarkable soul. The two develop a relationship of deep respect and mutual trust. Clelia is given the care of the orphans, for whom she has a tender solicitude, giving special attention to the weakest of them.
Clelia is miraculously cured of tuberculosis
Near the end of 1893, while at the Divine Providence convent, 32-year old Clelia again falls ill to tuberculosis for which the doctors agree there is no possibility of a cure. She confides to her confessor her desire to found a religious congregation dedicated to the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He advises her to pray, along with a group of orphans, a novena to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; if the Blessed Mother brings her back to health, it will be the confirmation that the founding of a new work is the Will of God. By the end of the novena, Clelia is miraculously cured.
1894: May 30
Founding the Congregation
Clelia founds the Congregation of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Viareggio, Italy. Pastor Fr. Serafino Bigongiari, OFM, officially welcomes Sr. Clelia and Sr. Elisa to the parish of St. Antonio in Viareggio and offers them temporary lodging on Via Garibaldi. Clelia, soon joined in her endeavor by other young women, rents a second house on Via di Mezzo to expand the nursery school, then a third. She is grateful to be able to count on her father’s financial backing for her charitable works.
1895: June 27
Death of Mr. Merloni in Sanremo
Clelia’s years of prayers and sacrifices are answered when, five months before his death, her father asks to receive the Sacraments. Clelia is deeply grateful that her father has made peace with God and considers it a special grace that her father’s death occurs during the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Gioacchino Merloni’s will states that the sole heir to his entire estate is his only child, Clelia. She inherits three villas and other property in Sanremo, as well as various substantial bank accounts.
The early successes of the Congregation are interrupted after only three years when Mother Clelia is defrauded of her patrimony. The priest who administered her father’s estate, loses the sizeable fortune through risky financial maneuvers, then flees to France. Creditors protest, threats and lies spread. Mother Clelia tries to keep her Congregation alive.
1899 January, February
Mother Clelia accepts the help of Bishop Giovanni Baptist Scalabrini of Piacenza
Two Sisters venture into the diocese of Piacenza to ask permission to beg there. Bishop Giovanni Baptist Scalabrin listens to their story with great interest, since he himself has been wanting to form a woman’s branch of his Missionaries of St. Charles to aid in their ministry to Italian emigrants in the Americas. He immediately asks to speak with the Foundress. Mother Clelia accepts Bishop Scalabrini’s offer to take the Congregation under his ecclesial protection and assume financial responsibility, thus satisfying the creditors. She also agrees to expand the aim of her Congregation to embrace a missionary spirit and to eventually send her Sisters to the Americas to help the priests in their ministries there. The name of the Congregation is changed to “Apostle Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
1899: May 10
Mother Clelia defends the founding charism of the Apostles
In a letter to Bishop Scalabrini, the Foundress protests vehemently because she learns that he intends to change the title of her congregation to that of “Missionaries of St. Charles,” seeing this as an attempt to destroy her charism and her work, and to further divide the Sisters.
1900: June 10
Approval of the Constitutions
Bishop Scalabrini’s response is filled with criticism, calling her disobedient and disloyal. He denies such a plan but, at the same time, notes that because they had not yet entered the novitiate, they could not call themselves sisters nor could she call herself Foundress because they are all not yet recognized by a competent authority. Bishop Scalabrini eventually establishes the Congregation of the Apostle Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the diocese of Piacenza and approves the Rule “ad experimentum” for a ten-year period.
1900: June 11
Mother Clelia, Sr. Elisa and Sr. Marcelline, profess their vows in the Cathedral of Piacenza. Msgr. Scalabrini modifies the Apostles’ habit.
1900: August 10
The first Brazilian missionaries
The first six Apostle Missionaries set sail from Genoa for San Paulo, Brazil on the “Piedmont.” They begin their mission at the “Christopher Columbus” Orphanage that houses both girls and boys.
1902: June 16
First missionaries to the United States
Six Apostle Missionaries set sail to the United States of America on the “Vancouver” to work with the Scalabrini Fathers who serve Italian emigrants in Boston’s North End.
1904: February 28
Mother Clelia resigns from the office of Superior General
Bishop Scalabrini issues a decree to honor Mother Clelia’s request to remove her from her duties of Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus so she could devote more time to the compilation of the Constitutions and the Manual of Prayers. He also cites reasons of her poor health. The governance and title of Superior General pass provisionally to Sr. Marcelline Vigano, who Bishop Scalabrini has recently appointed Vicaress General. Mother Clelia returns to Alessandria for the next year.
1905: June 1
Death of Bishop Scalabrini
Bishop Scalabrini dies unexpectedly.
Three Apostolic Visitations
The Holy See completes three Apostolic Visitations to the Congregation. The visitations are instigated by a Sister who accuses Mother Clelia of moral, disciplinary, and economic disorder; the final report is unjustly negative toward the Foundress.
1911: September 13
Mother Clelia is removed from the office of Superior General
As a result of the Apostolic Visitations, Mother Clelia, by Vatican decree, is removed from the office of Mother General, citing reasons of poor health (NB: no Apostolic Visitator ever spoke with Mother Clelia herself). Mother Marcelline is named new Superior General. A new General Council is formed.
In Alessandria, away from the community
Mother Clelia continues to live in the Motherhouse at Alessandria, but is forbidden to have any contact with the community. The Sisters are prohibited from showing any kind of support for Mother Clelia. Many Apostles who showed loyalty to Mother Clelia are sent to other Congregations or home to their families.
1912: November 28
Title of the Congregation is changed
The title of the Congregation is changed from “Apostles” to “Zelatrices” of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in an attempt to alter the charism and obscure the influence of the Foundress.
1916: June 2
Mother Clelia is dispensed from her religious vows
Seeing herself as an obstacle to the growth of the Congregation, and saddened that so many good Sisters are being dismissed from the Congregation because of their loyalty to her, Mother Clelia requests and obtains dispensation from her religious vows, in preparation for leaving the Institute. From the beginning she intends her exile to be temporary, never losing hope that the situation will resolve and she will be able to once again live among her spiritual daughters.
Exile in Genoa, Turin, Roccagiovine, Marcellina
Mother Clelia leaves for Genoa as her first place of exile. She spends additional time in Turin, Roccagiovine, and Marcellina. Only her deep faith and hope kept her from despairing on the long painful journey away from her Sisters, and the twelve years of separation that followed.
1920: November 22
Mother Clelia writes to Padre Pio of Petrelcina
Mother Clelia writes a letter to Padre Pio to ask counsel: should she return to the cloister where she was for a short time many years before, should she wait again to be re-admitted to the Congregation she founded, or should she accept an invitation to found a new Congregation?
1927: July 4
Permission to return to the Congregation
In response to Mother Clelia’s official request to be re-admitted to the Congregation (dated June 20), the Sacred Congregation for Religious informed the Pope’s Cardinal Vicar that he may give permission to re-admit Mother Clelia and her Sisters to the Congregation.
1928: March 7
Returns to the Institute
Sr. Clelia Merloni is re-admitted to the Institute.
1930: November 21
Mother Clelia dies in Rome
Mother Clelia dies a holy and serene death in Rome, pronouncing the name of Jesus. The Congregation does not have its own tomb, so they find a place for her in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Agony at Verano Cemetery in Rome. They place a small headstone with her photograph and inscription indicating her identity.
1931: March 24
Congregation is approved by the Holy See
Only four months after the death of Mother Clelia, the Holy See gave the decree of approval to the Congregation of the Sister Missionary Zelatrices of the Sacred Heart. The Foundress had said more than once that she would have given her life to obtain the approval of the Institute.
1945: May 17
Recovery of Mother Clelia’s body from Verano Cemetery
During World War II, in the late morning hours of July 19, 1943 the section of Campo Verano Cemetery where Mother Clelia was buried is heavily bombed. Because of this, Mother Hildegarde obtains permission on August 24,1943 to retrieve the mortal remains of the Foundress. After a strenuous search, the body of Mother Clelia is found, incorrupt. Three days later, on Pentecost Sunday, the body is transferred in solemn procession to the Generalate Chapel and interred in a side wall. Her epitaph reads: “The Divine Heart of Jesus was the light of her existence. The poor, the oppressed, the unfortunate, her most tender heartbeat. She lived in purity, simplicity, and charity.”
Miracle attributed to the intercession of Mother Clelia
Pedro de Oliveira Filho in Brazil is said to be cured of a type of Landry paralysis (Guillen-Barre Syndrome) through the intercession of Mother Clelia, after having swallowed a piece of thread that was a relic of Mother Clelia.
Congregation returns to its original title
As a result of Vatican Council II, the Congregation returns to its original title given by the Foundress in 1894: Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Opening of Cause for Beatification
The Congregation opens the cause for beatification on February 11, 1988.
Receives the title of servant of God
After the submission of a fully detailed report by the Historical Commission, the diocesan phase is completed on May 21, 1999. Mother Clelia is given the title “Servant of God.”
Receives the title of Venerable
The Positio, a 1385-page study of Mother Clelia’s life, her heroic virtue and her reputation for holiness, including testimonies, documents, and evidence in her defense of some of the more critical moments in her life and work is written. In 2015, after having studied the Positio, the heroic virtue of Mother Clelia is affirmed. With a Decree of Heroic Virtue signed by Pope Francis, Mother Clelia is declared Venerable.
Mother Clelia is beatified
On January 27, 2018, the signature of the Holy Father on the Decree of a Miracle completed the process for beatification.