Sister Clare and Father Guanella

by Fr. Joseph Rinaldo
Suor Chiara frescopgFr. Guanella wrote three biographies of Sr. Clare. The first two were discovered in Como in 1981, during the reorganization of the Archives of the Mother House in Como, Italy. The composition of the oldest, A Flower of Virtue Transplanted from Earth to Paradise, was presumably started shortly after the death of Sr. Clare, and was possibly completed the following year. The original is entirely hand written by the author in two pamphlets of 77 pages.
In 1907 he returned to write about his spiritual daughter and produced a more voluminous manuscript of 111 pages in four pamphlets. The twenty-two long chapters of Biographical Notes of Sr. Clare Bosatta follow the events of her life faithfully, narrated in a pleasant style, rich in content and details.
The last booklet reports the vast and detailed testimony that Fr. Guanella gave from August 8th-23rd, 1912, at the Diocesan Tribunal of Como for the process of the beatification of Sr. Clare Bosatta.
Both texts always show, though at various levels of intensity, Fr. Guanella’s strong emotional involvement. We can understand how his deep relationship with Sr. Clare was decisive for his experience as a Christian, priest, spiritual guide and founder.
The story is unique, narrated with a wealth of expressions and viewpoints. The future Blessed, the last of eleven children, was born in Pianello Lario, on May 27, 1858 and baptized Dina. She died in her hometown on April 20, 1887.
Dina was only three years old when her father Alessandro died. Her mother, Rosa Bosatta, was left with all her children. She entrusted Dina’s education to Marcellina, who was eleven years older. When Dina reached adolescence, she entered the convent of the Canossian Sisters in Gravedona to receive an adequate education.
The Sisters were happy to have her among their sisters. But the Mistress of Novices felt that she was not suitable for their institute. Back in Pianello, she was introduced to the Hospice of the Sacred Heart, started by her sister Marcellina and the parish priest, Carlo Coppini. Later on it was taken up and developed by Fr. Guanella as the first foundation of his religious congregations.
On June 28, 1878, she received the religious habit and the name Clare. In retrospect, she considered this day, after that of her first Holy Communion, “the most solemn and happiest day of her life.” The tasks entrusted to her were the care and education of little orphan girls and teaching catechism to the little girls preparing for their first Holy Communion. She also assisted the sick and elderly striving to pacify their souls and reconcile their resentments.
In 1881, Fr. Coppini died and Fr. Guanella arrived to guide the parish of Pianello. The encounter with the new priest was determinant for the spiritual growth of Sr. Clare. Soon a deep understanding between the two developed that permitted Fr. Guanella to truly recognize the soul of the woman religious. For this reason, he wrote her biography again and again and furnished his fundamental testimony in the process of her beatification.
From these documents, we detect the priest’s esteem for the young Sister, believed capable to reach a high degree of holiness, actively involved in the expansion of the institute which required difficult acts of obedience and more sacrifices. Sr. Clare guided the little expedition from Pianello to Como one night in April l886. At Como, Sr. Clare became seriously ill. She was one of the first victims of tuberculosis which spread throughout Italy. At the end of l886 Sr. Clare was brought back to Pianello, where on April 20, 1887 her earthly life came to an end.
Fr. Guanella tells that, in the last moments, the spiritual anguish “pointed like fire” that had accompanied her through her life “had considerably diminished; the weakened body would not be able to tolerate fiercer battles;” her great, definitive trust had taken over: “I will see my Lord.”
Even the physical features, of the little “martyr of penance” are delineated with grace and simplicity: “A young girl of rather small stature, thin and slender, with a transparent like appearance: the beautiful face of a little madonna, brunette with a tinge of red on her cheeks, like a vermilion veil that embellished it.”
This “angelic face” shows a personality of “great intelligence, of firm will and strong dedication, “of delicate and grateful heart.” But her main characteristic lays in the apparent contradiction between being “timid in character and at the same time decisive about things of the soul.” Certainly “the gift of tears” that comforted her and of which she was largely favored, is difficult to understand outside a mystical experience, but it makes clear the most precious side of her “sensitivity of spirit: she aspired to great things, but understood she could not reach them.”
In the complex spiritual itinerary of Sr. Clare, intense prayer, acceptance of mortification and constant sufferings are the main paths that lead her to total conformity with Jesus and urged her to the summit of Christian perfection like an eagle, as her spiritual director liked to compare her with. Clare09
Often, Fr. Guanella uses expressions of endearment, meant to trace the profile of Sr. Clare, besides the edifying idea of presenting her as a model of Christian Life. He himself the mountaineer priest, was profoundly impressed by her faith and wants everyone to know that this young girl deserves to be recognized as a saint. She was “an angel of innocence,” who lived day by day making herself “all to all.” Sr. Clare was a pure and transparent soul, “like the crystal clear water from the mountains.” She acquiescently allowed herself to be moved by the Spirit, who made “her surrender and attentive to the voice of God and of her superiors.” In one word, she lived entirely for God.
With the effective simplicity of these and other comparisons, Fr. Guanella, outlines a Sr. Clare that stands out bright and clear, highly contradictory for her human fragility but at the same time “divine” for her higher aspirations. She refines her spirit of faith; she strengthens herself, preparing for that radical detachment which will bring her to suffer the difficult experience of withdrawal and even absence on the part of God.

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