Known in her own lifetime as the “maestra santa” (the holy schoolmistress), St Lucy Filippini worked tirelessly for Christian education of girls, especially the poor.
She was born in Tarquinia in Tuscany, Italy, about 60 miles north of Rome, in 1672. She was left orphaned at an early age and went to live with an aristocratic aunt and uncle who recognised a deep religious instinct and placed her education in the care of the Benedictine nuns of St Lucia.
According to Butler’s Lives of the Saints, St Lucy’s personal qualities of piety, charity, modesty, prudence, courage, her deep spiritual life and her seriousness of purpose brought her, while still quite young, to the attention of her local bishop, Cardinal Marcantonio Barbarigo of Montefiascone, who invited her to travel to Montefiascone to join a teacher training institute that he had established.
St Lucy dedicated herself totally to her new work which soon brought her into contact with St Rose Venerini, foundress of the Venerini Sisters and a pioneering educationalist who had opened the first public schools for girls in Italy. Working with St Rose, St Lucy co-founded the Pious Matrons, a group dedicated to the education of girls. The curriculum they devised included domestic arts, weaving, embroidering, reading and Christian doctrine. St Rose left her in charge of 10 schools she had founded in the Montefiascone area when she returned to her home district of Viterbo.
New schools rapidly proliferated, however, with dozens established in a short period. The success of the schools impressed Pope Clement XI, who called St Lucy to work in Rome and there she established the first Roman school of the Pious Matrons in the Chiavi d’Oro. It was during the six months that she spent in Rome that she acquired the nickname “maestra santa”.
In 1726 St Lucy fell gravely ill and she died from breast cancer on 25 March 1732, the date she herself had predicted. St Lucy was canonised in 1930 by Pope Pius XI and her statue (pictured) can now be seen in the south nave of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Her co-worker, St Rose, was canonised in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI.