By Courtney Mares
Six sisters in one northern Italian convent have died of coronavirus, and nine sisters are being treated in the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, according to Italian media. Coronavirus is spreading among several religious houses in Italy.
An outbreak in the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity Mother House in Tortona, Italy led half of its 40 sisters to test positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.
“Many times as Little Missionary Sisters of Charity we have set ourselves the goal of sharing the lives of the poor and the least, the fragile lives,” Sister Gabriella Perazzi told Vatican News.
“At this moment we share the lives of many people, who throughout Italy and all over the world, experience this fragility in the face of something that comes and upsets the life of a family, like that of a religious community,” she said. “I believe that the Lord calls us today to serve here, in this precariousness.”
After the Red Cross evacuated 19 sisters in the community to a hospital on March 12, the remaining Little Missionary Sisters of Charity were placed under quarantine in another residence.
Sister Gabriella and one other sister remained behind in the Mother House to tend to six elderly sisters who had not tested positive for the coronavirus, but suffer from other health problems.
“We stayed because these sisters need assistance and our motherhouse is for us a sort of retirement home where the [sisters] come after a life spent in service,” she said. “We have remained at our own risk.”
The motherhouse in Tortona is closely connected to the order’s founder, St. Luigi Orione, 1872-1940, who also founded the Sons of Divine Providence, an order of priests and brothers, dedicated to the care of the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged.
The Italian newspaper La Stampa reported on March 27 that nine sisters remained hospitalized in Tortona’s COVID-19 hospital, and four have been discharged.
The six Little Missionary Sisters of Charity to have died of COVID-19 are Sister Maria Annetta Ribet, 85, Sister Maria Cristina Fontes, 91, Sister Maria Filomena Licitra, 98, Sister Maria Ulisia Felici, 86, Sister Maria Caterina Cafasso, 82, and Mother Maria Ortensia Turati, 89.
The coronavirus can spread quickly in a religious order because of their shared community life. In two Rome convents, at least 58 religious sisters have tested positive for the coronavirus.
A religious community of the Daughters of San Camillo, dedicated to care for the sick, had 40 sisters test positive for COVID-19, one of whom was hospitalized on March 20.
The Angelic Sisters of Saint Paul, which has a convent in Rome, had 19 sisters out of 21 test positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.
A missionary order of priests in Parma, the Xaverian Missionary Fathers, have seen 16 elderly priests and brothers die since February 29, however the religious community could not confirm that all of these deaths were due to COVID-19.
“Adding to the fact that given the health emergency in the city, and having us an internal assistance service with one of our medical confreres, we thought we would not aggravate the workload of the hospital, believing that we would manage it on our own,” Fr. Rosario Giannattasio, superior of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers’ Italian province told Avvenire March 27.
The deceased Xaverian priests and brothers had previously served as missionaries in Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda, Congo, Sierra Leone, and Bangladesh.
More than 10,000 people in Italy have died of COVID-19 according to the Italian Ministry of Health. Among the dead are at least 79 diocesan priests in Italy.