Virtual Tour to Castel Sant’Elia, Viterbo, Italy

One hundred years has passed since the death of Mother Frances Streitel. This presentation is a tribute to her life and charism and the mission that she carried out in the church.

The virtual tour will allow us to visit the places where Mother Frances spent the last years of her life from 1905 to 1911.

As pilgrims, let’s start our journey and learn from Mother Frances how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus…

Castel Sant 'Elia is a town of about 2300 inhabitants in the province of Viterbo, Diocese of Civita Castellana. It is about 40 km from Rome and can be reached taking Via Cassia the main road with the interchange to Nepi or taking Via Flaminia the main road with the interchange to Civita Castellana.

Mother Frances arrived in Castel Sant’Elia on July 5, 1905, following a period of suffering in which she showed her fortitude and heroic virtues, as Bishop Angelo Amato stated in his “Homily of April 11, 2010”. She accepted everything with humility, not asking for any explanations, always living an exemplary life, absorbed in silence and prayer".

Msrg. J.B.Doebbing, Bishop of Nepi and Sutri, wanted to open a kindergarten in Castel Sant’Elia for the children and he was also searching for a way to help care for the sick and the poor in the town . The women living there were unable to do so since they were needed to do the farming chores.

He extended an invitation to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother to come to his diocese to help him establish these ministries. The general superior, Sr. M. Johanna Ankenbrand, encouraged by the positive support of Mother Frances, accepted the invitation and on May 25, 1905, the Sisters left the city of Rome to open their first mission in Italy to care for the poor.

Mother Frances was open not only to support this mission, but she was also willing to go there to help establish this mission. In Castel Sant’Elia she continued her ministry of service and prayer giving evidence on a leaflet where she wrote: “to begin now with the help of God until the end, a new life of silence and self-sacrifice and persevere in it with God´ s help until the end”.

Msrg. Doebbing offered an old house called “Castelletto” and its lands as a gift to the congregation, so that the sisters would have some appropriate spaces to carry out their ministries.

Mother Frances, at the age of 60, humbly devoted herself to the care of the smallest and poorest children.

P.G. Ranocchini, a biographer of Mother Frances, quotes one of her pupils, “We children felt like Mother Frances was a mother to us. She treated us with kindness, patience and love. She was a wonderful model of patience. Our mothers often went to her for advice and guidance. She was our guide and comfort”.

In the first Norms of the Sisters we read: “we are serving in the missions, wherever that may be, caring for the sick or educating the children, let us gladly follow this call and constantly strive to become "all things to all people.”
(Norms 1883, 105, 12)

May the poor always enjoy the friendship of our Sisters; …”
(M. Frances Streitel, Norms 1883)

She used to knock on the door of the kitchen to see if the sisters needed her help. She loved God and her neighbor very much, but she had a special love for the children and the poor. She encouraged us to be patient and kind to the sick and to do this ministry for the love of God.
(Test. Sr. W. Bauer)

“This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15 12)

M. Frances embodied the greatest commandment as well as an extraordinary humility in her daily life in imitation of Christ, as a full service to the Father’s plan: “One can say that humility was her most favorite virtue. She fled immediately from every, even the smallest, praise. She withdrew herself to a great extent and did not want anyone to speak about the good that she had done. Whenever she had an opportunity she would practice humility. In her humility she avoided every exception or privilege and she sought nothing else other than the glory of God and the salvation of souls”
(Test. Sr. R. Galletti)

Mother Frances nourished her virtues of love of neighbor and humility during the day as she found time for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

I often saw her absorbed in deep prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. I saw her kneeling for hours not showing any fatigue”.
(Test. Sr. M. Maltempi)

A quote from the Norms 1883 states “The sanctuary lamp should never be extinguished even for a quarter of an hour; it should be tended to with the greatest care since it should admonish us likewise to be consumed in glowing love for the sacramental God.”

And Mother Frances’ 1903 resolution was, “Father, I unite my will with yours through the eternal Word, concealed for us in the most sacred host.”

Her love for the Blessed Virgin urged her to go often to the Sanctuary of Maria ad Rupes walking downhill, making her way down the so-called “Via dei Santi” (Saints’ Path) or going down the many steps engraved in the tuff.

Here she would stay for a long time in prayer and meditation before the Blessed Sacrament and the image of the Blessed Virgin.

The Sanctuary of Maria ad Rupes has ancient origins.
The cult of Mary dates back year 520, when Benedictines arrived in this land. In 1777, in order to facilitate the entrance to the cave, Friar G.A. Rodio dug a tunnel into the tuff with a staircase of 144 steps. From 1892 to 1982 the Sanctuary was entrusted to the care of Friars Minor of Saxony. Today it is preserved by the Congregation of St. Michael Archangel.

Mary must introduce me into the mystery of the altar, and decorate my soul with a bridal and a Eucharistic love so that I may more and more deserve to receive worthily the bread of the angels, the wine that awakens virgins
(Spiritual notes, 1896)

This holy place has always attracted many pilgrims. Since the sanctuary could not accommodate the number of pilgrims, the small cave sanctuary gave way to a bigger church, St. Joseph’s Basilica.

The Basilica of St. Joseph was built in the Gothic style. The interior has no specific isles. It was built in 1908-1910 on the avenue leading to the Sanctuary of the Madonna ad Rupes. The tower dates back to 1912 and has three bells which are tuned according to the notes "si, la, sol", same as those of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

The triptych in the apse from the left shows St. Anthony of Padua, the Crucifix of St. Damian in Assisi and St. Francis.

The prophet Elijah, to whom the famous basilica in the Suppentonia Valley is dedicated, introduced Mother Frances to the contemplation of the mystery of God and filled her with peace.

To her, this biblical figure recalls the vision of the two mountains that she had at the particular time of her call to serve God in a new foundation, animated by an active and contemplative spirit.

It is a national pre-Romanesque style monument, with some elements of Lombard origin. It was erected at the middle of Suppentonia Valley in the eighth century over an old Benedictine cenoby.

On the facade there is one central entrance door and two side entrances; the interior has three naves and the trussed roof. The frescoes of the apse and transepts date back to ninth century.

Every time she looked at this fresco of the Prophet Eljiah she went back to her vision saying, “I think that I have seen the top of the mountain with the picturesque figure of St. ’Elijah in a rather indistinct form…”

She said to F. Jordan who had called her in Rome: “May the two fold spirit of St. Elijah and the penitential spirit of St. John the Baptist penetrate all your actions and make you competent to perform works of active love for neighbor
(M. Fr. Str. to F. Jordan, Lett. 92, 56)

In the month of October, she participated in a community retreat. At the end of November 1910 she asked the superior if she could make a 10 days retreat. In those days of retreat she was full of love for Jesus crucified. She asked God to allow her to participate in His sufferings praying for a long and painful death agony which would allow her to feel the pains in her flesh of the crown of thorns just as Jesus felt them in His passion.

At another time Mother Frances was granted permission to make a private retreat in her room. Here through prayer she prepared for a general confession.

On February 2, 1911, Mother Frances had a stroke and the condition of her health deteriorated.

“I found her fully confident and open to God’s will. She had already prepared herself for death some time before! When I told her that all the sisters were praying for her she answered: Let God take care of it! She prayed constantly and combined the pains that she had in her head to those of Jesus with the crown of thorns
(Sr. M. Johanna Ankenbrand)

Bishop Doebbing, of the diocese, made many visits to her during her brief illness. He asked her to pray for his diocese and the Church

and she was completely open to this request, as she had already prepared herself for this mission. She responded to the Bishop:

Be anxiously concerned Reverend Father, to guide truly poor members to Holy Mother Church, for thereby you will be giving her at the same time humble and obedient children …”
(M. Fr. Streitel to F. Jordan Let. 2(2), 3)

On the evening of March 5, Msrg. Jacquemin, the spiritual director of the community, arrived from Rome with a special apostolic blessing and a plenary indulgence from Pope Pius X.

At day break on March 6, the day of the final approval of the Congregation and its Constitutions, Mother Frances was close to her death. During the celebration of the Eucharist, with a true Franciscan spirit she went to her death.

At the news of her death: “When her body was exposed many people crowded to visit it; they knelt beside it and addressed her as a saint
(Test. A. Mauracher)

Bishop Doebbing celebrated her funeral service on March 8, 1911. In his homily he too gave testimony to her holiness. The people of Castel Sant’Elia accompanied Mother Frances’ body to its resting place in the cemetery which is located beside the Basilica of Sant’Elia.

The grave where Mother Frances’ body was buried became the destination for many faithful who stopped there to pray.
M. Frances’ body was exhumed for the first time on April 25, 1939 and for the second time on March 1949. On May 10, 1949 the cinerary urn was moved and placed in the chapel of Castel Sant’Elia Convent.

On September 12, 1992 the mortal remains of the Venerable Servant of God were solemnly placed in the chapel of the sisters in Castel Sant’Elia.

In Castel Sant’Elia, the sisters have preserved her bedroom keeping the furniture and furnishings that she used.

Her little room was very poor, her habits and the few pieces of lingerie were also poor with many darns, but always clean and in order”
(Test. Sr. R. Galletti)

Mother Frances herself wrote in the Norms: “The Sisters' rooms must be uniform throughout. A plain bed, consisting of a straw mattress, a straw pillow, and two blankets; a poor table, and a chair are the furnishings. ”
(Norms 1883, 112, 2)

Next to the bedroom there is a small museum with items which were used by Mother Frances and the first sisters are displayed.

In the small museum there is also some furniture which was given as a gift from the Streitel Family to the community.

As pilgrims pass through the room and the chapel, they can write in a special book their request for prayers as well as give thanks for the graces they have received through the intercession of Venerable Mother Frances.

On March 27, 2010, the Holy Father Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the Decree on the Heroic Virtues of the Servant of God Mary Frances of the Cross, the foundress of the congregation of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother.

In his homily of April 11, 2010, Bishop Angelo Amato said “It is wonderful news to hear during the Easter Season, news that makes this season even more joyful. The next centenary of her birth in the heaven can be celebrated with the solemn recognition of her Heroic Virtues by the Church. The Servant of God can be called “Venerable” now.”

“You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things.”.
(Vita Consecrata # 110)


Additional references

Msrg. J. B. Döbbing, OFM
He was born in Münster, Germany, on July 8, 1855. On June 13, 1874, he entered the Order of Friars Minors, Saxony. He was Bishop of Nepi and Sutri from 1900 to 1916. He died in Rome on March 14, 1916.

Msrg. Jacquemin
He was born on March 27, 1853 in Echternach, Luxembourg. He was ordained a priest on August 24, 1877 and went to Rome the same year to continue his study. He was deputy master of the boarding school Santa Maria dell’anima and also worked at the Roman Curia. He was the confessor of Mother Frances and the first sisters. The Cardinal Vicar of Rome in 1885 assigned him to be the spiritual director and director of the new community. He died in America on April 17, 1929.

Sr. M. Johanna Ankenbrand
She was born on November 10, 1858 in Germany. In October 1883, she contacted Mother Frances in Rome and became one of the first members of the foundation. In 1891, she was appointed administrator of the houses in the United States of America. In 1893 she was appointed acting General Superior of the congregation. Following Mother Frances’ removal from office in 1896, she served as the General Superior of the Congregation for 32 years. She died in Rome in 1955.

Pope Pious X
Giuseppe Sarto was born on July 2, 1835 in Riese, Treviso. He served as the Sovereign Pontiff from 1903 to 1914.
On July 22, 1908, he gave our congregation permission to celebrate the Feast of the Sorrowful Mother on the third Sunday of September. On May 24, 1911, he registered the Congregation’s name in the Association Pia Unione dell’Addolorata and formally approved it on May 2, 1912.