The idea of becoming first saints then missionaries was a main preoccupation of our Founder Blessed Joseph Allamano .One can easily detect this from the frequent flow of this same idea from his lips and pen. Even at the very moment of founding the institute, the founder had already chosen the society to be a religious one having considered this for a long time before God. The choice to make our society a religious one was not just a following of the status quo by then, but the founder was inspired by this same idea of sanctity which is the underlying pre-requisite of sainthood. Being a religious society, the founder decided upon sanctification of the members as the primary aim of the institute. This same sanctification of the members is what he repeatedly mentions in his spiritual writings, when he talks of First saints then missionaries.
For the Founder, the saints were not made saints because they did anything extraordinary, but because they did the ordinary in an extraordinary way. This is clearly pronounced in one of the instances as he writes; our sanctification depends on the observances of little things. The big things being rare, are not for everyone. Instead, the little things are there every day at all hours. They are at the disposal of everyone. Since they are things which seem as northing, they can’t make us proud.
It is this same value of little things that Blessed Irene Stefani took up as a rule for her life, in the imitation of the founder. This is well reflected in one of the letters she wrote to Fr. Allamano about the assignment that she had been given, ‘my job was to help prune coffee bushes, I liked this very much ….from there obedience sent me to help out in the wartime Africa hospital’. Who knew by then that such a humble beginning of cutting the coffee bush would make a blessed out of her?
Being obedient daughter of the founder, Blessed Irene did not only obey him, but she always meditated upon the teachings of the founder making them her daily spiritual nourishment. During the dark moments of her life, she could get solace from the advice that the founder gave to her as she once wrote to him, ‘I remember your teaching, at times I thought those dark hours had arrived, when you most venerable father predicated to me back at home.’
Blessed Irene narrates to us such dark moments, an incident which took place in the hospital at Voi in Kenya; the moment I crossed the threshold, the scene presented to my eyes was so unexpected that I had to step back, vomiting with nausea, and horror.’ Concerning this same scene, Sr.Gian Paola mina, says this of Blessed Irene, ‘with a supreme effort of will, with clenched teeth, she re-entered the ward and went up to a young man who was foaming at the mouth and had eyes full of pus. She cleaned him up, helped him to sit up in his bunk, he was burning with fever. Are you thirsty? Sr. Irene asked him, and raising the bowl to his parched lips, he made no reply but greedily drank a few glubs. Sr.Irine then talked to him for a little while, and then tried to approach another man, again she was assailed by nausea and had to rush out into the sun and air. This is a short description of her struggle with the situations as she helped the patients. It is only a saintly soul that could do that.
However, amid all these challenges, she is reported to have shown that fortitude which the founder blessed Joseph Allamano exactly desired of his missionaries. About this the founder said, ‘The missionary must possess fortitude to a high degree because this virtue will make him or her vigorous in the trials he or she will be assaulted and tempted by.’ If one could probably ask, where did Sr. Irene get such iron courage? The response to this query can directly be found from what she testified as Sr. Gian Paola writes, ‘Irene said, Jesus alone, I will act with Jesus, not to myself, I will serve Jesus to the full, never my own self.’ In fact she served Jesus in these sick people.
Sr.Gian Paola goes on to write that blessed Sr. Irene would spend twenty four hours out of twenty four among the African carriers. Her compassion knew no bounds, and day and night she would be there in those wretched shacks crowded with one thousand men suffering from wounds or a variety of ill-defined ailment. It is reported that one day an army doctor who had been watching her remarked, ‘this sr. is not a human being, she is an angel.
From the pen of Sr. Gian Paola, we read that out of her good work, sr. Irene was given a gold medal as a way of recognizing the good job she was doing. But behold, this was not her ambition. We can state that she never set her eyes on visible things, but that all her efforts were directed towards invisible things as St. Paul writes, ‘The temporary light burden of our hardship is earning for us forever un utterly incomparable eternal weight of glory, since what we aim for is not visible, but invisible. Visible things are transitory, but invisible things eternal. (2nd Cor 4:17-18)
Yes out of this, Sr. Irene made the wish of the founder a reality when he once said to the missionaries departing for Africa, ‘I want you to be refined and delicate because you are representatives of God, and that the Africans will form the idea of God from you.” From Sr. Irene, the idea of God was formed, when she was referred to as an angel. Sweet sounding name in our ears and beyond.
In his spiritual writing .the founder clearly states that a missionary should double his or her efforts and do extra-work, and not simply to be satisfied with the bare minimum. This same quality can be seen in Sr.Irine when she returned to Kenya in 1919, in kikuyu land, and to make this come our clearly, Sr. Gian Paola writes of her, ‘she devoted herself with irrepressible, passionate zeal to direct evangelization, also serving as a literacy teacher, nurse, midwife and home visitor. Due to her un ending treadmill of activities, the local people called her Nyaatha, which means the mother of mercy, a name by which she is still referred to.
Down in Africa you will die, but exhausted from the hardships you will have sustained for the love of God. These are the words of consolation that the founder said to his missionaries departing for Africa. They are not words to inflict fear, but they are words that make sense out of the toils of missionaries. Yes sweet words in readiness to happy union with the creator. Bearing these words of the Founder in her mind, it is reported that blessed Irene passed on peacefully on the eve of all saints 1930, in delirious, which was described as a missionary delirium, for speaking in kikuyu as though she were among them, she said these words as she was commending her soul to God, God is good, and everyone should believe in his envoy, the lord Jesus Christ.
This is exactly the same scenario that Agaso presents to us, as he reports the last moments of the founder. It’s said, he remained lucid, right to the last, he responded to the prayers for the dying, which were being said around him, and without any struggle, he serenely expired in the early hours. Agaso continues to write that his passing on was so peaceful that those present were barely aware it had happened ,and had to wait before being sure he had breath his last.
Having undergone this same experience of return to the Father and the same spirituality, they now share the same sweet name, Blessed Joseph Allamano, and blessed Irene Stefani. They are our pride as congregation, our models and our intercessors, together with our mother Mary Consolata. Through their prayer, May we too, learn to grow in virtue and holiness. Amen.