St. Clelia Barbieri is the youngest founder of a religious order in the entire history of the Catholic Church. However, of all the recently canonized saints, she is one of whom the least is known.
Clelia Mary Rachel was born in the small northern town of Budrie in Italy on February 13, 1847.
Her parents, Joseph Barbieri and Hyacinthia Nanetti, were a pious couple who lived a very modest life. Joseph Barbieri died in 1855, when Clelia was only nine years old; and soon after, the intelligent young girl had to find work to help support her family.
Pious and unusually devout from a very early age, Clelia found new depths of spirituality and zeal when she was confirmed in 1856. She was further renewed and strengthened in her faith two years later, as was then the custom, when she first received the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Clelia began to dedicate herself to the work of propagating the faith in her own parish, and shortly thereafter became a catechist. Her remarkable piety and humble dedication brought her to the attention of her parish priest, Fr. Gaetano Guidi, who began to see great potential in her. He urged her and her close friend, Teodora Baraldi, to undertake the education of the young girls of the parish whose families were too poor to have them otherwise educated.
They were soon joined by Orsola Donati who is considered along with Clelia to be one of the true founders of the Little Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows. This name was given them by the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Lucinda Maria Parocchi, whose blessing and support they enjoyed from the outset of their vocations. The Archbishop also suggested that they put their congregation under the patronage of St. Francis of Poala. Clelia was twenty-one.
Though young in years, Clelia’s piety and devotion, especially to Christ present in the Blessed Eucharist, was profoundly deep. From her childhood, she had been drawn to prayer and the practice of the virtues and also the mortification of her body.
She was seen in ecstasy and often credited with the ability to read hearts. She became seriously ill shortly after the Congregation was established and for some time appeared close to death. Miraculously though, she recovered; but shortly thereafter she once more became ill. Clelia died on July 13, 1870, at twenty-three years old.
Clelia Barbieri was canonized in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on August 9, 1989, by St.John Paul II, who held her up as an example of how the Faith should be nourished, first in the family and then in the parish.