Maria Grazia died at the age of 96. The Pope brought a bouquet of white flowers and sat on a pew in the church near the coffin during the funeral.
A brief note from the director of the Vatican Press Office on 31 December said that, “This afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., the Holy Father Pope Francis went privately to the Roman parish of St. Joseph in the Nomentano area to participate in the funeral of Professor Maria Grazia Mara, a friend of the Pope who died yesterday. At the end of the Mass, the Holy Father greeted some of those present and then returned to the Vatican at approximately 4:15 p.m.”.
The Pope had visited Maria Grazia in her home in Rome on 28 July 2018 in order to thank her for all that she has done for the Church. Attention is now being drawn to the fact that, last February, in an audience granted for the 50th anniversary of the Augustinianum Patristic Institute, the Pope mentioned her by name in his speech in which he was recalling all the teachers who had left their mark on the Institute. “We remember − he said − Professor Maria Grazia Mara, a person who has been teaching so many things and who at 95 years of age is still publishing and also giving catechesis to children”.
A university professor
Maria Grazia was born in Milan in 1923 and spent her childhood in Tunisia where her father practised medicine. When all Italians were expelled from the country because of a severance of relations between France and Italy, the family arrived in Rome in the midst of the political upheaval of the years of Fascism and the Second World War.
In Rome, Maria Grazia studied to be a teacher, and in 1947 she met a group of members of the Teresian Association who were establishing the TA in Italy. She met Josefa Segovia and always admired her love for the Church, her authenticity and her freedom of spirit.
Maria Grazia taught at the Pius XII state secondary school in Rome and later at the Teacher Training College and the Technical Institute in Rome. In 1964, she entered the university teaching profession as a lecturer in the History of Christianity at the La Sapienza State University in Rome, and she also lectured in Patristics at the Augustinian Patristic Institute.
She is the author of several books on Patristics, and she participated in numerous international meetings and gave countless lectures. Some of her books are still being re-published. They include: Il Vangelo di Pietro. Introduzione, versione, commento; Ricchezza e povertà nel cristianesimo primitivo; I martiri della Via Salaria; Agostino d'Ippona. «Il nostro volere sia suo e nostro...», co-authored with Francesca Cocchini.
Freedom and truth
Alfio Filippi, director of the Dehonian publishing house, points out how Maria Grazia often recalled the example of her father who practised medicine in Tunisia in poor neighbourhoods with genuine “religious philanthropy”. She emphasised this Christian trait. “In academic teaching and in the life of the church − says Filippi − Maria Grazia has always preached and practised freedom and truth, even when she knew that her positions would not facilitate her career. It is not by chance that she was a scholar who loved Erasmus (from Rotterdam). She was demanding in affirming the seriousness of study for both lay people and clergy. She did not want it to be apologetic in any way and she resolutely rejected the use of culture as a means of holding power”.
On a personal level, Maria Grazia – Nella to her friends – possessed the sort of graciousness that appealed to people. She was refined in her interactions and was seen to have sharp intelligence and serene joy. She treated each and every person with delicate attention and great openness, and she knew how to welcome and listen.
Love for the Church was one of her characteristics, and this went together with her great openness and inner freedom. In recent years, her love for the Church intensified in communion of spirit and in constant prayer for Pope Francis for courage in addressing the decisions of his pontificate.
Nella was an expert on the early centuries of Christianity, and she dedicated herself to God by living out the charism of the Teresian Association with passion and enthusiasm. She contributed greatly to the establishment and development of the Association in Italy.
More information can be found on the TA Italy website.
Translation: E. Hawkins.