The information for the short biography has been taken from: Sister Benigna Consolata Ferrero(page #s in parenthesis and full citation at end of article).
Sister Benigna was born in Turin, Italy on August 6, 1885, The Feast of the Transfiguration. At the time names were very important and in order to honor the many relatives who were dear to the family sister was baptized as Maria Consolata Rosalia Theresa Philomena Gaetano Ferrero. Although, as a child, she was referred to simply as Maria Consolata.
Her parents were very interested in making sure their children were well educated and she began school at the age of 5, and by the age of 8 was attending a boarding school with the Sisters of St. Joseph to prepare her for Holy Communion and Confirmation. During these early school days she was well loved by all her teachers for her caring attitude and her intelligence. Her deep love for the Lord can be seen in a small book she kept at the time of her First Communion, where she composed a prayer for this special day.
O good Jesus, come into my poor heart; come and help me to raise my spiritual edifice: build it so well that it may merit to be placed by Thee in the celestial Jerusalem (14).
Later this same year, she received her Confirmation. She also took on a motherly role for her younger sister, Adeline, who was nervous to be away from family. After they each received their Sacraments, they returned to the public schools.
This chosen soul was always pious and desirous to please Jesus, but her true mission as “the little secretary of Jesus” began when she was around 17 years old. It is unclear whether Jesus had appeared to her before this, but at this time, she was instructed by Our Lord to write down all that He came to tell her. Some of the first words Our Lord spoke addressed her mission; to love God alone and communicate this Love in her actions and writings. A secondary aspect of that mission was to be open to the Lord’s desire to form her, through suffering, into victim soul for others.
A Divine Lesson
Around this time, her brother John suddenly died after a short, but intense, illness, during which Sister was his main care-giver. This event was a key event in her life, teaching her ever more to belong to Jesus alone. Finding the grace to be a source of consolation for others in the midst of her own grief, she reflected:
Our Lord wished to detach me from everything, that I might be His alone. In taking away from me that brother so beloved, He began to dig in my heart a void which He alone could fill. (25)
In order to be sure she followed the Lord more perfectly, our sister was graced with the gift of a spiritual director, Canon Boccardo, whose permission she sought for all that the Lord asked of her in her visions. This gift was to be her strength during the times of trial and doubt.
The Lord was pleased by her obedience to Canon Boccardo and gifted him with the graces necessary to care for her soul. Jesus asked our sister to make a vow to be completely His and, with the permission of the Canon, she pronounced her first vow in May of 1903 “to love God with all my heart” (31). At this time the Lord clarified for her a two-part mission: to suffer for the salvation of sinners and to pray for tepid religious.
At the age of 19, Sister was receiving many messages from Jesus and also experiencing the intense spiritual pains of fear that she was unfaithful or deceived. Jesus assured her that her acts of confidence in the midst of these temptations brought great consolation to His Heart.
Call to the Visitation
Seeing her respond to these graces and mature deeper in her Love for Him, Jesus tells her that she is to be a religious and even informs her that she is to enter the Order of the Visitation. He gives her three reasons for her entrance:
1. Because it is My Will;
2. Because at the Visitation thou canst not only become holy, but thou canst attain to the degree of sublime perfection which I desire for thee;
3. For the spiritual good of others… when thou shalt have tasted the life of the cloister thou wilt not desire to return to the world at any cost. (47)
She resolved to follow the Lord’s promptings and in less than 18 months seeks entrance into the Monastery of the Visitation in Pignerol.
As a postulant she opens her heart in simplicity and sincerity to the Mistress of Novices. (The Order of the Visitation is founded on simplicity and St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal did not desire to have daughters with extraordinary spiritual gifts such as the visions our sister was receiving). The Novice Mistress soon asked her to return to the world, concerned that her special mission from Jesus was not in conformity with our Holy Order.
Our sister obeyed without a word and offered for suffering to Jesus, pleading with St., Francis de Sales to bring her back to “that blessed Ark”. She was sustained by her trust as she continued to repeat, “Jesus will not abandon me!” (54) During her time back in the world, sister won many graces through her trust in God’s plan for her and her obedience to family duties, always serving and responding with genuine kindness and love. Canon Boccardo continued to guide her as she experienced these pains and struggles.
A New Start
After almost 2 years back at home (March 1906 to December 1907), our sister was accepted to enter the Visitation Monastery in Como, Italy where the Novice Mistress and Superior were concerned only with her ability to live the life in a humble, obedient manner. They found her to be very obedient and humble in all aspects of the life. Always ready to serve and assist, she soon became a model religious.
The Novice Mistress only had one real concern, that sister did not possess a freedom of spirit. This lack of freedom was a result of the restrictions she was under from her spiritual director and the bishop of the diocese who both agreed that she was not to reveal her visions or her converse with Jesus to her superiors. This order was placed upon her to protect her from being expelled from the Visitation due to of her extraordinary spiritual life. This was a very heavy burden for her soul as she longed to be simple and free with her superiors, but she faithfully kept her writing and her interior life a secret while obeying all other aspects of the life.
Journey to Profession
After 11 months as a postulant, our sister received the Holy Habit on November 5, 1908 and the name Sister Benigna Consolata. Becoming more and more exact in her observance of the rule during her time of the Novitiate, Sister Benigna Consolata professed her Simple Vows on November 23, 1909 and her Solemn Profession on November 12, 1912.
After profession, one of her charges was the position of Assistant to the Novice Mistress. In this position she received permission to fulfill the Lord’s command for humbling oneself as she was able to join the novices in the extra penances permitted at that stage of formation. The Lord encouraged her in her humility and showed her how much He was pleased by little acts of humility and mortification. She taught the novices to obey the rule well since Our Lord poured increased graces upon souls for every point of the Rule well observed, and with these increased graces, a greater flood of communications from Jesus.
A New Freedom
In the final 2 years of her very short religious life, she was given the permission she had longed for to share with her superior the secrets of her soul. This gave her a new freedom of spirit as she faithfully went to the Mother Superior about each item the Lord revealed to her or asked from her. She began to converse with Jesus for short (and eventually longer) periods in the middle of the night as her longing to listen to Him and be with Him was so strong. In this she again showed her obedience as she often interrupted Jesus in these sweet discourses when the clock struck, signaling that her permitted time to be awake during the night was over.
Jesus the Teacher
What was Our Lord communicating to her during these years? Let us look at a few quotes from her notebooks:
“Confidence is the key which opens the treasures of My Mercy” (28)
“If souls had more faith, they would live on mortification as they live on bread, whereas they fly from it as they would the plague” (88)
“Provided I find good will in a soul, I am never weary of looking upon its miseries. My love is fed by consuming miseries; the soul that brings Me the most, if the heart is contrite and humble, is the one that pleases Me the most, because she gives Me an opportunity of exercising more fully my office of Savior” (101)
“The greatest pleasure souls can give Me is to believe in My Love” (101)
“Love has need of nothing, but it must find no resistance” (106)
“To obtain solid virtue, it must be sought in the Heart of Jesus” (48)
“The principle thing I desire to make known is that I am all Love; the greatest pain souls can give Me is to doubt My goodness” (106)
“I am in Infinite Treasure which My Father has placed at the disposal of all” (108)
As we can see in these selected passages the message Jesus wanted to give was one of Trust, Confidence, and Love. He sought to teach many souls that He desires to Love us, especially when we fall or make mistakes.
Preparation for Death
As the discourses with Our Lord consumed ever more of her heart, she had severe trials and temptations ahead. Our Lord asked her to request 2 extra days during her final retreat so as to prepare her for death. This request was granted and she made her final annual retreat from June 20th to July 2nd, 1916.
Seeking God’s Will:
During this retreat Jesus took her gently through her meditations. She first reflected on creation and was shown how she is the servant of a Master who has everything, has created everything, and she must seek to serve His will and not her own. Just as a servant would not clean a hallway if her master asked her to tend a crying child, so should she tend only to the Master’s Will.
Next, she was led to look at humility. In this reflection she saw how humility will “lead [one] never to judge anyone…to regard [oneself] as a servant of God [and] ever to accuse [oneself] (129). She learned that Jesus permits temptations as a great opportunity to gain merit (both for the self and for others).
The third major area in which Jesus led her during this final retreat was prayer. Jesus instructed her not to be concerned as to the methods and practices of prayer itself for He is in charge and it is only for her to let herself be led.
He also stressed that for a religious it is not simply a goal to be holy, it is obligatory. But, He generously gives her the key to holiness: to copy Himself. In concluding her retreat she was able to see one simple line of thought: ( Love-> Reparation-> Consolation-> Fidelity) Love for Jesus should lead to a desire to make reparation which leads to the consolation of His Heart and of the lover which ends in fidelity.
The Final Days
On August 3rd, she was moved to the infirmary and she endured great physical and spiritual suffering. In this suffering though, she found a great joy for she knew it was the Father’s Will and also was a source of grace for many souls to be converted.
She continually asked for little ways in which she could offer more suffering to Jesus, such as permission to hold the little ice cube in her teeth before swallowing it. In this way she delayed the relief the ice was to give her and also was able to offer the pain of the cold upon her teeth.
She was also violently attacked by the devil and found strength in her superior whose presence and commands were given a certain power over the evil one, so great is the power of obedience and the gift of a religious superior.
After a month of intense suffering, Sister Benigna Consolata received Holy Viaticum and, surrounded by her entire community, passed into Eternal life on September 1st, the First Friday of the Month.
All Information taken from:
Religious of the Visitation of Como, Italy. Sister Benigna Consolata Ferrero. Trans. M. S. Pine. Chicago, IL: John P. Daleiden, 1925. Community Circular of Como.
God be Praised!