Cappella delle Suore Benedettine di Carità is a 20th century Fascist-era convent chapel at Via Tor de' Schiavi 116 in the Prenestino-Centocelle quarter. It is also a public Mass centre run by the parish of San Felice da Cantalice a Centocelle.
It is unusual among the hundreds of such congregations active in the Diocese in having been founded at Rome.
Bl Colomba -failed abbess Edit
The congregation was founded in 1908 by Bl Colomba Gabriel (1858-1926), who was of the Kresy Polish nobility (not Ukrainian). She became a Benedictine nun at what is now Lviv (Ukraine) but was then Lemberg in the Habsburg Empire, joining the "Abbey of All Saints of the Benedictine Sisters of the Latin Rite at Lwow" (in Polish, Kościół Wszystkich Świętych i klasztor Benedyktynek we Lwowie -Lwow is the Polish name of the city). She was elected abbess of her community. Unfortunately she sponsored and took on as an employee a former male pupil of the monastery's school, who then embezzled a large sum of money and accused her of immoral behaviour. On investigation, the allegations were found to be groundless. However as Abbess she was judged to have been responsible for the circumstances permitting the crime, so was deposed and ordered to go into exile. She went to Rome in 1900.
(Online descriptions of her in English and Italian are poor, containing errors and not referring to the above events. See the Polish Wikipedia article here.)
Initially she took refuge in a Benedictine community at Subiaco (now at Rome -see San Giovanni Battista a Monte Mario), but this did not work. The nunnery wanted her former convent in Lemberg to pay for her upkeep, and the argument led to her leaving in 1903 after only a year's residence. She then received a papal dispensation from her vows as a nun, and then became involved in helping young immigrants to the city from the countryside.
Bl Colomba -foundress Edit
These illiterate terroni seeking their fortune were very badly educated and were horribly vulnerable, so she opened a refuge and day school for them at Via di Torre Argentina 76. This is part of the enormous Palazzo Sinibaldi, and probably appealed to her because it is very near to the church of Santi Benedetto e Scolastica all'Argentina. The congregation calls this convent the Casa Madre or "Mother House".
The nascent congregation began, in effect, when two helpers of hers were clothed in the religious habit in 1910. The establishment of a new congregation dedicated to the corporal works of mercy is rather surprising at such a late date, given that there were already many in existence, but part of the reason was that the Order of St Benedict was undergoing a necessary reorganisation to give it a central administrative structure which it had lacked for centuries. The first so-called Abbot Primate of the Order was Hildebrand de Hemptinne who gave Bl Colomba much assistance, and seems to have wished his Order to contain active women religious of a type already familiar. Hence, perhaps there was an element of competitiveness in the foundation.
Spread of congregation Edit
Bl Colomba (fairly predictably) wished her new congregation to establish itself in Poland once that country became independent in 1919, but this did not happen. Perhaps her former disgrace still counted against her. Rather, she had to content herself with founding a large noviciate convent at Centocelle in the year that she died, 1926. This complex also had a school for a wide span of ages, opened in response to the development of the suburb.
Subsequent expansion confined itself to Italy, where eleven convents were founded in addition to the two original ones at Rome. In 1973 a mission outreach began in Madagascar, where four convents were founded by 1994. In 1997, a convent was opened at Sighetul Marmaţiei in Romania.
Meanwhile, in 1983 the body of the foundress was exhumed from where she had been buried in the Campo Verano cemetery, and enshrined in the chapel of the Centocelle convent in anticipation of her beatification in 1993. This convent became the Generalate or headquarters, although the Casa Madre was still maintained with a resident community.
All Roman Catholic religious orders began a slow but steady decline in membership after the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965, and the Benedictine Sisters of Charity were no exception.
At the turn of the millennium the congregation had thirteen Italian convents, four in Madagascar and one in Romania. The total number of sisters in 2000 was 133, an actual increase from 119 in 1995 which was as a result of the Madagascar outreach. However, then (as with many other congregations) the decline went into a higher gear as the sisters professed before the Sixties began to die out. This has led to the closing of three of the Italian convents.
At Rome, the number of sisters resident at the Generalate in 2000 was 26, and at the Casa Madre 10 -a total of 36. The latter community was being provided with Mass by the Benedictine priests at Sant'Ambrogio della Massima nearby, but its pastoral justification had long vanished with the loss of resident poor people from the Centro Storico. The convent chapel was a second-storey corner room, with no architectural identity.
In 2018, the Diocese listed only seven sisters resident in Rome. The Casa Madre no longer has a community, but apparently is now a pilgrims' hostel for young people with one sister in charge and no private Masses.
The Centocelle convent still has a school, although this has been restructured and takes children of a more limited age range. The chapel now functions as a public Mass centre.
The chapel amounts to a full-sized church building, aligned almost parallel to the street to its left with a narrowly rectangular convent cloister to its right. It has a notable civic presence in a rather unattractive suburb, being set back from the street behind a rather low wall.
The fabric amounts to a rather grim rectangular red brick box, with a pitched and tiled roof and with a convent wing occupying the sanctuary end. Each side has a row of thirteen square windows below the eaves, and three large vertical rectangular windows in each near side wall. Beyond these, each side has a three-sided projecting chapel with its own lower tiled roof in three pitches. Each side of a chapel has a vertical rectangular window over a square one.
The façade is fronted by an external porch or loggia, occupying the entire width and having a single-pitched and tiled roof of its own. This is entered via an arcade of three arches with very shallow archivolts, the central arch being larger. The sides of the loggia have another two such arches. Above the roof of the loggia is a row of seven square windows.
The rest of the façade is blank brickwork, except for a very unusual vertical cuboidal brick box on corbels in the centre. This rises to a gabled bellcote, which is narrower and has a round-headed opening for two bells arranged vertically. The box has a row of three narrow vertical rectangular windows, and the bell aperture descends into its body.
The convent's wall facing the street has shallow open archivolts below its parapet, echoing the loggia.
The edifice is actually two-storey, the chapel proper being on the ground floor. It is very simply decked out in white, with a ceiling having large recessed panels in pale blue.
The most interesting thing here is the shrine-tomb of Bl Colomba, with a mosaic of her based on a photographic likeness.
Mass is celebrated publicly (parish website, July 2018):
Sundays and Solemnities 10:30 (9:00 in summer).