Blessed Sister María Ludovica
Antonina was born on 24 October 1880,in St Gregor, a village located among the Central Apennines, in an Italian region called “Abbruzzi”. Her parents were humble farmers. Her father was called Ludovico De Angelis and her mother Santa Colaiandi. Since she was the first-born child, Antonina had to look after her little brothers and sisters. Her attendance to school was quite poor,yet she managed to learn some reading and writing.During her adolescence she also had to help her father in his farm chores.
Priest Samuel Tarquini was her parish priest and placed Antonina in front of the Daughters of Mary Association, which had been founded by he himself. On 14 November 1904, Antonina joined the novitiate called Daughters of Mercy in Savona. As her family objected her decision, P. Tarquini not only guided but also helped her in economical terms.
On 3 May 1905, Antonina wore her longed for habit for the very first time. It was then that she started to be called Ludovica. On 3 May 1906, just exactly a year after, she consecrated her life to God through the three vows of poverty,chastity and obedience. Her parents were absent to the ceremony so she could only share her happiness with P. Samuel, who had bought the nun dress for her.
On 14 November 1907, Ludovica along with some other four nuns went aboard to Argentina. They arrived in Buenos Aires on 4 December and headed for the Provincial House. At the beginning of 1908 Ludovica was ordered to go to the Hospital de Niños(Children´s Hospital) in La Plata City. In those days the hospital was just made of two flat low wooden rooms with a main door that sheltered only 60 beds and it was surrounded by a fencing. La Plata had been recently founded by the year 1882, it was just a city of 26 years old, that is to say two years younger than Sister Ludovica. Fra Contardo Miglioranza would say that they had grown together...
Her destiny had driven her to the kitchen and the storeroom. In 1909, after observing her sense of responsibility, Dr Cometto proposed her as administrator of the hospital, a post she honoured until she died in 1962.
According to different testimonies, Ludovica struggled hard to remove from the place all the coldness usually found in hospitals. She was counselor and spiritual advisor for the staff and patients´ relatives as well .She learned and trained in all the duties of a nurse. She became an expert in helping doctors and she even dealt with the humblest jobs she was asked for. She was so intuitive and experienced in grasping the patient´s needs that doctors believed in her remarks.
On 3 May 1911, Ludovica professed her perpetual vows.
When the Superior Mother of the Hospital died in 1915, a group of doctors headed by Dr. Cometto asked the Provincial Mother to appoint Sister Ludovica since all the staff admired her unusual gifts of wisdom, foresight and leadership. The Provincial Mother accepted but it was hard to convince Ludovica who alleged ignorance about the matter.
When she assumed the management of the Hospital, she aimed at the gradual enlargement of the place which then belonged to the Charity Society. In order to do so she asked for the local people´s help. Then that giant building construction started and it would finish together with her death. In 1925 the hospital passed into the hands of the Ministry of Public Health of the Province of Buenos Aires. Sister Ludovica became the spokeswoman of the children´s needs and new demands of progress. The Province offered their resourses fixing annual grants-in -aids for the hospital, and thanks to the Superior Mother ´s administrative abilities, each amount multiplied itself and increased its value.
Due to her tender heart, the Hospital de Niños could not only provide care for the sick children but also sheltered those left by their parents at the time of hospitalization. Sister Ludovica went on studying and she paid for her education herself. Once a child got his skull fractured. After 36 hours he got worse and doctors decided to operate. Sister Ludovica expressed categorical opposition. At that time the sick child was under her tutelage so doctors put responsibility on her. Forty- eight hours later the child got over and quickly made better. When she was asked for the reason of her decision, she answered: “God told me operation was unnecessary”
In 1935 S.Ludovica had a kidney removed for it had been affected by a cancerous tumour.Although this matter had a number of sequels, she went on working with diligence and dedication. The Community of Sisters asked her to take a leave after thirty years of restlessness.In those days there was the oncoming election of the General Mother and she took part in the jury.While in Italy she visited laboratories and hospitals. As a result of her contacts, she brought some machines and devices for her hospital.
In Savona, she visited several homes consecrated to the recovery of weak children. This fact inspired her to renew such beneficial experience in our lands. On arriving home, she embarked upon the creation of the Solarium in Punta Mogotes, Mar del Plata.
In 1937,in agreement with the Head Doctor of the Hospital, Dr. Alejandro Oyuela, she asked the minister of Public Works for the assignement of a villa in City Bell in order to have a solarium settled. Then she decided to turn those lands into villas to grow plentiful fresh healthy fruits and vegetables and a farmhouse to raise birds and pigs. In that way she could provide her children with first quality eggs,chicken and saussages. When she noticed the religious carelessness towards the local neighbours, she offered the Archbishop of La Plata , Monseigneur Alberti, hers and her Sisters´ help to organize a mission. The mission ,in charge of P. Bienvenido Alvarez, SJ together with the cooperation of the Sisters, turned out a success and the idea of building a chapel sprang up. The whole city supported such idea and in 1939 a temple called Sagrado Corazón de Jesús(Sacred Heart of Jesus) was inaugurated by the new archbishop,Mons. Chimento.
For 19 years,every other day, she would go to the farm and bring baskets full of food supplies. In times of large production of tomatoes, she would prepare canned tomatoes for the whole year.She also used to take a group of children with her so that they had a ride.
As an expert farmer she was worried about the soil wearing away,so she thought of a cheap natural fertilizer and asked the city mayor Mr Frangi to give her all the manure from the horses in Villa Elisa´s municipal stockyard.
Due to the removal of her kidney,she was forced to take a short rest in Mar del Plata City. There she could feel the benefits of the sea, the iodized air and sun rays. Then she started thinking that the weak and rickety children could take profit as well. So she embarked on the project of a solarium by the sea. It was a seven-year titanic struggle for the rejection she found on her way. Yet her strong will and the prayers of both, patients and staff, managed to beat all the drawbacks. The solarium was inaugurated in 1943. Sister Ludovica knew that healing the soul is more beneficial than healing illnesses. For that reason, she got a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph built.
The solarium was annexed to the Hospital de Niños and she was responsible as both administrator and leader. She would travell twice a month in an old vehicle she called “cañoneta”. She would always go with a load of children.She managed to have a school running in the solarium itself so that the long-term hospitalized children didn´t miss classes. A similar achievement had been carried out in the Hospital too. Sister Ludovica considered the advantges of being close to the port in order to gain baskets full of cheap fresh fish. She not only would show the female workers how to prepare them, but also work along with them as anordinary worker.
While being engrossed in some building vicissitudes,her journeys in the “cañoneta”, the watching of the farm, of the villa and her motherly sleeplessness in her children´s world, her affairs were being watched by the Head Office of Hygiene of the Province and soon the Administration of the Hospital was meddled. She must have been largely saddened by all the accusations,inspections and discharges coming and going. Yet she took it calmly as a test coming from the Lord.With no complaints she went on with her ardent rhythm of work and prayers. Finally light sparkled through the support and exaltation of her co-workers.
As she sensed that human insanity would soon trigger off the horrors of war, she foresaw that shortage of medicine would result so she bought enough medicine in advance to cover a potential long-term demand. Her administration was generous and open. After an earthquake shook the San Juan Province,for instance, it was the Hospital the Niños that sent more antitetanus, antidiphtheritic and antigangrenic serum, than the General Office of hospitals in the Province.
On 12 june1949, her Mother and Founder of the Hospital, Maria Josefa Rosello, was canonized. The first miracle, which pushed the process of canonization, took place in La Plata. The Sisters of Mercy were delighted but the local ones were certainly much happier. Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit, who used to be a teacher at the Colegio de la Misericordia (School of Mercy), was suddenly cured from a seriously advanced renal tuberculosis after all her co-sisters had prayed a nine-day prayer to their founder Mother. Then, Sister Ludovica was selected to take part in such ceremony, and taking advantage of the trip, she managed to make contacts with clinics and laboratories and bring sanitary materials.
In 1951 she turned down the Official Decree that read the Hospital should carry her name.(“Who do you think I am? I´m just a religious woman. Tear that decree up. If you don´t do it, I´ll move to Italy right tomorrow”). Such honour could only be carried out after her death.
That very same year a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima was travelling aroung the world and happened to remain several days in La Plata..The whole hospital rushed with the organization,reception, the evening prayers,songs and farewell ceremony. The Virgin went through each room.Many testimonies reflect Sister Ludovica´s Marian devotion. Day and night while walking along corridors and rooms she would pray rosaries and pronounce fervent prayers. Every year the staff would make a pilgrimage to the Luján Sactuary and she would always be the life of it.
After her kidney was removed in 1935, her health weakened. Yet her personal worries were put aside as she was immersed in taking care of the children. All along the years, she suffered from several lung edemas. But in 1957 she suffered from an extremely serious one. Due to a special grace attributed to Our Lady of Mercy she was miraculously cured.
She would always have a tender and generous word of hope and comfort for the relatives of the hospitalized children.According to some testimonies, she would walk through all the hospital in order to see whether everything worked properly.She would use up all the means to get whatever was needed. The hospital should lack for nothing. When they were short of milk she herself would go and get it straight from the dairy farm. In the afternoons she would go to the Government House and some other offices to get administrative formalities hastened, such as obtaining resources for her work and visiting shops that helped with their donations. Such formalities also were carried out in a familiar and pedagogical climate. Taking turns, she used to take a dozen of convalescent children for a ride. They set off to have some fun and fresh air.
One Sunday, 25 February 1962, she passed away. She was 82.
She was beatified in Rome on 3 October 2004 by the Pope John Paul II . Her corpse is buried in the Cathedral Church of La Plata , Argentina.
Extracted from Lavishing Love by Fray Contardo Miglioranza.Translated by Susana I. Crespo. Teacher of English and Sworn Translator, University of La Plata .