Maria Gabriella Sagheddu

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Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu, O.C.S.O.
Maria Gabriella Sagheddu 01.jpg
The Blessed Maria Gabriella in her native Dorgalese dress
Born 17 March 1914
Dorgali, Sardinia, Kingdom of Italy
Died 23 April 1939
Trappistine Monastery, Grottaferrata, Rome, Italy
Beatified 25 January 1983, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome, Italy, by Pope John Paul II
Major shrine Chapel of Unity, Monastery of Our Lady of St. Joseph, Vitorchiano, Viterbo, Italy
Feast April 22
Patronage Ecumenism

Maria Gabriella Sagheddu, O.C.S.O., was an Italian Trappistine nun, who was born in Sardinia in 1914 and died of tuberculosis in the Trappist monastery of Grottaferrata in 1939, at the age of 25. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1983. Because of her spiritual devotion to Christian unity, for which she had offered her life, she was declared a patron saint of the movement by the Catholic Church.


She was born Maria Sagghedu into a family of shepherds in Dorgali, an eastern coastal town of Sardinia,[1] on March 17, 1914, the fifth in a family of eight children. The family lost their father in 1919. [2] She was said to be obstinate as a child, but was also known to be loyal and obedient. "She would say no but she would go at once", is said of her.[3] At the end of her primary studies, she had to leave school to help out at home where she showed herself serious and endowed with a great sense of duty.[2]

Motivated to deepen her piety after the death of her younger sister, Sagghedu enrolled in a Catholic youth group called "Azione Cattolica" when she was eighteen.[3] She began to instruct the local youth in the Catholic faith and to help the aged of the region. In the process, she began to intensify her prayer life. At first, she taught catechism with a stick in hand. But one day the local priest took away the stick and replaced it with a note that said, "Arm yourself with patience, not a stick." Maria accepted the criticism and changed her methods.[2]

At the age of twenty, Sagghedu entered the Trappistine Abbey of Grottaferrata,[1] near Rome, on the Italian mainland, where she was given the religious name of Maria Gabriella. The abbess of the monastery at that time there was Mother Maria Pia Gullini, O.C.S.O., whose enthusiasm for ecumenism (a fruit of the efforts of Abbé Paul Couturier) was passed on to the community.[3] Devoted to this cause, she offered herself as a spiritual sacrifice for the unity of the Christian church during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity of 1938. She then immediately fell ill with tuberculosis, and, after suffering for 15 months, died on 23 April 1939. Significantly, the Gospel reading for that Sunday included the words, "There will be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)"


Sagghedu was moved by a profound feeling of thanks to God for imparting his grace to her, and for calling her to unity with him. Like many other Catholic figures known for their holiness, she found rest from anxiety through a complete and trusting abandonment of herself to the will of God.

Pope John Paul II referred to her in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, saying:

Praying for unity is not a matter reserved only to those who actually experience the lack of unity among Christians. In the deep personal dialogue which each of us must carry on with the Lord in prayer, concern for unity cannot be absent. ...It was in order to reaffirm this duty that I set before the faithful of the Catholic Church a model which I consider exemplary, the model of a Trappistine Sister, Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity, whom I beatified on 25 January 1983. Sister Maria Gabriella, called by her vocation to be apart from the world, devoted her life to meditation and prayer centered on chapter seventeen of Saint John's Gospel, and offered her life for Christian unity. ...The example of Sister Maria Gabriella is instructive; it helps us to understand that there are no special times, situations or places of prayer for unity. Christ's prayer to the Father is offered as a model for everyone, always and everywhere.[4]


Sagghedu was beatified on January 25, 1983 in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls,[5] at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the same observance which motivated her decision to offer her life to God. By doing so, the pope both affirmed the holiness of her actions and set her up as a role model for Christians to follow, especially as relates to ecumenism.

After Sagghedu's death, it was noted that in her bible, Chapter 17 of St. John's Gospel had become yellowed and worn from being often read. In this chapter, Jesus prays to the God the Father on behalf of his disciples. Of particular significance are verses 11 and 21, in which Jesus prays "that they may be one, as we also are (John 17:11)," and "that they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (John 17:21)." These verses are commonly used as a motto for the ecumenical movement. She offered her life to God as a sacrifice for the unity of all Christians.

Sagghedu's remains are kept in the Chapel of Unity at the Trappistine Monastery of Our Lady of St. Joseph at Vitorchiano, near Viterbo. This is the current home of monastic community to which she had belonged.

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