Maria Oliva was born on 26 March 1893 in Castelfranco, Veneto (Treviso, Italy), the fourth of nine children.  That year her birthday fell on Palm Sunday, and it was followed the next day by the Feast of the Annunciation. The name Maria Oliva was given to her in remembrance of the two Feasts.  Her parents were Giuseppe Antonio Bonaldo and Italica Dionisia Bianco (known as Gioconda).  At the time of her birth they were restaurateurs and were located in a building in an arcade in the historical centre of the town.  On 1 December 1893 they moved to Bassano del Grappa where they bought a restaurant called the “Stella d’Oro” (the Golden Star).  Maria Oliva spent five happy years here.  During her childhood she learned a love for the Eucharist, for our Blessed Mother and for the poor from her mother.  Sadly, her mother died in 1904 while giving birth to the ninth child who also did not survive. Maria Oliva’s joy and happiness disappeared from her life after these painful losses, and left a mark in her adolescence. 
        In this same year she attended a private school run by the Canossian Sisters in Treviso and continued her High School education until the age of fourteen.  Afterwards, she was sent to Venice to continue her studies until she gained her Bachelor Degree in Education in 1910.


As a young teacher Maria Oliva was first assigned to the Grades School in Castello di Godego (TV) and afterwards to other schools located in the nearby town.  Being an intelligent, educated, creative teacher she dedicated herself to the pupils with unique professional skills.  She was sensitive, open-hearted and generous to her pupils.  She gave her salary to the poor whom she called “Jesus”.  In 1911 she was transferred to Castelfranco where she met a young man from Venice whom she intended to marry and have a family.  In an unexpected way God then entered her life and transformed it completely.  On 22 May 1913, for the feast of Corpus Domini, Maria Oliva decided to take part in the parish Eucharistic procession.  She describes this event in the following way: “I was then twenty years old when, on the occasion of the feast of Corpus Domini, I felt inspired to go along, but at the thoughts of facing the laughter of some people I was not strong enough to take part out of my own conviction of love…In fact only a few persons were participating in the procession and they were looked down on as religious fanatics… Finally we reached Giorgione’ Square.  There the Lord was waiting for me to repay me as Lord. When the priest lifted the sacred Host at the moment of benediction, I don’t know how to explain it but I understood Jesus.  I received a clear insight into the Mystical Body.  I felt changed inside, heaven was all over me. Earthly things seemed vain and empty, as did all those things that did not belong to God.  I returned home another person.  Before taking off the veil I was wearing I wrote in my diary that I was going to be a nun.”

    Converted to Love and full of overflowing joy, she immediately abandoned her plans for marriage. She was captivated by the ideal of consecrating herself to God and by the desire of founding a new religious family, dedicated entirely to the service of the Church.  Maria Oliva, however, did not find understanding by her spiritual director who told her that he did not see her as the true instrument capable of realizing this project.  On hearing this reply she continued with her teaching job, sacrificing her own will in heroic obedience.

During the First World War, while a refugee with her family in Portiolo (Mantova), she dedicated her time to an attentive reading and study of Sacred Scripture.  This opened her heart to an ever-growing love and care for others.  While in Portiolo she exercised her first parish ministry and dedicated herself to an intense catechesis of young people.


    In October 1920, when Maria Oliva was 27 year old, she joined the Conossian Congregation called “Daughters of Charity”, in Treviso in obedience to her spiritual director.  There she made her First Profession on 7 September 1923 followed by her Perpetual Profession on 24 October 1928.  From 1924 to 1928 she attended the Higher Institute of Education at the Sacred Heart University of Milan where, in 1930, she obtained a degree in Arts and Philosophy with her thesis entitled “La Vergine nell’Umanesimo” (The Virgin in Humanism). 
    Later she became Principal of the Canossian Higher Institute where she fulfilled her educational mission with great commitment, dedication and creativity.  She drew up an “educational plan” and produced various writings, poetry, oratorios, and representations for different feasts and circumstances both for the school and the religious community.


    She carried out her religious life in the Canossian community despite her fragile health being further weakened by tuberculosis.  Yet her continuous interior call to start a new Religious Family remained alive and strong.     
    Maria Oliva confided her inner thoughts to her Superiors and after a long time, much prayer and hoping, she was authorized to write down what she experienced in her heart.  In 1934 she wrote the “33 Foglietti” (33 manuscripts) in which she described the spiritual journey of the Daughter of the Church.  Having gone through many painful moments, Maria Oliva encountered the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Piazza, who understood her plans and did his best to persuade the Superior General of the Canossian sisters to authorize the experimental new community.  Maria Oliva, together with four young women, initiated the Congregation of the Daughters of the Church on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 24 June 1938, at the Generalate of the Canossian Sisters. 


    Mother Maria Oliva, having received a series of annual permissions from the Holy See, remained among her Daughters, providing for their formation.  During the following years, and in spite of the various restrictions attached to any new foundation together with the added difficulties created by the Second World War, the new family spread in different places.  On 12 April 1943, Sr. Olga Gugelmo (Servant of God) died.  She was the one to whom Mother Maria Olive had hoped to entrust the Institute’s direction since she could not take care of it herself because of a vow she had made always to remain a Canossian Sister. 
    Cardinal Piazza personally asked Pope Pius XII that Maria Oliva might be released from this vow.  He then granted Diocesan Approval to the Daughters of the Church on 21 April 1946 and Mother Maria Oliva became the Superior General of the Daughters of the Church.  The Institute received Pontifical Approval in 1949, and final Approval in 1967.  In the following years there was a significant growth in the institute’s number, territory and apostolic life.

    The period of the Second Vatican Council found Mother Maria Oliva paying particularly special attention to the new ecclesial way of life.  The great Constitutions of the Council: Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Liturgy),  Lumen Gentium (The Church), Dei Verbum (The Word of God) and Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), filled her heart with much joy because she found in them an affirmation and a clarification of her own charismatic intuition.   In the two magazines published by the Daughters of the Church entitled ”Ecclesia Mater” and “Mater Ecclesia” she made these documents available so that the Church’s Mystery might be known by everybody.  Besides this, she was doing her best to promote and support collaboration with lay people who, she felt, were invested with a particular ecclesial mission.
    This was also the time when Mother Maria Oliva answered the exhortation of the Church to make a commitment to those countries remote from the European continent.  She sent her Daughters among the poorest and the neediest of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, North America and India.

  Mother Maria Oliva of the Mystical Body died on 10 July 1976.  On 10 June 1987 Cardinal Poletti opened the “Initial Process” in Rome for her beatification.  This process was finalised by Cardinal Ruini on 15 September 1992.  Her body now lies near the altar in the Generalate chapel in Rome.  


    When we think of Maria Olive we feel surrounded by a sense of mystery which leaves us amazed and dumbfound, as if we were in the presence of a beautiful brightness.  She is a woman who was completely absorbed by God.  Her eyes really were contemplating another world.  She was a woman of our time who, on looking at the Church, knew how to integrate greatness and littleness, strength and delicacy, withdrawal and splendour, contemplation and action.
    Mother Maria Oliva reached the summit of a journey of faith, a height that can be reached not only by her Daughters but also by every lay person.  In 1977 Blessed Igino Giordani wrote to the Daughters of the Church saying, “I never cease to thank God for the opportunity given to me during my political life to meet a holy woman who reminded me of the values of the spirit.  She helped me to live the Church”.
    Maria Oliva is a person called by love to live in Love and communicate Love: she responded with originality to the inspiration received during the Corpus Domini procession.  She loved and suffered for all humankind and wished that all may become Church.


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