Blessed Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi
By Christina Zajac
Blesseds Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi are modern-day heroes of the faith who, by their lives, beautifully illustrated the holiness to which married couples are called. Holiness is not achieved in spite of a marriage, but through it. Marriage is the means for achieving holiness for those to whom the vocation has been given.
Luigi was born in 1880 in Catania, Italy. Raised by his childless uncle and his wife, Luigi nevertheless kept his ties with his parents and siblings. After obtaining a degree in law, he worked for the Inland Revenue Department before serving on the boards of various banks. He eventually became attorney general. Maria was born in 1884 to a noble family in Florence. She was a professor and writer on educational topics as well as a member of several associations, including Women's Catholic Action.
After meeting and falling in love, Luigi and Maria were married on November 25, 1905 in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. They had four children, three of whom had religious vocations. While pregnant with her fourth child, Maria was advised by her doctors to have an abortion in order to save her life, as she had a 5% chance of surviving her diagnosis. Luigi and Maria refused, putting their complete trust in the Lord’s providence. Despite her difficult pregnancy, Maria safely gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Enrichetta. This experience only strengthened the couple’s marriage and affirmed the power of a living faith.
Their children recalled how their parents led a simple life, like many married couples, but always characterized by a sense of the supernatural. Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, commented that they “made a true domestic church of their family, which was open to life, to prayer, to the social apostolate, to solidarity with the poor and to friendship.”
Family life for the Quattrocchi’s was lively and full of activity. They enjoyed playing sports and vacationing by the sea and in the mountains. Responding to the Lord’s call that whatever you do to the least of His brethren you do to Him, they opened their home to refugees seeking shelter during World War II. They never refused anyone who came knocking at their door begging for food. Maria also volunteered as a nurse for the Red Cross during the War. Together, the family even started a scout group for youth from the poor sections of Rome.
Spiritually, the Quattrocchi’s built the foundation of their faith on solid rock, just like the wise man in St. Matthew’s Gospel. They were nourished by the Word of God through attending daily Mass and receiving the Word-Made-Flesh in Holy Communion. Every evening they prayed the Rosary together, and the family was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They also kept the family holy hour on the eve of the first Friday of the month, and participated in the night vigil prayer and weekend retreats organized by the Monastery of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls.
Learning about and transmitting the faith to their children was important to Luigi and Maria. In particular, Maria served as a catechist and supported the establishment of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. Remarkably, the Quattrocchi’s even took graduate religious courses at the Pontifical Gregorian University!
Doing their part to promote the culture of life, Luigi and Maria were involved in several forms of marriage and family apostolate. In addition, the couple made the “difficult vow of the most perfect,” which they offered to the Lord in humble obedience to their spiritual father. This vow means the renouncing of marital relations, which the two decided together after 20 years of marriage, when Luigi was 46 years old and Maria 41.
It would be easy to attribute Luigi and Maria’s holiness and cause for canonization to their many remarkable apostolic works, or to the fact that three of their children discerned and embraced their religious vocations. The couple’s courageous decision not to abort Enrichetta is reason enough to praise and esteem them highly. However, all of these works are simply the fruit of seeds that were planted on good soil. Maria and Luigi embraced the vocation of marriage, being open to life and to whatever sacrifices the Lord would ask them to make. They truly made their family a “domestic Church,” consecrated to Jesus the Bridegroom and in complete union with Him through prayer and the sacraments.
Family life, however, was not without difficulties. Being faithful to the Lord in small matters prepared them to trust Him in very difficult times. In addition to the normal “ups and downs” in married and family life, Luigi and Maria faced the tragedies of war; had two sons serve as army chaplains; endured the German occupation of Rome; and witnessed the reconstruction of Italy after the war.
Luigi died in 1951 at the age of 71; Maria died in 1965 at the age of 81. Pope John Paul II beatified Luigi and Maria in 2001 on World Mission Sunday. This was the first time a married couple was beatified together, and with a specific focus on their sanctity as manifested in marriage and family life. A saint’s feast day is usually celebrated on the day he or she died. John Paul II did something new; he declared Luigi and Maria’s feast day would be November 25, the couple’s wedding anniversary. In reflecting on this beautiful, holy couple, Pope John Paul II eloquently remarked:
“This couple lived married love and service to life in the light of the Gospel and with great human intensity. With full responsibility they assumed the task of collaborating with God in procreation, dedicating themselves generously to their children, to teach them, guide them and direct them to discovering his plan of love. From this fertile spiritual terrain sprang vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, which shows how, with their common roots in the spousal love of the Lord, marriage and virginity may be closely connected and reciprocally enlightening.
“Drawing on the word of God and the witness of the saints, the blessed couple lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinarily rich spiritual life. At the center of their life was the daily Eucharist as well as devotion to the Virgin Mary, to whom they prayed every evening with the Rosary, and consultation with wise spiritual directors. In this way they could accompany their children in vocational discernment, training them to appreciate everything ‘from the roof up,’ as they often, charmingly, liked to say.”
In today’s society, where marriage, the family, and the very sanctity of human life are under attack, the Quattrochhi’s are a model for families everywhere. Though Luigi’s faith was not strong before he married, it flourished as he embraced his vocation to be a husband, father, and spiritual head of the family. Maria took her duties as a wife and mother seriously. In an expression of her spiritual maternity, she generously embraced those without shelter, food, or education. Married couples can pray to Blesseds Luigi and Maria, asking for their intercession, that the bonds of marriage and family may be strengthened and that all may be sanctified through these bonds.