Rosa Venerini was born in Viterbo, central Italy, on February 9, 1656. Her father was a doctor who raised four children with his wife, Marzia.
From an early age Rosa vowed to consecrate herself to God, although she struggled with this in her teenage years. She briefly entered a Dominican women’s community in 1676. But when her father died she returned home to support her mother. Rosa’s brother, Domenico, also died early, aged 27. Rosa’s mother passed away months later, brokenhearted at losing her husband and a son.
Following these family traumas Rosa decided to create a rosary group for local women. Concerned that they knew little about the faith, she dedicated her life to religious formation and education. In 1685, Rosa opened Italy’s first public school for girls, supported by the Church and state officials. She left Viterbo and established 10 schools in the Diocese of Montefiascone between 1692 and 1694. She also trained the future St Lucia Filippini as a local successor.
In 1713, after one failed attempt, Rosa managed to start a school in Rome. Three years later, Pope Clement XI paid the school a visit with eight cardinals. The pope thanked Rosa personally for her efforts, saying: “With these schools you will sanctify Rome.”
By the end of her life, Rosa had founded more than 40 schools. She died following an illness on May 7, 1728. Her religious congregation, known in Italian as the Congregazione delle Maestre Pie Venerini (Religious Teachers Venerini), maintains an international presence.
Praise from Benedict
Rosa was declared a saint in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke in his canonisation homily about her courageous work for “the spiritual elevation and authentic emancipation of the young women of her time”. He said that St Rosa “did not content herself with providing the girls with an adequate education, but was also concerned with assuring their complete formation, with sound references to the Church’s doctrinal teaching”.