The Institute of the little sisters of St Therese of the Child Jesus (established 02.11.1923)
St Therese teaches us that her “little way” is one of trust and love: “Don” Joseph Mazzanti and Moher Marie Zanelli followed this spiritual way in their own lives.
Trust in the belief that Antoinette Zanelli’s innermost dreams came from God: her desire to be an apostle, to show the mercy of God through service to others so that – with other sisters – she could reach new “little ones” for His Kingdom.
But also love: Don Joseph found in St Therese the description of his own heart – both contemplative and missionary, universal as well as humble: “At the very heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be love … just as Jesus was: Suffer the little children to come unto me!”
The founding of the Congregation of the little sisters of St Therese of the Child Jesus was God’s will in return for the mercy He poured on the wounds left by the First World War, and on the economic and social suffering of the country where Don Joseph and Moher Marie lived.
On 2 November 1923, in the parish church of St Agathe in Imola, the first five sisters were brought together by the Father to receive the cross around their necks, gathered around a picture of St Therese of the Child Jesus. They knelt before the Blessed Sacrament in self-giving and simplicity to say YES to Jesus – the same Jesus of whom Mother Marie would later say that he had never denied her anything.
When the Founder died in 1954 the community – then 20 years old – was almost ready to embark on its principal undertaking, the St Therese “Oasis” in Imola, a hostel for children in need and for teaching “little ones” with pre-school and extra-curricular activities.
In spite of their missionary zeal, the Father and Mother of the community had declared that they “couldn’t bear to see their sisters leave”; in accordance with their wishes, it was only after their death that overseas missions started to be undertaken.
So it was that in 1965 the congregation began to send nuns as missionaries to Brazil (1965), Kenya (1967) and Mexico (1991). The most recent mission has been to Alençon in Normandy, where the sisters have run a pilgrim hostel since 2009 and helped to organise pilgrimages to the Martin family home, the birth place of St Therese of the Child Jesus.
“Merciful Love for little ones, the poor, the dispossessed, the sick and those who suffer in body and spirit is the essential legacy of the founders to the Institute”; this is the expression of the Institute’s mission, as stated in its constitution, article 78. As article 2 states, “the Institute was born within the Church to be a witness and bearer of the Merciful Love of the Father for the “little ones” of the Kingdom. To achieve this, we follow Jesus Christ, who was chaste, poor and obedient to the point of death on the cross, in the spirit of the Little Way of St Therese of the Child Jesus.”
Today, the Institute is made up of 106 nuns living in 22 communities, on three continents and in six countries – each community committed to reflecting the Tender Love and Mercy of God the Father, enlightened by the smile of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the presence of Mère Marie and “Don Peppino”. L’Institut des Petites Sœurs de Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus (fondé 02.11.1923)