Luisa Piccarreta is still a name very well Know in Corato, a town in Puglia, in the hinterland of the north of Bari. She was born on
April 23, 1865, Divine Mercy Sunday.
She was the fifth of eight daughters, and in the evening of the same day she was baptized in the Mother Church of the town. She participated in the life of her peasant family. Her father, a farmer, managed the land of a rich landlord and, with his family, he moved for long periods to a farm in the Murge plateau. Early on, it seemed strange that this little child spent so much of her time hiding away in long meditations and prayers. At the age of 9 years, she received her First Communion and Confirmation on the same day and she began to hear the voice of Jesus in her "inner being", especially after Communion. As an inner teacher, He corrected and guided Luisa in her spiritual life so that she could become His "perfect image" and, following the model of the life of Nazareth, He educated her to the mortification of the will for love. That is why the Eucharist became her "predominant passion" in which she tried to participate whenever she could. About the age of 13 she felt she had to immerse herself in the Passion of Jesus and began to meditate daily. She also had a vision of Jesus who being led to the crucifixion asked her for help. After that there began a long period of desolation and oppression by demons.
She joined the "Daughters of Mary", a lay Congregation in Corato guided by Father Michele De Benedittis (1844-1910) and originally located at the Church of the former Capuchin monastery. Here, there was also a Women's College for girls of wealthy families, entrusted to the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception of Ivrea. Here Luisa attended only the first years of primary school, with the Sisters as teachers.
Her parents did not realize the intense inner life of Luisa until the age of about 17, when with the spring season and their transfer to the farm located in Torre Disperata, she showed a mysterious and increasingly frequent state of suffering with loss of consciousness and the subsequent experience of "petrifying" during which she also had some visions of Jesus choosing her as victim. The phenomena happened more and more frequently so as to force her to stay in bed. These were the beginnings of what Luisa would describe as the "new life". Now misunderstandings of her family began and medical examinations by the family doctor. Unable to make a clear diagnosis, the doctor had no choice but to suggest that a priest be called for a “visit”. They obtained the intervention of the Augustinian Father Cosma Loiodice who knew Luisa thanks to the Daughters of Mary. To everybody's great surprise, the priestly blessing immediately freed her from the state of malaise and the priest continued to do this whenever Luisa needed, for about four years.
Luisa became a Dominican Tertiary with the name of Sister Maddalena in the crypt-shrine of the Church of Santa Maria Greca. In the absence of Father Cosma others priests refused to go to Luisa. Then, her mother turned to the Archbishop of Trani, Giuseppe Bianchi dé Dottula, so that he could designate a priest permanently. The Archbishop decided that Father Michele De Benedittis would go to Luisa in the absence of the Augustinian father. However, Father De Benedittis assumed her permanent spiritual care beginning in 1886. Luisa told him for the first time what happened when she lost consciousness, of her visions and her inner life. Another phenomenon that would accompany Luisa for the rest of her life, began in this period. After taking food, with a sob, she was forced to vomit. Everybody noticed that the food came up in excellent condition and was accompanied by a pleasant aroma. Her Confessor Father Michele was not fully convinced of the extraordinary nature of those phenomena, so he tested her by imposing on her the "obedience" in many things that she found difficult.
In the second half of November 1887, Luisa, with the approval of her Confessor, agreed to be confined to bed, offering herself as a "willing victim". At first, she thought she would be there for forty days to beseech peace for the ongoing war in Africa, but later she understood that Jesus wanted her to make this sacrifice for the rest of her life. So until her death, for about 60 years, she remained in her bed without any disease and without ever getting a bedsore. During the night, when she fell into her "usual state" of malaise with the "petrifying" experience, her soul often left her body to be with Jesus and listen to His teachings.
It was exactly during one of these "exits", on October 21, 1888 (Celebration of the Purity of the Virgin Mary) that she lived her first mystical marriage with Jesus in the presence of the Virgin Mary and St. Catherine of Siena. The mystical marriage was renewed on September 7, 1890 (the eve of the Nativity of Mary) in the presence of the Blessed Trinity in Heaven and she got as gift the ability to perceive through her senses the "indwelling" of the three Divine Persons in her soul. Then, on the Celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross in 1894 or 1895, she lived the mystical marriage of the Cross in the place of the Passion in Jerusalem. On this occasion she received the stigmata that with her strong request, would remain invisible. With this experience she also received a deeper awareness of her sins and felt a profound sorrow for them. Jesus led her along the path of progressive uniformity, conformity and perfect consummation in Christ’s humanity, by means of continuous purifications.
When in 1898 Fr. Michele De Benedittis left Luisa’s spiritual direction because of his many pastoral duties, he suggested as his successor Canon Gennaro De Gennaro (1844-1922), parish priest of St. Joseph Church in Corato.
Because of Luisa’s extreme shyness, only her Confessor knew what was happening in her soul but her new Confessor, after listening to what was happening during her "usual state", gave her the "obedience" to write a spiritual Diary in which she had to note diligently everything she heard and saw. After her confinement to bed as “victim soul”, there came also the "cross of writing" to which she remained faithful writing about 10 thousand pages, from February 28, 1899 to December 28, 1938. Two months after starting writing the "second" book , the Confessor asked her to write what it had happened in her early life. Thus was born the "first" book that is a real spiritual autobiography from the age of about 9 years old.
Because of her definitive immobility, since 1898, she was granted permission to have Holy Mass celebrated in the house where she stayed with her sister Angelina, who took care of her, and her parents, who would die in 1907. Luisa supported the rent for her house and the offerings for Masses with the work of "tombolo" (lace making) that she had learnt as a child. She also taught girls who wanted to learn that art. Besides being a craft school, her house was also a school of spiritual life not only for the apprentices-disciples but also for the many people who began to frequent her house to listen to her advice and ask for her prayers.
These comings and goings aroused suspicion so the then Archbishop Tommaso de Stefano, in 1902 stopped the Confessor from going to Luisa to free her from her "usual state", but the ban only lasted for a few weeks. The following year the Archbishop decided to go in person to Luisa to interrogate her and he drew a positive judgment. His successor, Archbishop Francesco Paolo Carrano, went to visit Luisa and obtained for her in 1908 from the Holy See the permission for daily Mass in her home. When in 1910 the Anthonian Female Orphanage of Father Annibale Maria Di Francia (1851-1927) was inaugurated in Trani, he talked about Luisa and her Diary to the Sicilian religious. Indeed, the relationship with Father Annibale started during that period and Luisa wrote to him for the first time on March 20, 1911.
Saint Annibale from Messina was immediately captivated by Luisa’s spirituality and went repeatedly to visit her. He was especially fascinated by her way of reflecting on the Passion of our Lord, so he asked her to write those meditations in a separate notebook. The result was the work that he strove to publish in 1915 with the title "The Hours of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ with Spiritual Reflections and Reparations". In the face of such a great success, he decided to republish it in a new edition in the same year and then in 1917 and in 1925. The text was progressively enriched with further "practices" and some prayers, and above all with an appendix that for the first time reported few pages of the Diary under the title "Treatise on the Divine Will." He even wrote a circular letter addressed to Bishops to recommend the use of the book in the Institutes present in their dioceses.
Then, Father Annibale, the founder of the Rogationists and Daughters of Divine Zeal, was able to review the first 18 volumes of the Diary by 1926 and, as we can see from the many letters exchanged with Luisa, he prepared the publication of the texts. Indeed, the Archbishop of Trani, Giuseppe Maria Leo, had appointed Father Annibale as "Ecclesiastical Examiner" for publications in his Diocese, and after Father Annibale gave his Nihil obstat, the Archbishop also affixed his "imprimatur" on the first 18 manuscript volumes of the Diary giving the green light for the publication. However, the death of Father Annibale Maria Di Francia, prevented the realization of this publishing project.
St. Annibale, in the Preface to The Twenty-Four Hours of the Passion, has left us an idea of how Luisa Piccarreta appeared to all of those who met her, often coming from far away. He describes:
“This spouse of Jesus Crucified, who spends the night in painful ecstasies and in sufferings of every kind, during the day, sitting on her bed doing her needlework - nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing appears, of one who has suffered so much during the night; there is nothing, not one thing extraordinary or supernatural in her air. On the contrary, she appears as a healthy person, happy and jovial. She speaks, converses, laughs when appropriate, but receives few friends. Sometimes, some troubled heart confides in her, and asks for her prayers. She listens kindly and comforts, but never advances to make prophecies, never a word which might hint at revelations. The great comfort which she presents is always one, always the same: the Divine Will”.
Esteem for Father Annibale led Luisa to accept the invitation to move to the house of the Daughters of Divine Zeal in Corato (October 7, 1928), built by the will of Father Annibale, the founder, and consecrated to the "Divine Will".
After the death of Don Gennaro, Don Francesco De Benedittis (1868-1926) succeeded as confessor, but he died prematurely and was replaced by Don Benedetto Calvi (1886-1968) who, in collaboration with Rogationist Father Pantaleone Palma, gave new impulse to the publication of the Diary. Indeed, in 1930 the book entitled "In the Kingdom of the Divine Will. History of a Soul. First part. Rising Dawn" was born. In it the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Volumes and nearly the entire 4th Volume of the Diary were published with many corrections compared to the original manuscript of Luisa. Furthermore, in 1932 the book ‘The Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of the Divine Will. Meditations for the month of May’ was published. It was re-edited in 1933 and in 1937. Finally, Don Benedetto in 1934 looked after the 5th edition of The Twenty-Four Hours of the Passion with the attached Treatise on the Divine Will. This work also had a German translation in 2 Volumes (1936 and 1938) by the Benedictine Father Ludwig Beda.
However, as early as 1930, the first misunderstandings arose and the first alert by the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in Vatican about the presumed financial gain to Luisa Piccarreta from the publications and also the question of the need for a priest to free her from her "usual state".
The response of Superiors to the denunciation was immediate with the prohibition of further publications. On the doctrinal level too, there were many controversies in relation to the "special and unique mission" of Luisa to let everybody know the truth of "living in the Divine Will of Jesus". Meanwhile, in the "House of the Divine Will" the Christmas novena was animated each year by reading the meditations "Excesses of Love" " that Luisa had already meditated since the age of 17. A similar thing happened too for the month of May and October with the reading of the book of The Virgin Mary.
The inquiry of the Holy Office, pursuant to further concerns, reached its peak in 1938 and led to two unexpected and painful acts. The first was in May with the requisition of the 34 handwritten notebooks of Luisa’s Diary by the Carmelite Father Lorenzo of St. Basilio, Theologian of the Apostolic dataria. The second was in July, when the Holy Office ordered the registration of the publications in the List of Prohibited Books. On September 11, The Roman Observer reported the decree and in an attached article explained the reasons for the sentence of "excessive mysticism".
Although worn out, a few days later Luisa found the strength to write a letter in which she completely submitted to the Authority of the Church, disapproving and condemning in her own writings what the Church censured and condemned. Humiliated, she was forced to leave the Anthonian Institute and moved to a private house where she lived for the last years of her life.
"Luisa the Saint" - as her fellow citizens used to call her - died on the morning of
March 4, 1947
after a severe pneumonia, but her body did not suffer rigor mortis. For three days her body was on view to the public and everybody verified that her limbs were flexible except for some spine vertebrae that prevented her from being laid in a coffin. So it was necessary to build a special coffin, in which she could be in a sitting position, the position in which everybody had known her. Her funeral with great flow of people coming from everywhere and great ecclesial importance, was "a day of celebration for the entire town of Corato". Luisa was laid to rest in the city Cemetery in the family chapel of Don Benedetto Calvi.
In April 1947, the Archbishop of Trani. Francesco Paolo Petronelli issued a mandate to collect information relating to Luisa’s rehabilitation by the Holy See and a year later the new Archbishop Reginaldo Giuseppe Maria Addazi O.P. granted permission to print a holy card of Luisa with a relic, giving her the title of "Servant of God" and imploring her beatification with a special "prayer". In 1963, he also arranged that her remains were transferred to the Shrine of Saint Maria Greca Parish.
In 1987, Archbishop Giuseppe Carata, promoted the establishment of an Association to take care of collecting memories and objects that belonged to Luisa Piccarreta. Archbishop Carmelo Cassati in 1994 received authorization from the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints to open a Diocesan Inquiry into her life, virtues and reputation of sanctity. The "Pious Association Luisa Piccarreta, Little Children of the Divine Will" of Corato represented the "Actor" of the Cause. The new Archbishop Giovan Battista Pichierri closed the Diocesan Inquiry in 2005.