Leopoldina Naudet (1773-1834) was an international and high-culture figure. She got to know the splendours of the imperial court from the inside, but she wasn’t influenced by them. Educated in a Jesuit world, she realized a spiritual and educational dream in Verona: in 1816, she founded a religious institute, the Sorelle della Sacra Famiglia. Here, in addition to conventual life, she devoted herself both to the education of high society girls and the less well-to-do. This proposal was well received in Verona and in the early 19th century, several institutions came into being.
Sorelle della Sacra Famiglia Institute – Piazza Cittadella, Verona. October 1817
The dark is about to give way to dawn. The convent is enveloped in silence. The light of an oil lamp shines through the window of a small study. Leopoldina, after a night spent in prayer, walks towards the wing of the boarding school. The rooms still smell of fresh paint; the scaffolding, removed just a few days ago, gives space to a welcoming environment. Everything is ready. Soon the young noblewomen will enter with their maids and begin their journey of knowledge with a prayer. Walking around, Leopoldina smiles slightly and prepares to receive them. She lingers between the rooms, thinking about the past: the encounter with Father Niccolò, the friendship with Maddalena di Canossa. Now it is up to her to carry on the same mission, welcoming more and more girls.
Leopoldina's family, the imperial court
Leopoldina was born in a multicultural context and her ties with the Austrian imperial court were close. Her father was French, while her mother was of German-Slovak origin. Both were in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold of Habsburg, brother of the emperor of Austria.
Leopoldina was born in Florence on 31 May 1773 and and the Grand Duke was her godfather. She and her sister Luisa had the chance to attend court life at Pitti Palace. At the age of 17, after receiving adequate education in Italy and France, she began her work as an educator at the court of Florence and then in Vienna. She taught the young archdukes French and worked on developing their attributes. In 1792 Leopoldina was in Prague with Princess Mary Ann for the foundation of a religious community whose purpose was to practice monastic life and do charity work.
Sorelle della Sacra Famiglia institute: realization of a dream
Prague, 1799. Leopoldina met Father Niccolò Paccanari, founder of a religious order inspired by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The priest advised her to give life to a female institute, the Dilette di Gesù (“The Beloved of Jesus”). Leopoldina agreed, but the order was later suppressed. The inspiration of Saint Ignatius remained in Leopoldina, who then arrived in Italy in search of a new city that could receive her mission. In 1808 she settled in Verona, as suggested by Canon Pacetti, and began collaborating with Maddalena di Canossa: they organized schools, catechism and assistance for poor girls in the San Zeno district.
Their mutual journey lasted eight years, until Leopoldina founded the Sorelle della Sacra Famiglia Institute in 1816. The convent was originally located in Piazza Cittadella. She and her companions devoted themselves to prayer and to the education of the young noble girls staying in the boarding school. Moreover she offered poor girls the opportunity to attend free schools.
Leopoldina defined herself as an instrument in the hands of God and was inspired by Jesus, Mary and Joseph as founders of the institute. “Only God” was the motto that summarized the spiritual path of her life.
Leopoldina considered the education of female youth to be fundamental and worked to ensure they reached a high-level in their studies, without forgetting the value of the spiritual dimension. Inspired by Ratio studiorum of the Compagnia di Gesù (the official document which defines the study programme), she wrote a series of texts between 1813 and 1817. One of which was the Piano di Studi, where the didactics of the institute were defined. The subjects were: languages (French, German, English, Italian), arithmetic, geography, history, fine arts, calligraphy, theory and practice of home economics and religion.
Founders of institutes in the early nineteenth century in Verona
Early nineteenth-century Verona was a city marked by war, epidemics and government changes. Misery spread and it was common to see groups of children begging. Education was reserved for the minority and some believed it harmful for women. However, several religious institutes with educational and welfare purposes arose in this period. Among the founders, in addition to Leopoldina, we remember: don Pietro Leonardi, Maddalena di Canossa, don Gaspare Bertoni, Vincenza Poloni e don Carlo Steeb, don Antonio Provolo, don Nicola Mazza.
CONA, Rino, Leopoldina Naudet (1773-1834). La tua volontà, come in cielo anche in terra, San Pietro in Cariano (Verona): Gabrielli Editori 2016.
NAUDET Leopoldina, Memorie secrete. Giornale, ed. Cristina Frescura, Verona: Gabrielli Editori 2012.
NAUDET Leopoldina, Conferenze spirituali, ed. Adriana Valerio, Verona: Gabrielli Editori 2014.
NAUDET Leopoldina, L’Epistolario, ed. Adriana Valerio, Verona: Gabrielli Editori 2016.
SIMONELLI Cristina, Leopoldina Naudet. Sette stanze e un’ouverture, Gabrielli Editori, Verona 2009.