Elisabetta Anna Ravasio, (Bettina), was born in Capriate San Gervasio, a small town in the province of Bergamo, Italy, on 4 September 1907, into a well-respected devout family. The family had prospered raising cattle and silkworms, but suffered bankruptcy with the failure of the local bank. Bettina, the youngest of six children was born prematurely at six months shortly after this crisis. Following the birth, her mother became very ill and was not expected to live. She did survive, but remained bedridden for the next seven years and thereafter remained an invalid unable to manage the home. The little baby survived contrary to expectations. For a crib, she was laid in a soap box; she ate very little and failed to thrive. By the age of four she still did not walk or talk.
It was at this age that heaven intervened in response to the grandfather’s intercession. A beautiful lady appeared near her box, told her to get up and go to her mother. She got up and ran to her mother’s bed saying: The Lady told me to get up and come to you. Then she went back to her box and stayed there to the astonishment of her parents. The Lady came a second time and ordered her to go and meet her grandfather who was returning from his pilgrimage to a Marian shrine: “You will meet him under the plane trees, before the church”. Bettina obeyed; ran to the church and met her grandfather under the plane trees. They went to the church and gave thanks to the Blessed Virgin for Bettina’s miraculous recovery.
When Bettina was five, the eldest daughter Teresa left home to get married. As the mother was still unable to carry out the housework, it fell to Bettina to act as carer and to do practically everything, except the cooking. Her education was minimal. At school the teacher used her to run errands and study at home was limited due to her domestic responsibilities. Aged 12 Bettina started work at the Crespi textile factory which involved standing at the loom for nine hours a day with an hour’s journey there and back. Her midday meal was a small portion of cold polenta.
In October 1927 Bettina left home to become a postulant in the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles in Lyons, France. Her new life began with disappointments and bitterness. She had great difficulty learning to speak French. Communal life lacked the charity and support she had expected. Vegetable soup – the one thing that she could never eat at home – she had now to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On becoming a novice she was given the name Eugenia. After two years in the novitiate there was much hesitation in letting her make her vows. She was considered too weak, too thin and always ill; perhaps not even very intelligent, given her inability to learn French. There was talk about sending her back home, but eventually she was allowed to take the veil.
Once professed, Sister Eugenia was sent to the mother house where her job was to do housework for the senior nuns. There she found an atmosphere of profound division, with the Superior General in conflict with the Local Superior and a whole web of internal politics which had divided the community. She took refuge in silence trying to love and serve everyone without siding with anyone with the result that she drew reprisal from all sides. She received frequent and groundless insults because she was Italian, a foreigner. She suffered greatly from those in charge.
In this atmosphere Sister Eugenia gathered a group of five sisters of different nationalities who committed themselves to accepting all the other sisters, to smile at everyone. Their goal was to create and foster unity amongst themselves. For the cause of unity, they offered their lives To the Father through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, with Mary.
Eventually the Superior General’s mandate expired and Sister Ludovica, a woman of great faith and humility was elected – it was a new beginning. Sister Ludovica was one of the few nuns that had sensed Sister Eugenia’s greatness of spirit. She confided in her and asked her help.
Our Father’s ‘Message’
In 1932 Sister Eugenia had an apparition in which God the Father dictated a message to her in Latin – a language she did not comprehend. She recorded that the Father:
Having assumed the appearance of an ordinary man by placing His crown and His glory at His Feet, He took the globe of the world and held it to His Heart, supporting it with His left Hand. He then sat next to me.
The essence of the Message was to prepare God’s children to accept in their hearts the Father who wished to establish His kingdom of love and unite all men into one big family:
1) I am coming to banish the excessive fear that My creatures have of Me.
2) I am coming to bring hope to men and nations – that they will live in peace and security.
3) I am coming to make Myself known just as I am, so that men’s trust may increase together with their love for Me, their Father.
The Father expressed His wish that the Church establish a day dedicated to honouring Him under the title: Father of all Mankind, and chose the first Sunday of August or the 7th day of that month.
Sister Eugenia underwent a further trial. She fell ill with a fever and spent the whole of 1933 in bed during which her only nourishment was two teaspoons of sugar in water each day. For a full year she lived virtually on the Eucharist, the veracity of which was closely observed and tested. By Easter 1934 she had recovered completely and resumed her job as ‘sweeper’. The atmosphere that surrounded her was remarkably different. In June of that year, she was elected Counsellor General and, in October, appointed teacher of the novices.
In 1935 the Bishop of Grenoble instituted a commission of experts to conduct a diocesan enquiry into the alleged apparition and Message – it would last several years. Endless interrogations, intimidations, reproaches, threats and accusations were repeated at every encounter. They bombarded her with questions, and when she realised she could not get anywhere she remained silent, which was interpreted as guilt and pride. Since the ‘experts’ could not make her retract anything, they sent her to a mental hospital.
When eventually she returned to the Institute, Sister Ludovica told her that from the day she had been subjected to that long interrogation and sent to the mental hospital, she herself had become ill. She offered her life for the glory of the Father and now felt that her offering had been accepted. A month later, on 9 February 1935, Sister Ludovica died in Sister Eugenia’s arms. She was 44 years old and had been Superior General for only three years. Sister Eugenia had then to take over the whole Institute. She had to prepare the General Chapter for the election of a new Superior all on her own. The Chapter was convened on 7th August and Sister Eugenia (age 25) was unanimously elected Superior General.
The enquiry came to an end and submitted its findings to the Bishop of Grenoble who concluded:
Following the dictates of my soul and my conscience and with the keenest sense of my responsibility to the Church, I declare that supernatural and divine intervention seems to me the only logical and satisfactory explanation of the facts.
The new Superior General set out to renew the Institute. She began with the novitiate of the mother house in Lyons introducing shorthand, home economics and typing courses. All who were able were encouraged to take up a specialty and within a few years she could rely on dozens of professional nurses, teachers and medical, literary and scientific graduates. Novitiates were opened in Africa and Europe.
The spirituality of the Mother General based on unity in the Father eliminated nationalistic barriers. There was a new enthusiasm, a true fellowship and a smile on everyone’s face. The Institute, under the generalship of Mother Eugenia, reached six thousand members in 67 Institutes, becoming one of the strongest missionary forces in the Church.
In 1939, Mother Eugenia visited the Ivory Coast where she discovered the sad state of the lepers on Desirée Island. She set about obtaining land on which to build a leper colony that would be an autonomous city, with a house for every leper, schools, a hospital, cinema and church. Money was raised and within three years the city of Adzopé was up and running. All the lepers of Desirée Island were brought to Adzopé where each one received his own house. The full project took 10 years to complete.
Mother Eugenia’s twelve-year generalship expired in 1947. She was re-elected unanimously, but immediately faced a betrayal. Sister Odilia, whom Mother Eugenia had helped in various ways and had acted as her secretary on occasion, wanted to stay close to her. She gave Mother an ultimatum: Either you elect me as your secretary, or I will take revenge. Mother Eugenia was not one to give in to this kind of blackmail and rejected her request. The would-be secretary complained to the Holy Office accusing Mother Eugenia of treating her immorally.
Mother Eugenia was called to Rome and the accusations were put to her at the Holy Office. She did not defend herself, but kept silent. She was presented with two resignation declarations and asked to sign the one she preferred. She chose the one in which she declares that she is leaving her position because she is incompetent. For the love of God, I chose the most humiliating one and I signed: ‘Poor sister Eugenia’. By order of Propaganda Fide she was sent to the mother house in Lyons. A new Mother General was elected – Sister Odilia, her former secretary!
Sister Eugenia was entrusted with the care of the orphans, a task she performed for two and a half years in an atmosphere of tension and hostility. She was not allowed to talk or write to anyone, not even her family. She could not go into the garden or courtyard. She was subject to every kind of innuendo: she had been excommunicated; she was punished because of disobedience and so on.
In 1948, encouraged by a Cardinal, Mother Eugenia left the congregation to found a new religious work to promote the love of the Father and the unity that Jesus had prayed for: “Holy Father … that they may be one as we are one.” This was finally accomplished in 1988 when the Church officially recognised the work, Unitas in Christo ad Patrem. It continues its work today and promotes devotion to Mother Eugenia and The Father.
There is no account of the circumstances of her death, but it seems she spent her last 10 years in Anzio leading a life of solitude, work and prayer. She fell asleep in the Lord on 10 August 1990, surrounded by the affection and veneration of all who were close to her. She offered her life as a holocaust for the unity of all sons and daughters in Christ for the Glory of the FATHER.
The Message of the Father given to Mother Eugenia is a private revelation which we are free to accept or reject. It has the approval of the local Bishop, Alexander Caillot, and has never been condemned by the official Church.
There can be no doubt that Elisabetta Anna Ravasio was a remarkable woman who achieved a great deal in her life in spite of many difficulties and much suffering. She renewed her religious Congregation. She was instrumental in establishing a Leper City in the Ivory Coast and in her later years she founded Unitas in Christo ad Patrem.
Bishop Caillot acknowledged her vivacious and penetrating intelligence, her practice of the virtues to an heroic degree, her simplicity, humility and obedience. Maybe one day the Magisterium may give us a definitive opinion regarding her sanctity.