Sister Nemesia: the word of life is kindness
Our young group of St. Jeanne Antide Friends remained struck by the figure of Sr. Nemesia Valle. Knowing to be close to the first centenary of her death (Aosta 18th December 1916/ 2016) and of the 170th anniversary of her birth (Borgaro, 23rd June 1847/2017) we felt an urge to speak about her and her work. It’s not easy to do such a job because she wasn’t a common sister. In her simplicity she became an extraordinary sister. Across the book entitled “It’s nice to be good”, written by the priest A. Pronzato who has been defined by Pope Francis as creator of concerns, I have tried to point out the aspects that struck my sensitivity as a woman, a mother and a committed lay person.
The love for the Sisters of Charity who are in the first place educators during her years in the boarding school in Besançon, and then a shelter and consolation in Aosta during her dark and sad moments of her adolosesence, will open her eyes and help her understand her vocation: that of becoming a nun or to put it better, BECOMING JESUS. She thus starts her formation with the sisters of Vercelli (she will personally say that they had slowed down the puppy…) and when she is still 21 years old, January 1868, she is sent to Tortona, in the province of Alexandria where she will remain for 35 whole years. In her exceptionally simple and humble life, she managed to love all those who approached her, while giving herself with great kindness in a unique, personal, attentive, wise and deep manner.
Strong and determined, she thus spends most of her life in Tortona while being transformed into an angel. Here, she won’t be only a prepared and versatile teacher, but she will take care of everybody: of the pupils, the orphans, the poor, the priests, the families, the seminarians and even of the military towards whom she will provide every type of needs. Her protective method, based on love, will be fully accomplished in every aspect of her task especially soon after her election as Superior of the house of Tortona in 1886.
This is what sr. Nemesia used to tell the elderly and the sick sisters: “They are the blessing of the house”. She knew that they weren’t a burden, but a blessing. She didn’t hesitate to turn to them for advice regarding certain worrying issues: she soon used to see a light shining in those eyes! Being a highly artistic and cultured woman, she didn’t disdain the simplest tasks but she even looked for them; she didn’t accept anything for herself, neither glory nor gifts, but all her possessions went in favour of the needy. The key words of this epoch: mother, psychologist, talent, scout! Yes, because she looked at the souls and in the eyes. She resolved problems and demands but she managed to grasp vocations and plans. Her objective will be that of promoting the entire care of the person.
As I have already said, she remains in Tortona for 35 whole years: she is a reference figure for all the community. Thus when they knew that Sr. Nemesia will be sent to Borgaro (TO), where she will have to assume the charge of novice mistress, a general discomfort began to reign. Key words: “she didn’t make us do things, but she did them with us”; we used to call her grandmother out of tenderness and kindness; councillor, trust in the other, always serene and patient with everybody. “Jesus, empty me of myself, clothe me with Yourself!” was her motto.
From the apostolate of Tortona to self-sacrifice of Borgaro, Sr. Nemesia doesn’t change her personal programme but she accomplishes it, while adapting it to the events and the circumstances. Starting from scratch she will work tirelessly following down the years 500 novices! As usual, her work will be characterised by flexibility and availability. In front of her, each one felt favoured by her because she managed to “celebrate charity in a festive and creative climate”. In order to make space to GOD ALONE, she gives the beautiful image of the foundation stone to express herself and her faith.
She knew how to be joyful and silent at the right time, how to take a stand while remaining charitable and consoling. This is an example of an authentic and modern Christian and that of a great educator. She teaches how to live deeply one’s Christian vocation in his/her reality without neglecting any detail. For Sr. Nemesia, love consisted in allowing the other to reach you in a responsible manner; it consists in dying to make space for the other, for the neighbour and for God.
A name used for this great Blessed has been that of a missionary. I would also add that of mercy because she knew how to put into practice the works of corporal and spiritual mercy, bending over everyone, always ready to raise, to bandage, to heal, to quench one’s thirst and to love.
Today, sister “Good for nothing” as she liked to call herself, teaches us to listen as the Samaritan listened to the silent request of the wounded man whom he met on his path. Identifying oneself with the other, carrying his burden and destroying the barriers always, hence becoming as she used to say, “externally hard but internally soft”, because goodness must be handy without having to be excavated, it must be always ready for every emergency.
FOJ – Arpino