Roberto de Mattei
Dona Lucilia Ribeiro dos Santos
Lucilia Ribeiro dos Santos,(61) Plinio’s mother, was born on 22 April 1876 in Pirassununga, in the State of São Paulo, the second of five children. Her childhood was spent in quiet domestic surroundings in a small house in the exclusive neighbourhood of Campos Eliseos. Here, at the age of thirty, Lucilia met and married the lawyer João Paulo Corrêa de Oliveira,(62) who had moved to São Paulo from the Northeast of Brazil, perhaps at the suggestion of his uncle, the councillor João Alfredo.
While Dona Lucilia awaited Plinio’s birth, her physician told her the delivery would be risky and that it was probable that either she or the child would die. He asked if she would not prefer therefore to abort, thus avoiding risking her life. Dona Lucilia answered in a calm but firm manner: “Doctor, this is not a question one asks a mother! It should not even have crossed your mind.”(63)
This act of heroism shows the virtue of a lifetime. Cannon Trochu writes: “Virtue easily passes from the hearts of mothers to the hearts of their children.”(64) Educated by a courageous and strong Christian mother — Father Lacordaire wrote about his mother — religion passed from her heart into mine, like milk that is virginal and devoid of bitterness”.65 In the same way Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira recalled that he owed Dona Lucilia the spiritual stamp that marked his life from his infancy:
“My mother taught me to love Our Lord Jesus Christ, she taught me to love the Holy Catholic Church.”(66)
“I received from her something to be taken in a profoundly serious way, the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Faith, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to Our Lady.”(67)
Statues in the church of the Sacred Heart, not far from the home of the Ribeiro dos Santos
At a time when Leo XIII had exhorted people to place in the Heart of Jesus “all hope, and from it salvation is to be confidently besought”,(68) the devotion that characterized the life of Dona Lucilia was that to the Sacred Heart, the devotion par excellence of modern times.(69) There was a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart not far from the home of the Ribeiro dos Santos.(70) The young mother used to go there every day bringing Plinio and Rosée with her. It was here, while observing his mother in prayer amidst the supernatural atmosphere characteristic of the churches of old, that the vision of the Church which deeply marked him, was formed in Plinio’s spirit. He would recall: “I perceived that her way of being came from her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through Our Lady.”(71)
Dona Lucilia always remained faithful to the devotion of her youth. In the last years of her life, when she no longer had the strength to go to church, she used to spend long hours in prayer, until late at night, before an alabaster statue of the Sacred Heart enthroned in the main hall of her apartment.(72)
The dominant note of Dona Lucilia’s soul was that of piety and mercy. Her soul was marked by an immense capacity for affection, goodness and a maternal love that was projected beyond the two children she had received from Providence. Plinio used to say: “She possessed tenderness to a great degree: she was most affectionate as a daughter, most affectionate as a sister, most affectionate as a wife, most affectionate as a mother, as a grandmother and even as a great-grandmother. But, I have the impression that there is something in her that gives the tonic note of all these affections: it is because she is, above all, a mother! She possessed an overflowing love not only for the two children she had, but also for the children she did not have. One would say she was made to have millions of children, and her heart beat with the desire to know them.”(73)
Those who never knew Dona Lucilia can perceive her moral physiognomy through the image passed on in some expressive photographs and through the testimonies of those who remember her in her old age.(74) She represented the model of a perfect lady who would have charmed a St Francis of Sales in his search for Philothea.(75)
We can imagine that Dona Lucilia educated Plinio with the words that St Francis of Sales addressed to his brother, accompanying him one evening to a party: “Soyons distingués ad majorem Dei gloriam.”
The perfection of good manners is the fruit of an ascesis that can only be achieved by an education distilled over centuries and by a virtuous effort, such as is often found in contemplative convents, where a princely education is given to the young novices. After all, man is made up of body and soul. The life of his soul is destined to be noticeably manifested through that of his body, charity to be expressed in external acts of courtesy. Courtesy is a social rite nourished by Christian charity, directed to the glory of God. “Courtesy is to charity as the liturgy is to prayer: the rite that expresses it, the action that embodies it, the pedagogy that encourages it. Courtesy is the liturgy of brotherly charity.”(76)
Lucilia Ribeiro dos Santos embodied the best spirit of the old Paulista aristocracy. In the oldfashioned kindness of his mother, an expression of her supernatural charity, the young Plinio saw a Christian love taken to extreme consequences and a similar radical repulsion for the modern and revolutionary world that was being established. From then on, the aristocratic attitude and pleasantness of manner was a constant in his life. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, who in his ways reminded one of Cardinal Merry del Val, the great Secretary of State of St Pius X famous for his humility of soul and the perfection of his good manners, was magnificently capable of being in society. His behaviour was exemplary, his conversation inexhaustible and fascinating.
Providence arranged that this maternal stamp would be nourished and renewed by a daily life together that lasted until 1968, when Dona Lucilia died at the age of 92.
61) On this extraordinary figure we refer to the biography by J. S. Clá Dias, Dona Lucilia, with a preface by Father Antonio Royo Marín O.P. “This is” as the latter writes “an authentic and most complete Life of Dona Lucilia, that can stand up to the best ‘Lives of the Saints’ published to date around the world” (ibid, p. 11).
62) João Paulo Corrêa de Oliveira, born in 1887, died in São Paulo on 27 January 1961. Just as Dona Lucilia had had her model in her father, Antônio Ribeiro dos Santos, the life of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira was enlightened especially by that of his mother rather than by the figure of his father, although being linked to the latter by a long affectionate life together.
63) J. S. Clá Dias, Dona Lucilia, vol. I, p. 123.
64) Cannon François Trochu, Le Curé d’Ars, (Lyon-Paris, Librairie Catholique Emmanuel Vitte, 1935), p. 13. From St Augustine to St Bernard, to St Louis of France, up to St John Bosco and to St Thérèse of Lisieux, the number of saints that have recognised their own virtue in that of their mothers is great indeed. At the origins of holiness there often is, as Mgr Delassus observes, a virtuous mother. Cf. Mgr Henri Delassus, Le problème de l’heure présente, 2 vols., (Lille, Desclée de Brouwer, 1904), vol. II, pp. 575-6.
65) P. Baron, La jeunesse de Lacordaire, (Paris, Cerf, 1961), p. 39. Cf. also Geneviève Gabbois, Vous êtes presque la seule consolation de l’Eglise, in Jean Delumeau (edited by), La religion de ma mère. Le rôle des femmes dans la transmission de la foi,
(Paris, Cerf, 1992), pp. 314-15.
66) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “Un uomo, un’ideale, un’epopea”, Tradizione, Famiglia, Proprietà, no. 3, 1995, p. 2.
67) J. S. Clá Dias, Dona Lucilia, vol. III, p. 85. “There was a trait of my mother that I liked very much: At all times she was the lady of the house, through and through! In relation to her children, she maintained a maternal superiority that made me feel how
wrong I would be if I transgressed her authority. And also how such an attitude on my part would sadden her because it was both bad manners and a bad deed. She was the lady of the house, because she made sure order was maintained in all aspects of life. Her authority was mild. Sometimes mother would punish us a bit. But even when punishing, or reprimanding, her gentleness was so apparent that it comforted the person. The procedure with Rosée was analogous, although more delicate, since she was a girl. The reprimand, nonetheless, did not exclude benevolence. And mother was always ready to hear the justification her children wished to give her. Thus, goodness was the essence of her dominion. In other words, it was a superiority exercised for love of the hierarchical order of things, but impartial and affectionate in relation to the person to whom she applied it”. Ibid, vol. II, pp. 16-17.
68) Leo XIII, Encyclical Annum Sacrum of 25 May 1899, in IP, Le Fonti della Vita Spirituale, (1964), vol. I, p. 198. The consecration of mankind to the Sacred Heart, announced by Leo XIII in his Encyclical, took place on 11 June 1890.
69) The devotion to the Sacred Heart was illustrated by three magisterial Pontifical documents: the Encyclicals Annum Sacrum (1889) by Leo XIII; Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928) by Pius XI; Haurietis Aquas (1956) by Pius XII. Its great apostle in the nineteenth century was the French Jesuit Henri Ramière (1821-84), who directed the development throughout the world of the “Apostolate of Prayer” association. In Brazil, the great propagator of devotion to the Sacred Heart was Father Bartolomeo Taddei born in San Giovanni Valle Roveto, Italy, on 7 November 1837. Ordained to the priesthood on 19 April 1862, he entered the noviciate of the Society of Jesus on 13 November of the same year and was sent to the new S. Luiz Gonzaga School in Itú in Brazil. Here he founded the “Apostolate of Prayer” and began to spread the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the focus of his life. At the time of his death, 3 June 1913, the number of Centres of the “Apostolate of Prayer” he had promoted throughout Brazil numbered 1,390 with about 40,000 zealots and 2,708,000 associates. Cf. Luigi Roumanie S.S., Il P. Bartolemo Taddei della compagnia di Gesù apostolo del S. Cuore in Brasile, Rome, Messaggero del Sacro Cuore, 1924; Aristide Grève S.J., Padre Bartolomeu Taddei, Petropolis, Editora Vozes, 1938. On the devotion to the Sacred Heart cf. the classic work by Auguste Hamon, Histoire de la dévotion au Sacré-Coeur, 5 vols., Paris, Beauchesne, 1923-45, and among recent works Francesca Marietti, Il Cuore di Gesù. Culto, devozione, spiritualità, Milan, Editrice Ancora, 1991.
70) The Church of the Sacred Heart that stood in the area of Campos Eliseos, had been built between 1881 and 1885, and entrusted to the Salesians. Father Gaetano Falcone was for many years the esteemed Rector of the Shrine. In this Church, where at the end of the right side nave stood a lovely statue dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians, the devotion of the young Plinio for Our Lady “Auxilium Christianorum” of Lepanto and for the Most Holy Rosary grew.
71) J. S. Clá Dias, Dona Lucilia, vol. I, p. 214.
72) Ibid, vol. III, pp. 91-2. Dona Lucilia usually implored divine protection through the recital of Psalm 90 and of an “irresistible novena” to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. ibid, pp. 90-1.
73) Ibid, vol. III, p. 155.
74) Among her qualities was the constant polarisation between good and evil, as her nephew Adolpho Lindenberg recalls: “She upheld this polarization to a high degree: an action is very good, another is very bad. The fundamental horror she always had of sin was noteworthy. To me, as a child or young man, what stood out in her more than this or that virtue was: the notion that one must become enthused and make sacrifices for the good and the notion that evil is horrible and must be hated and despised”. J. S. Clá Dias, Dona Lucilia, vol. II, p. 173.
75) The saint from Savoy teaches in his famous work how a soul can live in the world without absorbing the spirit of the world: “God — he affirms — commands Christians, the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to his position and vocation”. St. Francis of Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, (New York, Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 36-7.
76) Roger Dupuis S.J., Paul Celier, Courtoisie chrétienne et dignité humaine, (Paris, Mame, 1955), p. 182