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Sister Gemma Barrichello dies aged 102: "One who prays and loves the Lord lives and dies happy"

In recent days we have learned with sadness of the death at 102 years of age of Sister Gemma Barrichello


After a life dedicated to the Lord, the community of Lecceto, where she spent her last 17 years, wanted to dedicate her final words in memory of this remarkable woman who right up to the end of her days - and despite illness and the general wear and tear of time leaving her bedridden - chose to live according to the maxim: "One who prays and loves the Lord lives and dies happy".



With God in her sights from an early age


As her sisters in the community recount in a touching biographical sketch sent to the Curia (and shared below), Sister Gemma’s sole ambition from a very early age was to belong to God.


She was born in San Vito di Bassano del Grappa on 11 September 1922. Baptised Domenica - although everyone at home called her Assunta - she was the first of ten children born to Giovanni and Ines Battilana. And, as the eldest, it was her duty to help her mother at home to look after her siblings and her father, a farmer, to tend the vegetable garden.


From an early age, her parents educated her in the love of God and prayer. The fact that they had a church very close by, bordering the family's land, was a key factor in her discernment and her eventual definitive “Yes” to the Lord, for there was no morning that she missed Holy Mass.



The drama of the Second World War and the spectacular flowering of vocations within the family


The Second World War brought great pain to her family, as it did to so many families. Her brother Angelo, who had been drafted with other boys, was immediately deported to a concentration camp in Germany. Her mother Agnes, together with other mothers, travelled to Germany on a goods train to get news of her son. However, she failed to see him, and on her return, she miscarried the child she was carrying.


At the end of the war, and after two years of captivity, Angelo finally returned home in a "pitiful state". It was only at that point, and after many years of trying, that Assunta was finally able to convince her parents to permit her to enter the Augustinian monastery of Schio, in the province of Vicenza. She did so on 25 March 1946. The new Sister Gemma was 23.


Her younger sister, Antonietta, eight years her junior, also wished to consecrate her life to God, and followed her to Schio in 1952, taking the name of Sister. M. Petronilla of the Holy Spirit at her vows.


Two more sisters - the twins Pia and Agnese - also felt the call of the Lord. However, as there were already two sisters in Schio, they entered the Monastery of the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament in Bassano del Grappa.


Four vocations in the same family blessed by God!



The living memory of her community of Lecceto: "A quick wit to the end"


To remember what it meant for each of us to have Sister Gemma as a sister is to be amazed at the beauty of our contemplative life and how intimacy with the Lord Jesus, lived in the gift of self in the Community and in intercessory prayer for the world, makes life joyful, luminous and full of gratitude.


Gemma's life spanned more than a century of world history; we lived with her the last 17 years of her life, since she and four other Sisters, including her own birth sister Sister Petronilla, left their monastery in Schio to join our Community, as they were the only ones left. At that time we were impressed by the courage, maturity, faith and joy with which they took the painful decision to close their monastery. Sister Gemma was the eldest and immediately became involved in the life of the new community, especially enjoying the Liturgy.


She had a strong character which mellowed as the years went by. She also had a quick wit and a sharp intelligence which she retained to the end.


In our hearts, it is especially the last years of her illness that remain vivid, as a witness of how much the Grace and Mercy of God works in those who love him.


She spent her days in continual prayer, holding her Rosary beads in her hands. Whenever anyone came to visit her, she welcomed them with great joy and thankfulness. She had a special, different tenderness for everyone. We felt loved by her in a unique way, as the Lord Jesus loves us.



Her last days were spent in her cell, moving from the bed to the armchair and back, her Rosary beads constantly in her hand, in unending prayer, waiting for her longed-for meeting with the Bridegroom.


She never imagined that she would be the last nun of Schio to be alive, or reaching and then passing her 100 years. She used to say that she was in the purification of her life; we say that she was a beautiful living testament of the joy that comes from a long life given to the Lord, to his Church, and to the Order of St. Augustine, and which was contagious to those around her.


Her death, which occurred while we were all with her praying the Rosary, is the culmination of Sister Gemma’s life: "One who prays and loves the Lord lives and dies happy".



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