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Historical Archives Curiosities and news Discovering the “Zelatrici”

Discovering the “Zelatrici”

What roles could a laywoman play in the Catholic Church in the 20th century?

Very few examples come to mind, which do not stray very far from the role of the ‘perpetual’, the parish priest’s helper who took care of the parsonage and the church.

In reality, women have had various roles in the Catholic world. Thanks to Catholic Action, for example, many women animated women’s sections, promoted training and a range of activities for women, thanks to being part of a national association.

Little known is the role of a Zelatrice (zealous woman), a position still held by many women in Italian parishes today, but which in the past boasted many adherents.

Who were the Zelatrici and what did they do?

A Zelaous Woman could be single or married, with or without children, and she was particularly devoted to the Sacred Heart and attended monthly meetings in the parish where monthly prayer cards, prepared by the Apostleship of Prayer, were distributed. However, she was not simply engaged in daily prayer or works of charity.

One of her most important tasks was to spread the cult of the Sacred Heart and to seek out families and individuals who wanted to dedicate themselves to Him. The names were recorded by the Zelatrice in special registers that were sent to the AdP of the Province. Some were enrolled as infants, at the mother’s request, and in many cases an entire family nucleus was enrolled.

Thanks to this work, a sort of registry of devotees to the Sacred Heart is kept for various Italian cities.

The Zelatrici took part in the annual conventions organised by the Apostolate of Prayer, presenting papers on specific topics, exchanging views with Jesuits, proposing activities for other conventions or events for parishes in Italy.

Some conventions were organised specifically for zealous women, for the training of new members and to foster collaboration between representatives of the various regions.

Many women became acquainted with the Apostolate of Prayer in the church, becoming zealous women over time.

Girls were also involved, who unlike their male counterparts could not assist the priest at Mass; the role of altar server has been “opened” to girls for relatively few years. Thanks to the work of the Zelatrici, many girls were able to take part in activities other than at home.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the processions organised by the AdP and the activities were all for men, but with the appointment of the first female Zelatrici, the female contribution to this organisation was fundamental.

The Apostleship of Prayer

The Apostleship of Prayer originated within the Barnabite order and was then entrusted to the Society of Jesus, and for some years now has been renamed the ‘World Network of Prayer for the Pope‘.

Thanks to the recently reordered historical archive of the AOS of our Province, it is possible to further deepen both the history of this entity and some peculiar activities such as the distribution of the monthly cards, the preparation of the annual intentions and the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

The Apostolate of Prayer also gave life to several youth movements, which have now merged into the MEG: the Eucharistic Youth Movement. Among the first was that of the CIDROS, which also boasted several girls and young women as members, in the photograph some of the groups intent on information about the Cidros and the Sacred Heart.

The photographs show us some of the Cidros girls, many of whom would later become zealots.

In our column we have already investigated the lives of women and girls in Jesuit activities and women’s work in our sources.

Maria Macchi