Irene Bertoni was 18 years-old during World War II. And it was at this tumultuous time that she discovered God's vocational call for her to be a mother.
She adopted two abandoned children, and with the blessing of her bishop founded the Catholic charitable work Nomadelfia, along with a priest named Father Zeno Saltini.
Mama Irene fully lived out her calling and died on May 15, the Solemnity of Pentecost, at 93 years-old. She was the adoptive mother of 58 children and an example for dozens of women who followed in her path.
Irene died in the home that Blessed Paul VI donated to her in the 1960s. Hundreds of people, including Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, attended the funeral which was held at the Nomadelfia community, founded in 1948 and which currently is comprised of more than 50 families that take in abandoned children as their own.
Saint John Paul II visited this community in 1989 and praised their way of life, saying it reminded him of the early Christians. The community has also received Pope Francis' blessing.
Bishop Rodolfo Cetoloni of Grosseto, Italy, conveyed Pope Francis' condolences and said that with Irene “a new and prophetic form of motherhood was born, that of mothers by vocational calling, mothers who during their lives took care of children who would not have had any other affection, and raised them to become Christian men and women.”
He added that “the first mother of Nomadelfia” took seriously the Gospel's call to “loving and taking care of the least...which today are called by Pope Francis those 'thrown away' by a society that continues to marginalize and seeks to exclude.”
“We must thank Irene and all the mothers by vocational calling for this service that Nomdelfia has raised up and offered for our time,” he said.
Avvenire, the Italian bishop conference's newspaper, quoted Elisa Tirabassi, the adopted great-granddaughter of Irene who said that her “life mission was always to do what is good.”
She also recalled that her great grandmother's kitchen “had the warm smell of coffee and a relaxed atmosphere where calm reigned and we lived in peace.” Tirabassi said that Irene would wait until evening for them to come home from work, and take great pains to make sure they had everything they needed.
“Finally when dinner was served, she sat down in front of me with her wonderful and disarming smile which shown from a face from which seemed to disappear all the signs left by time and her intense life,” she said.
— ACI Prensa (@aciprensa) May 29, 2016