First Superior of the Redemptoristines of
Born at Naples on 5 March, 1699, of a very honourable family, Matilda de Vito entered the monastery of Scala at the age of 20 upon the advise of Fr Thomas Falcoia of the Pious Workers. She spent nearly half a century there and was elected superior several times.
While she is not the founder of her Order, she became one of its principal supports. The Convent of St-Agatha-of-the-Goths to which she was called by St Alphonsus, who was then Ordinary of the place, and from which other Redemptoristine Convents would come forth, owes to her alongside its existence, the traditions of fervor which it perpetuates.
When the buildings of Scala where falling into ruin, it was Mother Maria Rafaela who raised a new monastery. The spiritual edifice demanded of her no less care and ability. The virtuous nun contributed a great deal, on her part, to its establishment. Mother Maria Rafaela was a witness of the anguish and conflicts of Venerable Mother Maria Celeste Crostarosa, shared her pain and her “enuis” and was herself favoured with Heavenly gifts. Her strong mind and perfect docility preserved her from all “ecart” on this difficult road.
St Alphonsus gave witness later, in a most surprising manner, to the esteem in which he held her. She put all her care into guiding her spiritual daughters on the road of perfection by imitating the virtues and examples of Our Lord Jesus Christ. She possessed the gift of prayer in a very high degree. One of the principal cares of the Servant of God was to work for the salvation of sinners. She died at the age of 79 having spent 58 years in religion.
On the occasion of her death, St Alphonsus, then Bishop of St-Agatha-of-the-Goths, in order to affirm the lessons which the holy nun had given to her daughters throughout her long career, left to them, among other advices, this which reveals her great apostolic soul:
..... “I instruct you most especially to pray for sinners and above all for the infidels and others who live separated from the Church. The nun who does not pray for sinners proves thereby the little love she bears to Jesus Christ; those who love the Sweet Saviour wish to see Him loved by all the world. I recommend to you, therefore, sinners and the souls in Purgatory.”
Qui converti fecerit peccatorem…salvabit animam ejus. [St James V,20] †
(After the Memorial Alphonsien.)