Roman convents opened to Jews during the occupation: An order from the top

In reconstructing the map of the religious
houses of Rome which hid
Jews and other fugitives during the
city’s occupation, it was known that
the Canadian Adorers of the Most
Precious Blood, on Via Francesco
Domenico Guerrazzi, had hidden 80
Jews. Period.
Further research on the subject
was unproductive, as in many other
cases wherein the relocation of religious
houses obscured the direct
traceability of sources for scholars. It
proved even more difficult if one
sought it in the houses where the
events of 1943-44 took place. Indeed,
the convent attached to the Church
of the Most Precious Blood on the
Janiculum hill was inaugurated in
The sisters felt tremendous gratitude
towards Pius XII and to Cardinal
Marmaggi, his mediator with them.
During this period of hospitality
the nuns cared for Jews as well as
other people seeking shelter. They
often risked their own lives to procure
food and whatever comforts
were possible in the difficult circumstances
of war and the shortage of
rooms, at times accommodating up
to 100 people contemporaneously.
The Superior adds that the
Foundress, Mother Catherine-Aurélie
of the Precious Blood (Aurélie
Caouette) would certainly have acted
in the same manner, just to respond
the the Pope’s wishes. Also
according to the annals, on 11 May
1942 the Apostolic Visitator insp ected
had been keen to inspect the imwho
was hidden with his grandmother
Emma Piperno, his father
Giuseppe, his mother Valeria De
Nola, his two older brothers and his
younger sister Fiorella. Initially, the
Cistercians accepted female family
memb ers, who entered the monastery
on Via XX September on 24 October
1943, from the Clarissan Missionaries
on Via Vicenza. Then, in
late January 1944, Renato arrived
with his father and older brothers,
Angelo and Alberto. In those
months, the Astrologos were unaware
of the presence of the other
fugitives, but in fact, the nuns of
Santa Susanna were hiding a total of
42 people. Contact with the Superior
was mediated by Fr Libero
Raganella, of the Josephites of
Murialdo, who recalled that it was
precisely an “order from the top”
which opened the doors of the
cloister. Other news has been published
recently from the diary of Sr
Francesca Teresa di Candeloro, of
the Augustinian Oblates on Via
Garibaldi. The diary states that the
Pop e’s express wish was not obligatory,
as Fabio Isman recalled in Il
Messaggero on 17 October 2014. Other
sources reveal that the same nuns
had already obtained Pope Pius XII’s
permission to shelter a Jewish family
with an elderly husband and a sick
wife. The permission had come on 1
October 1943, through the Substitute
of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop
Montini, who had entrusted
his response to Archbishop Traglia,
the Vice-Regent, (Actes et documents
du Saint Siége, volume IX, edited by
Pierre Blet, Robert A. Graham, Angelo
Martini, Burkhart Schneider).
An example of the normal routine of
institutional channels entrusted with
information, directives, responses.
Other cases are well known.
1925, housing the Adorers of the
Most Precious Blood of Our Lord
Jesus Christ; however, in 1971 the sisters
withdrew. Their Generalate is
now in Saint-Hyacinthe, in the
Province of Québec, Canada. Today,
Via Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi
on Rome’s Monte Verde is the site
of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign
Missions (PIME).
On 18 May 2009 a letter was sent
to Benedict XVI by Sr Micheline
Proulx, Superior General of the Sisters
Adorers of the Precious Blood,
through the Apostolic Nuncio. It
shed light on the matter and added
an unexpected piece to a composite
The Superior affirms that on 21
November 1941, through the
Apostolic Visitor, Pius XII gave approval
for the convent in Rome to
accept boarders, including some
Jews. The authorization also included
hosting certain people inside
the cloister, in order to provide
greater security.
On 10 January 1944, according to
the convent’s annals, a Vatican emissary
warned the Superior that all the
Jews of Rome were being hunted by
the Germans. Out of prudence the
message had to be communicated to
the boarders. They were asked to
leave the convent as soon as possible,
which they did, returning the
following day after learning that the
convent had been exempt from the
search. What secured the protection
was the fact that the building had
been declared “Vatican property” by
the official document signed by the
governor of Vatican City and by the
German commander, and forwarded
to the Superior on 18 October 1943.
provements to the
boarders’ rooms, and
was satisfied with all the
work. And thus ends the
information sent by the
Superior General in
The above-mentioned
data, when compared
with previously established
prove completely reliable.
Of the 220 religious
houses — 170 of
which were run by women
— ascertained to
have harboured Jews, it
is known that some responded
to the emergency, others waited for
directions from ecclesiastical authorities,
and many had the declaration
provided by the Vatican in October
1943. In cloistered convents, by the
nature of the institution and in accordance
with the canonical regulations
in force, it would have been
legally impossible to take the initiative,
by anticipating the permission
of the Pope, perhaps of his vicar,
certainly of the Apostolic Visitator
who was in direct contact with the
convents. Comparable practices are
confirmed by the information available
with regard to similar institutions.
Regarding the Cistercian monastery
of Santa Susanna, on 3 June
2014 L’Osservatore Romano published
the testimony of Renato Astrologo,