Not long after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Pope St. John Paul II presided over the beatification of a married couple who lived in Rome during an earlier time of global uncertainty and impending war. It was the Catholic Church’s first joint beatification of a married couple who lived ordinary family life: Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi.
To emphasize their joint intercession as husband and wife, one miraculous healing had been accepted on behalf of them both. They also share the same feast day—their wedding anniversary—by special request of John Paul II.
John Paul told the crowd assembled that even during difficult years, Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi “kept the lamp of the faith burning—lumen Christi—and passed it on to their four children,” three of whom were present for the beatification. He was talking about the light that shines in all married couples who have lived ordinary yet extraordinary lives of faith and sacrifice.
Devout People of Means. Maria Luisa Corsini was born on June 12, 1884, in Florence, Italy. Her mother was “lively and domineering,” while her father, an officer in the Royal Army, was noted for his bad temper. Maria, no shrinking violet herself, once told her father, “You know, Papa, I would never have married you like Mama did, with your bad temper.”
Born into a family of means, Maria was well educated: in literature, languages, and the Catholic faith. After obtaining a commerce degree at La Sapienza, one of the best universities in Rome, she taught at the university level and wrote several books about education and family life. She was always devout and incorporated her religious convictions into work at her parish, St. Vitale, and in the Catholic Action movement.
Luigi Beltrame was born on January 12, 1880, in Catania, Sicily. Luigi’s uncle, Luigi Quattrocchi, could not have children, so he asked if he could raise his namesake as his own. Luigi’s parents agreed, and eventually he added “Quattrocchi” to his name out of respect for his uncle. Like Maria, Luigi received a fine education. He obtained a law degree from La Sapienza and worked as an attorney for the Italian government after graduation. Unlike Maria, however, he was not especially devout as a young man.
Luigi and Maria met as a result of their families’ friendship. Whatever their acquaintance was at first, a turning point occurred when Luigi became very ill. Maria, who must have been quite concerned, wrote to him and included a picture of the Madonna of Pompeii. They became close, and within the year, he asked for Maria’s hand. They married at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on November 25, 1905.
A Scare—and a Choice. Although Luigi traveled a great deal for business, he and Maria began to have children in rapid succession. But Maria’s fourth pregnancy brought a devastating diagnosis: placenta previa, a complication of pregnancy that can be fatal for both mother and child. Maria was only four months into her pregnancy, and she was hemorrhaging. The doctor recommended bed rest—and an abortion. Despite their doctor’s urgings, the couple both refused the abortion and placed their hope in God.
It was a heartbreaking and frightening decision. Maria had only a 5 percent chance of survival, they were told. The possibility that Luigi would soon be a widower with three small children loomed large. One of his children caught him weeping as he unburdened his soul to a priest. But to everyone’s shock and surprise, both Maria and her daughter, Enrichetta, survived the birth. Luigi and Maria thanked God. Maria had always been devout, but with the arrival of this miracle, Luigi too became increasingly devoted to Jesus.
Pious, but Not Excessively. The couple’s intention was to raise children who loved God and one another. Using their means, they made sure that the children enjoyed sports, vacations, and other family activities. But the spiritual life received equal attention. They instituted daily Mass, a family holy hour in honor of the Sacred Heart on first Fridays, night prayer vigils, and retreats at the Monastery of St. Paul Outside the Walls. But as pious as these activities may have been, the Quattrocchis were not stuffy; their family dinners were famously noisy occasions.
In Radiography of a Marriage (1952), Maria wrote, “Educating children is the ‘art of all arts’ and brings along serious difficulties. But one thing is certain: as two bodies in one, we both aimed at their best, ready to avoid everything that could harm them. This implied some personal sacrifices.”
Luigi, for his part, stopped smoking during his children’s upbringing. Both he and Maria curtailed their disagreements and discussed them in private so that their children would not see them argue. Enrichetta recalled, “It is obvious to think that at times they had differences of opinion, but we, their children, were never exposed to these. They solved their problems between themselves through conversation, so that once they came to an agreement, the atmosphere continued to be serene.”
Maria and Luigi were always careful to entrust their children to God. When any of the four faced problems, their parents always encouraged them first and foremost to “appeal to the heavens” in prayer. Maria and Luigi said they wanted their children to appreciate heavenly realities: life “from the roof up,” as they called it. And by all accounts, this occurred. Their three eldest children entered religious life. In the words of their son Cesare, who became a Trappist monk, “There was always a supernatural, serene, and happy atmosphere in our home, but not excessively pious.”
Faith Expressed through Action. Both Maria and Luigi believed that the gospel was preached as much by action as by words. Luigi once wrote, “It is through honesty and the Christian spirit that permeate our conduct in human relations . . . that we profess to men our religious convictions.”
Luigi was among the first Italians to become involved with the scouting movement in 1916. He became the first president of the general assembly in 1918 and helped to establish a scouting group for the poor of Rome, which his sons joined.
In business too, Luigi conducted himself with a Christian ethos. A man of great ability, integrity, and virtue, he never spoke of the professional honors that he was given. He also steadfastly refused positions of higher authority that might compromise his duties to God and his household.
Maria was always busy. She took part in the general council of the Italian Catholic Women’s Association, volunteered as a nurse for the Red Cross, and involved herself in parish activities. Together, they also helped to prepare other young couples for marriage, and during World War II, they turned their apartment into a shelter for Jews and other refugees.
Not without Struggles. Despite the obvious holiness of their lives, the Quattrocchis were not plaster saints. The daughter of challenging parents, Maria was sometimes described as “aggressive.” Luigi, who was of a milder disposition, could appear “nervous” at times. Although they always wanted the best for each other, they didn’t always agree. Maria disapproved, for instance, when Luigi resumed his smoking habit after their children had grown. Another area of difficulty later in life stemmed from a vow that Maria made to do “whatever was most perfect.” This included the renunciation of marital relations during the later portion of their marriage—a practice that the Church would counsel firmly against today.
Another area where the Quattrocchis showed their humanity was with regard to their children’s vocations. Their daughter Stefania reported that when her brothers entered religious life, her father was so saddened by their absence that he became physically ill.
Luigi died of a heart attack in 1951 at age 71. At his funeral, a friend of his who had been an atheist said to the Quattrocchi sons, “Your father never pestered me with sermons. But I want to tell you: it’s through his life that I discovered God and that I love the Gospel. Pray for me!”
After this, Maria increased her writing and volunteer work. Always combining faith with action, she served on trains carrying sick and disabled persons to Lourdes. She wrote books about marriage and articles for Catholic magazines and participated in an Italian Catholic movement called Movement for a Better World. She died in 1965 in the presence of Enrichetta, the daughter for whom she had risked her life.
A Model of “Walking Together.” As Pope St. John Paul II said, the Quattrocchis “lived married love and service to life in the light of the gospel and with great human intensity.” Their story calls to mind the many similar stories all around us. Every hardworking parent who returns from a long shift to see their children off to bed, every concerned parent and grandparent who pray for their adult children, and every family whose work and recreation are punctuated with loving service to their parish and to people in need—these are the “Quattrocchis” all around us. They may not be “Blesseds” of the Church yet, but they are surely blessed, as are all people who see the light of these families shine.
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker is a frequent contributor to The Word Among Us. Kathryn Elliott is a freelance writer and frequent contributor based in Indianapolis.