Our Treasures

(Some biographies of the holy nuns who lived in our Monastery)[1]

The history of St Margaret’s Monastery is intertwined with precious chronicles of holy nuns who paved the gardens of our cloister. Indeed, what we hold most dear at our Monastery, apart from the beautiful eighteenth century architecture of the building that we live in, and the lovely garden encircled by the cloister in the midst of our abode, is the inheritance we prize so much as a community: the holy lives lived by as many good nuns who as young ladies joined our community throughout the centuries, some at a very young age. From the annals of the necrology of these nuns, written assiduously by the Ordinary Confessor at the time, we lifted a few who seemingly touched the lives of the community by their holiness. Here the names and obituaries of these beautiful souls.

1. The Rev. Madre Maria Maddalena di Gesu’ Maria[i], First Prioress

Mother Maria Maddalena di Gesu’ Maria, whose secular name was Maria Maddalena Purselli, deserves the title of first Teresian Carmelite nun in Malta. Born in Cospicua around 1681 to Andrea and Vittoria Purselli, she grew to be a pious soul leading a life of austery dedicating herself to acts of charity. As soon as the word got round in her village, that a Tesian Carmelite monk (Padre Antonio di Gesu’ e Maria) and a diocesan priest (Don Pietro Saliba) were establishing a Conservatory in order to found a Teresian Carmelite community in Cospicua, she immediately contacted the former to offer herself as part of the new Community. And when Padre Antonio, having surmounted by the grace of God numerous obstacles, succeeded in gaining ownership of the small chapel of Sta Margherita and an adjoining large house, he placed the intrepid Maria Maddalena of Cospicua, now around 45 years of age, at the head of a small community of six young lady postulants who had themselves asked to join, having themselves heard about the exciting project that was taking place on the little hill of Sta Margherita in Cospicua. The official date when this community came to be is placed at 9 November, 1726, when in the afternoon of the same day, a small ceremony was officiated by the two founding Fathers above named, and the Te Deum and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin were sung by the new community. The first six young ladies who formed this community were Maria from Cospicua aged 19, Teresa from Cospicua aged 15, Anna from Cospicua aged 14, Rosa from Cospicua aged 23, Maria from Cospicua aged 17, and Aloisia from Vittoriosa aged 10. The edifice of their cloister was yet called the new Conservatory, or the Conservatorio di Gesu’ e Maria, and it was sustained mainly by the generosity of the locals who did their best to provide for the new religious community. Maria Maddalena Purselli herself took with her inside the cloister everything she possessed, placing them at the service of the new community.

When Maria Maddalena was placed in charge of the six young postulants, she set about her spiritual leadership with an admirable disposition charged by her characteristic humily, piety and a sense of industriousness considered praiseworthy at the time. During her early years as mother superior, as grace would have it, a visit to the Conservatory was undertaken by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena in 1730. The head of state was so impressed by what he saw, that he decided to provide for whatever was needed by the Conservatory to upgrade into a full scale monastery. At the expense of the Grand Master himself, the edifice was subsequently upgraded: interior alterations were made so that new cells were constructed to allow for more young ladies to be received at the Conservatory; new offices were also built according to the requirements of the day. By the decree of an Apostolic Brief on 12th September 1739, what was yet called the new Conservatory of Jesus and Mary in Cospicua, became effectively St Margaret’s Monastery, assuming the name of the martyred saint to whom the Chapel adjoining the Monastery was dedicated. The community of the new monastery of religious Teresian Carmelite Nuns, was now obliged to commit to the four vows of chastity, obedience, poverty and perpetual enclosure (clausura). That same year and following on this important Decree, Maria Maddalena of Jesus and Mary was professed as a chorister nun and officially elected as first Prioress of the community. By that year, no less than 37 young ladies mostly from Cospicua but also from the surrounding villages, with a few coming out from as far as Gharb in Gozo, had joined the community at St Margaret’s Monastery.

It is written that during her lifetime Madre Maria Maddalena of Jesus and Mary worked very hard for the benefit of the community. She died on 1 April 1749 at the age of around 68 years. She had lived inside the monastery for 24 years, ten years of which as a professed Teresian Carmelite Nun. Her beautiful portrait, undertaken post mortem, still graces the library of our dear monastery.

2. Rev. Suor Maria Michelina della Concezione[2]

Angiolina was born on 6 April 1802 in Cospicua to Giovanni Battista Saidon and Giuseppa Ros. At age 33, she chose to live a life of service to God as a cloistered Teresian Carmelite Nun, entering as a postulant at St Margaret’s Monastery on 9 May 1835. That same year, on 14 October 1835 she took the Habit and started her Novitiate assuming the religious name of Suor Michelina della Concezione. Suor Michelina made her Solemn Profession during the Octave of St John of the Cross, 1 September 1836, in the hands of the Prioress at the time, Madre Calcedonia di Santa Teresa, in the presence of the religious community of St Margaret’s Monastery and the Vicar General Don Salvatore Lanzon. Records indicate that she was the fifty sixth nun to profess at the Monastery.[3]

Suor Maria Michelina della Concezione was remembered by her religious sisters for her virtuous conduct. Chief amongst her many virtues was a deep sense of recognition and gratitude towards the Monastery in general and the members of the community in particular, for having accepted her to join their community. Her characteristic outpouring of gratitude struck the nuns as something very special about her, marking her behaviour during her last illness that led to her death. It was written that up to her very last moments she never stopped expressing gratitude in her own particular affectionate way towards the sisters who were doing her some service. Her thankfulness for the graces that God had granted her during her lifetime at the monastery was outstanding, drawing the nuns to the memory of this dear nun.

Suor Maria Michelina della Concezione died after her long illness, born with the patience of a true daughter of St Teresa and Bride of Christ on 14 February 1882 at the venerable age of 80. She was the sixty fifth nun to die at St Margaret’s Monastery.[4] The Ordinary Confessor of the Monastery at the time, Don Angelo Raggio, writing in the register of necrological chronicles so valued by our monastery, recorded for our history how much the nuns missed the company of this beautifully holy sister.

3. Rev. Suor Maria Serafina del Carmelo

Carmela Borg was born in Valletta on 3 September 1825 to Salvatore Borg and Catarina nee’ Agius. The pride of her ailing mother, she spent her adolescence in domestic activity and was known to have taken great care of her mother during her long and tiring illness, earning from her the name of “comforting angel.” Taking upon herself the exceptional sacrifice of leaving her beloved parents, the young Carmela entered St Margaret’s Monastery as a postulant on 2 October 1845 at the young age of 20. As a Novice she was known for her eagerness to learn and practise the Rules and customs of the religious community which she had so lovingly joined. Her investiture, or Clothing ceremony took place on Sunday, 26 April 1846, at the time celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, and took her vows with admirable zeal and devotion as a professed nun on Tuesday, 1 June 1847. The ceremony of her solemn profession was undertaken in the hands of the Prioress of the Community at the time Madre Teresa Francesca di Gesu’, in the presence of the entire community, and the Rev. Vicar General of the Diocese of Malta, Archdeacon Salvatore Lanzon in lieu of the then Archbishop of the Diocese H.E. Mons. Francesco Saverio Caruana.[5]

As a nun she was mostly remembered for her zeal for everything divine, her piety and her inert sense of silent retreat, performing her domestic chores in a spirit of quietude. She also expressed utter devotion towards the Blessed Virgin, while her piety and austerity were considered outstanding. She tried so hard to exercise herself in all the virtues that during her lifetime she gained the admiration and love of the nuns around her. Struck by a painful and deadly illness, she proved herself serenely resigned to the Will of God, until on 15 September 1854 she died uttering the name of “Jesus.” She was only 29 years of age, nine of which she lived inside St Margaret’s Monastery. The chronicle of her holy death concludes by applying to Suor Maria Serafina del Carmelo the saying current at the time: “Consumata in breve explevit tempora multa.”

4. Rev. Suor Teresa Veronica della Passione

Maria Teresa was born around 1810 to Andrea and Maria Schembri, honest parents living in Cospicua. She entered St Margaret’s Monastery on the Vigil of St John Baptist, 23 June 1826 aged 16. Her Clothing ceremony took place on 19 July 1828 and on 14 February 1829 she lovingly made her Solemn Profession.

Sour Teresa Veronica della Passione, a chorister nun, was known for her assiduous observation of the holy Carmelite Teresian Rule, as well as her passion for spiritual reading. During her lifetime commitment within the community, she stood out for her fraternal charity, and an admirable simplicity in her manner of behaviour. She was particulary devoted to the holy Passion of Christ and was known for having recited the Via Crucis every single day of her religious life. Suor Teresa Veronica della Passione was also especially devoted to the Virgin Mary and Jesus in the Eucharist. In this regard she was known to have done her utmost to dedicate as much of her free time as possible in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and done her very best to obtain permission for frequent Holy Communion.

Having been a model of holiness throughout her life, Suor Teresa Veronica della Passione spent the last ten years confined to her poor cell, enduring a painful illness including blindness, in a state of real martyrdom. Doing her utmost inspite of her suffering to persevere in the practice of virtues, totally abandoned to the Will of God, she was an edifying model of admiration for the nuns around her. She died on 14 September 1870 aged c.60 years, 41 of which she lived as a nun inside St Margaret’s Monastery

5. Rev. Madre Maria Antonia di Sant’Angelo

Angela Caruana, daughter of Gregorio and Maria Antonia nee’ Bugeja was born in the village of Zejtun on 8 September 1817, Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. From a very young age, she was instinctively drawn to all that was divine, so that her parents were not surprised when on 22 February 1840 at age 22 she knocked on the thick doors of St Margaret’s Monastery to join the community of Teresian Carmelite Nuns in Cospicua. On 22 February 1842 at 3 p.m. she received the habit of a Teresian Nun during a typical Clothing ceremony inside the Choir of the Monastery. And on Thursday, 23 February 1843 at 9 a.m. she made her Solemn Profession in the hands of Madre Maria Francesca del Santissimo Sacramento, at the time Prioress of the Monastery.

The necrological chronicler of the Monastery of the time, the Ordinary Confessor Don Giovanni Battista Spadaro, records at length[6] on the life of this holy Nun. Prayer, mortification and pious exercises were her outstanding virtues, together with a disposition for silence and retirement within the cloister. She was so assiduous about obtaining the spiritual benefits of retirement that she was loath to use the Speak Room in order to receive visitors, asking her family to abstain from paying her frequent visits. Taking her observation of the Rule and practise of the daily virtues very seriously, she very sensitively did her best to love the sisters around her generously and indistinctively. She bore around her an air of interior freedom of spirit. Her characteristic prudence and assiduous fraternal love earned her the office of Sub Prioress for nine years, being elected for this office three times. During her lifetime she bore her illnesses with patient courage and was known to have literally dragged herself to pray the Divine Office with her sisters rather than miss the opportunity for communal prayer.

On the evening of 16 October 1875, while finishing her evening meal together with her sisters in the Refectory, she suddenly fell ill and had to be carried to her bed inside her cell. She was never strong enough again to leave the cell, and endured with edifying patience and abandonment to the Will of God, the discomfort and pain connected to her final illness. Subjected to violent attacks of pain and shortness of breath, she was known to have conjoined her sufferings to those of her Divine Spouse, to whom she incessantly prayed on her bed. When the doctors could no longer alleviate her pain, and she was told that death was near, Madre Maria Antonia smiled and said she was ready. Albeit tired and bereft of all strength, she was described by the chronicler as pure, pious and tranquil at heart, as her final day approached. Repeating the names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Madre Maria Antonia “placidly” drew her last breath at 4 a.m. on 7 February 1876, as the sun was yet to rise over Cospicua. Due to unforeseen circumstances she was laid to rest and buried on the same day, at 4.30 p.m.

6. Rev. Suor Teresa Filomena dei Sacri Cuori di Gesu’ e Maria

Teresa, daughter of the Illustrious Saverio di Baroni Bonici Mampalao and Maria de Baroni Azzopardi, from Valletta was born in 1856 . At 18 years she entered St Margaret’s Monastery in Cospicua, and receiving the Habit as a Teresian Carmelite nun on 20 May 1873 at 5.00 p.m. , took up the religious name of Suor Teresa Filomena dei Sacri Cuori di Gesu’ e Maria. Full of joy she started her life as a young Novice under the direction of the Sub Prioress and Novice Mistress at the time, Suor Maria Carmela della Santissima Trinita’.[7] Suor Teresa Filomena made her Solemn Profession on 21 May 1874 at 10.00 a.m. in the Choir of St Margaret’s Monastery in the hands of Mother Prioress Suor Maria Maddalena di San Guseppe, in the presence of the whole religious community and the Vicar General of the Diocese Don Carmelo Scicluna. The characteristic virtuous disposition of Suor Teresa Filomena soon endeared her to her sisters in community. Her most outstanding virtue was her angelic nature which translated into an angelic purity considered very uncommon to those around her.

Often limited in her activities through constant illness, after her Profession she became subject to a condition in her nervous system that constrained her often to her bed suffering from constant pain. Her conditioned worsened to the extent that she spent the last 22 years of her life immobilised in bed and subjected to bouts of painful attacks which she bore with admirably joyful and extraordinary acceptance. Falling prey to regular painful spasms and lack of breath, the nuns around her witnessed how she drew her interior strength from constantly and lovingly looking to her beloved Jesus whom she wished to imitate mostly in His patience and extreme love. From Him she drew such divine consolation, that that she endured the suffering of her painful condition with the patience and serenity of a true martyr. She used to tell those around her about the comfort she experienced from reflecting upon the God who visited her with sweet graces as she lay suffering in her bed, confined to her poor cell. Besides being a model of holy abandonment, Suor Filomena dei Sacri Cuori was the champion of ardent love of God, repeating to the sisters who were near her bed to visit or assist her: “Be holy and let your sanctity consist of a great love for God. Do you wish to atone for your many sins? Love Him! Do you wish to run or rather fly on the road of perfection? Love God, and He will give you wings to fly! Do you wish that nothing on this earth disturbs you, neither crosses nor humiliations? Love God and your sufferings will become sweet. Would you like to emerge victorious over the struggles and tribulations, and enjoy as from this world celestial peace? Love God because his love is more powerful than death.” The nuns who happened to be near her bed and heard her express herself so, were so struck by her edifying words of advice that they left her bed reassured if they had been feeling discouraged, spiritually reinforced and encouraged in their endeavours for the life of perfection, and resolved to love God with all their hearts. Such was the life of this holy sister, totally aligned to the Will of God despite the constant suffering caused by her painful and long standing illness.

Suor Filomena of the Sacred Hearts died on 18 September 1916, comforted by the last holy rites and Viaticum performed by H.E. Rev. Mons Archbishop Caruana himself. She was 60 years old and had spent 41 years as a professed Nun inside St Margaret’s Monastery.

As on 18 August 2016


[1] See Fondazione e Libro Primo delle Novizie Professe, Vive e Morte del Monastero di Sta Margherita, sotto titolo di Gesu’ e Maria, 1726-1884, Archives of St Margaret’s Monastery. This bound manuscript is made up of 235 hand-written pages on both sides of the paper, at times in a rather illegible contemporary caligraphy, written in Italian, and at times Latin, throughout the years. See also Biografie delle Carmelitani Scalzi insigni per loro virtu’ esimie professe e morte nel Monastero di Sta Margherita, Cospicua, Malta, 16 July 1932, Padre Raffaele. This Padre seems to have had access to the aforementioned manuscript, from which he drew up information about choice souls who lived at the Monastery. His own manuscript consists of a contemporary exercise-book, hand-written on both sides. The pages are not numbered, and the humble monk simply signed P.R. at the end of his work. Through another manuscript of similar content however, which is written in the same calligraphy and is owned by a Padre Raffaele, it is clear that both exercise books are written by the same hand. We are grateful for this dedicated research by Padre Raffaele in 1932.

[2] See Fondazione e Libro Primo etc, pp 228-230)

[3] Ibid. p 79.

[4] Ibid. p 151.

[5] See Fondazione e Libro Primo etc. p 89.

[6] See Fondazione e Primo Libro etc. p 146.

[7] See Fondazione e Primo Libro etc. p 204.