Maria was born on May 5, 1825 in Montevarchi, Arezzo, in the former Papal States. She was the second child of an influential family in Italy. Her birth was not greeted with joy but disappointment since her parents wanted a male heir. All throughout Maria’s childhood, her mother treated her with indifference.
During her adolescence, she was confined to bed for 18 months because of a serious illness. She attributed her recovery to a miracle with a vision of St. Fiorenzo. During those months when she was confined to bed, Maria developed a vocation to the religious life with her belief of being called to serve God. The desire was so strong that, over her parent’s objections, she entered the Carmelite convent of Santa Maria Magdalen de Pazzi on May 28, 1846. After two months, she returned home realizing that the cloistered life was not meant to be her vocation. But her desire for the religious life never weakened.
She opened a small school for young girls in her family home. She provided a holistic education that encompassed religious as well as secular aspects. She desired to give her students a deep respect towards God and a desire to live a virtuous life. Soon, some young women joined Maria in this endeavor. The selflessness she and others showed drew the attention of the Chief Magistrate and the Superintendent of Schools. So impressed with her work, they asked her to take charge of a larger school on May 3, 1842.
Maria gradually came to understand that she was called to found a religious congregation dedicated to the total education of children from their earliest days through adolescence. She obtained the necessary permission and approval of the bishop and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II of Habsburg, to form this new religious community on October 15, 1854. The community was called the Sisters of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Maria took the religious name Maria Teresa of Jesus in honor of St. Teresa of Avila. The dedication and love evident among the sisters caused a rapid growth in the number of students along with young women seeking entrance into the community.
While the future seemed promising, the country experienced a period of anti-clericalism. Political leaders on November 30, 1859 confiscated the school and forbade the sisters from wearing a religious habit. Not bowing to secular pressure, Mother Maria Teresa and her sisters moved to Montevarchi where they opened a house and private school. Due to the lack of space and further government interference, Mother Maria and her sisters moved to her family home. The congregation was disbanded by 1862.
In 1878, as anti-Church pressure eased, Mother Maria moved to Florence and reestablished her community with the approval of Archbishop Eugenio Cecconi. A boarding school for poor girls was opened. While both school and her community received praise from local government officials, a strict life style and unhealthy living conditions caused the death of many in the community. Moher Maria died on November 14, 1899 at the age of 64.
Twenty years later, her community began to rapidly grow. Her congregation received papal approval from Pope Pius XI on February 27, 1933. Today they serve in Italy, the United States, Canada, India, Brazil, the Czech Republic and the Philippines, teaching and caring for the poor and elderly, and caring for the religious formation of children.
Mother Maria Teresa of Jesus’ beatification process began in Fiesola. She became “Servant of God on November 3, 1988 under Pope John Paul II. She was beatified on October 8, 2006 by Cardinal Jose Saravia Martins on the behalf of Pope Benedict XVI.