When the World Trade Center collapsed, it seemed that family life and spirituality merged for many people around the world. Suddenly, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, overwhelmed by these unspeakable acts of terrorism, huddled together and prayed to God for help.
As if divinely orchestrated from heaven, not long after the World Trade Center tragedy, Pope John Paul II, for the first time in history, raised to the ranks of the blessed a husband and wife together. This couple's intense love for God and each other had bonded them in a pursuit of heaven that flowed out to their four children, even in time of world war.
On Sunday, October 21, 2001, Pope John Paul II beatified the Italian couple, Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, setting them as an example for married couples to follow in our troubled times.
Three of their four children were present at St. Peter's Square to witness what no other siblings have ever experienced: the joint beatification of their parents.
Normal yet extraordinary
Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi knew the dangers of war firsthand. During the tumultuous first half of the 20th century, death, cruelty, and denial of God took the form of Mussolini's fascism. Hitler murdered the Jews and his troops marched through Italy, horrifying thousands of men, women, and children.
Throughout those dramatic times, the spirituality of the blessed Quattrocchis revealed itself in small, quiet ways, witnessed only by close friends and family members.
Along with their four children, the pious parents prayed the rosary each night, and on the eve of every First Friday, kept vigil in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
When the Nazis invaded Italy, this couple managed to maintain a sense of peace within their apartment on Via Depretis in Rome through devout prayer and daily reception of the Eucharist. Not surprisingly, their home became a shelter for Jews and other refugees.
"Drawing on the word of God and the saints, the blessed couple lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinarily rich spiritual life," said Pope John Paul II at the beatification, characterizing the simple but deep spirituality of this married couple.
How it all began
Born in Italy in 1880, Luigi received a law degree from "La Sapienza" University in Rome, and worked as a lawyer for the Inland Revenue. His children tell us that Blessed Luigi's faith was not strong before he married.
But, after meeting Maria Corsini at her family's home in Florence, Italy, his spiritual life changed for the better.
The couple married on November 25, 1905, at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. In the following four years, God blessed them with three healthy children. Their firstborn was Filippo (1906). Then came their daughter, Stefania (1908). In the following year, another son, Cesare, arrived (1909).
Cesare Beltrame Quattrocchi recalls his parents' zeal for spiritual growth. "There was a kind of race between Father and Mother to grow in spirituality. She began in the 'pole position' as she already lived an intense faith experience, while he was certainly 'a good man, just and honest but not very practicing.' "
As their marriage progressed, Luigi grew closer to God. Cesare explains that Maria and Luigi began attending daily morning Mass together, and Luigi saved his "Good Morning" to Maria until they left the church, as if to acknowledge that only then did the day really begin.
In 1913, Maria became pregnant again. Their doctor said she had only a 5 percent chance of survival. Gynecologists advised Maria and Luigi to abort the child to save the mother's life. But the parents, who had consecrated their family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, refused an abortion and placed all their hope and trust in God.
The months that followed pained not only Maria, who suffered from the side effects of a difficult pregnancy, but also Luigi, who feared he would lose his wife. Their oldest daughter, Stefania, before she died in 1993, recalled in writing that she had seen her father crying as he spoke to a priest in church during the time of that pregnancy.
Yet both Maria and Luigi resolved to accept God's will. When Maria's pregnancy reached its term, she gave birth to Enrichetta (1914). Tears brimmed in Luigi's eyes when he learned that both mother and child had survived. One of the couple's first acts was to thank God.
"From the roof up"
After that, with two boys and two girls in the house, there was never a dull moment in the Quattrochis' middle-class home, which, according to friends, was happy and particularly noisy at mealtime.
The Quattrocchis earnestly trained their children to love the things that could not be seen. They often joked with friends and relatives about this, saying they wanted their children to appreciate life "from the roof up."
Cesare recalls that when he was 10 years old, his mother gave him a copy of the book, Imitation of Christ. He still has the copy, and cherishes the following inscription she wrote in it for him, "Remember that Christ must be followed, if necessary, unto death."
Luigi and Maria seldom fought in the presence of their children. Their youngest daughter, Enrichetta, 87, recalls, "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."
Their methods apparently worked. Three of their four children had religious vocations. Their firstborn son, Filippo, became Fr. Tarcisio a diocesan priest. Their other son, Cesare, entered the Trappist order in 1924 and became Fr. Paolino. In 1927, Stefania left home and entered the Benedictine cloister in Milan. She became known as Sister Maria Cecilia. Enrichetta, for whom they had prayed so intensely during their difficult pregnancy, did not choose to become a religious. Rather, she dedicated herself to caring for her parents in their old age.
A witness for the Church
Father Paolino, 92, recalls his parents' spirituality which overflowed to their children, "There was always a supernatural, serene, and happy atmosphere in our home, but not excessively pious. No matter what the issues facing us, they always resolved it by saying that it had to be appealed 'to the heavens.' "
Father Tarcisio, 95, agrees, "The aspect that characterized our family life was the atmosphere of normality that our parents created in the constant seeking of transcendental values."
As their children grew and assumed responsibilities, the Blessed Quattrocchis devoted even more time to prayer and contemplation within their home, becoming an example of piety to all who knew them.
In November 1951, Luigi died of a heart attack at the age of 71 in his home on Via Depretis in Rome. Maria remained a widow for 14 years and died on August 26, 1965, in the arms of Enrichetta, the child for whom she had been willing to sacrifice her life.
Their first daughter, Sister Mary Cecilia (Stefania), died in 1993. In November of the following year, the cause of Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi was opened.
Less than a decade later, the Quattrochis' three surviving children, Fr. Tarcisio, Fr. Paolino, and Enrichetta lived to witness their parents' joint beatification.
Now, we have a new model of holiness: a truly heroic married couple who were exemplary parents.
The timing couldn't be more perfect. Today's families -- stunned by war and the continuing threat of terrorism -- can learn from the example of the Blessed Quattrochis who lived "from the roof up" during difficult times and passed that rich spiritual legacy on to their children.
Mary Ann Sullivan's work has been published by the BBC in England, St. Anthony Messenger, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. She teaches writing at Franklin Pierce College in Portsmouth, NH.