It is a joy for me to write about my friend, Blessed Elena Guerra! In 1991 when I was writing As By A New Pentecost, my husband told me about a fascinating woman who was named “the Apostle of the Holy Spirit” by Pope St. John XXIII. My husband referred me to an article entitled, “A Woman and the Pope” by Fr. Val Gaudet (New Covenant magazine, October 1973).  Fr. Gaudet thought it was Elena’s teaching that influenced Pope St. John XXIII to pray his famous prayer: “Renew your wonders in this our day as by a New Pentecost.”   

Blessed Elena’s life spanned from 1835 to 1914. She was foundress of a religious order in Lucca, Italy, at first called the Sisters of St. Zita and later renamed the Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit. In 1886 Blessed Elena began to be aware of her prophetic task, to write to the pope of her day, Pope Leo XIII, urging him to renew the Church through a return to the Holy Spirit. She wrote several confidential letters to the Holy Father between 1895 and 1903 calling for renewed preaching on the Holy Spirit, “who is the one who forms the saints.”  The Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit say that the number of these letters is somewhere between ten and twelve.

Blessed Elena told Pope Leo XIII of her desire to see the whole Church unite in constant prayer, as were Mary and the apostles in the upper room, awaiting the coming of the Spirit.

Oh, if only the invocation Veni! (Come)…would become as popular a prayer as the Ave (Hail Mary)!

Her words are full of fire!  Listen:

Pentecost is not over.In fact, it is continually going on in every time and in every place, because the Holy Spirit desired to give himself to all men and all who want him can always receive him, so we do not have to envy the apostles and the first believers; we only have to dispose ourselves like them to receive him well, and He will come to us as he did to them. […] The mystery of Pentecost is a permanent mystery.  The Spirit continues to come to all souls who truly desire Him…If they only want Him…if they only invoke Him…if they only prepare a place for Him in their hearts… Who is hungry enough? Who is thirsty enough? Who is humble enough? Who is zealous enough?… It is necessary that we return to the Holy Spirit so that the Holy Spirit may return to us.”

Pope Leo XIII heard the Lord’s call through Blessed Elena, and he responded to her first letter by publishing Provida Matris Caritate in 1895 in which he asked the entire Church to celebrate a solemn novena to the Holy Spirit (nine consecutive days of prayer) each year between the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost.  After her third letter, the Pope wrote the Encyclical Divinum Illud Munus in 1897, which also concerned the doctrine on the Holy Spirit.  Blessed Elena was pleased with the Holy Father’s efforts but disappointed with the bishops’ poor response to the call for an annual novena. Following the ninth letter of Blessed Elena, in 1902, the Holy Father wrote a letter to the bishops, Ad Fovendum in Christiano Populo, reminding them of the obligation to make the novena annually.

Blessed Elena formed prayer groups which she called “Permanent Cenacles”.  She also used the term “Universal Cenacle”, “Cenacle of Universal Prayer” or “New Cenacle”.  Often, she was heard to exclaim, “Let us go to the Cenacle!   

From her early years as an educator, she wrote many pamphlets and books urging people to return to the Holy Spirit. In 1880, she had even approached Don Bosco who was passing through Lucca.  He encouraged her to continue her apostolate with the youth but also her activity as a writer and he said, “You have a pen of gold….

That “pen of gold” was wielded to compose not only letters to the Pope but many beautiful prayers to the Holy Spirit.  Elena used the invocation of Pope Leo XIII and wrote a Holy Spirit Chaplet that is used as a Pentecost Novena.  It is a plea for each of the seven sanctifying gifts of the Spirit with a prayer that is repeated seven times for each gift: “Father, in the name of Jesus, send forth your Spirit and renew the world.  It is followed by an invocation to Our Lady, “O Mary, who by the work of the Holy Spirit, conceived the Savior, pray for us.” At the end of the Chaplet, there are three additional invocations to Our Lady and a Hail Mary.  This prayer is still used today by the Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit, and I have had the privilege to pray it with them in Elena’s bedroom in Lucca.

In her ninth letter to Pope Leo XIII, October 15, 1900, Elena begged the Pope to exhort all Catholics to pray for the new century and to place it under the sign of the Holy Spirit. 

Most Holy Father, I humbly present with confidence to your Holiness that the new century may begin with the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus to be sung at the beginning of the Mass of the first day of the year.”

And on January 1, 1901, the first day of the first year in the twentieth century, Pope Leo intoned the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus (“Come Creator Spirit”) in the name of the whole Church. On the same day, an event took place in Topeka, Kansas, that marked the beginning of a great revival in the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit destined to sweep throughout this country and around the world.  That same hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus, was sung on the Duquesne Weekend when the Charismatic Renewal began. As they say, “The rest is history!”

I call Elena my friend because I really am in communion with her and her mission and I call on her every day. In some mysterious way, the Holy Spirit has used me to make her better known. 

In 1998 a young Brazilian who was studying in Rome, read my book As By A New Pentecost.  Although he had never heard of her, when he saw the name “Elena Guerra,” there was a quickening in his spirit. Her name remained in his heart.  He wrote to me three years later to tell me of his love for this Blessed and he and I became friends. He served for some time as Vice-Postulator of Elena’s cause for canonization and has insisted I have a first-class relic of the Blessed which I cherish.  There have been two approved healing miracles in Brazil through the intercession of Blessed Elena. Yes, the time is coming soon for her canonization.  Let it be!  Veni Creator Spiritus!


Patti Gallagher Mansfield
Author As By A New Pentecost: Golden Jubilee Edition

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