Teresa was born in Gravina in Puglia on March 23, 1788 to Domenico Orsini Prince of Solofra and Faustina Caracciolo of the princes of Torella. At the age of two she lost her father. Her grandfather, Philip, reared her. As part of her upbringing he took her to monasteries – the Sisters of Wisdom in Naples, the Oersolines [Ursulines] and the Benedictines of Tor De’ Specchi in Rome. Even with the loss of her father and the distance of her mother, these experiences helped her mature and have a more profound understanding of the suffering of others.
At 20 she married Prince Louis Andrea Doria Pamphili Landi of Rome. In her marriage and motherhood she loved God, her church, husband and four children. Relatives and friends also responded to her with love. A true “Renaissance Woman” Teresa enjoyed art, antiquities and archeological digs at the villa Pamphili and at Lorio on the Aurelian Way. Although she belonged to one of the most illustrious Roman noble families, her doors in Rome and other places were always open and welcoming. Teresa gave dedicated service at St. James in Augusta of the Incurable, where she helped generously with nurses and never showed revulsion toward any illness, which by her example urged them to follow her. Those who were cured found ways to support themselves by spinning linen and weaving large canvases, thus, the group of Lauretaine was established. Often she went to the hospice of the Trinity of Pilgrims in Rome. As a sidelight there is a picture in which she washes the feet of the pilgrims who came to Rome in 1825 for the Holy Year. The Lady-in-Waiting is holding Teresa’s clothes while she is wearing humble clothing. Pope Pius VII called her Lady of Public Charity.
In 1820 Teresa was asked to help the Sisters of Charity who resided in the Roman Parish of Our Lady of the Mountains. Complications arose and Teresa was forced to accept the task of improving the care at that hospital instead of transferring the Sisters of Charity, but she decided to found another group – the Hospital Sisters called Sisters of Mercy. In 1821 Teresa accompanied her first four hospitals to St. John where they were welcomed and granted a dwelling that the Congregation still enjoys. After this, Teresa wanted to retire but the administration of St. John’s asked her not to abandon her work but encourage, defend and guide with the help of competent authorities. Teresa remained at the helm – life without respite – sacrificing for others, refusing the comforts of life and foregoing food and sleep. Her first ailments of illness occurred in 1820 when she was thirty-two, but she intensified her work. Teresa died at the age of forty-one on July 3, 1829. The pain of the poor and needy left without their beloved benefactor, “Martyr of Charity,” was bitter. ”When she died, the cry of the people was unanimous: ‘A saint has died.’”
The Congregation of the Hospitaller was founded on May 16, 1821 under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy and St. Aloysius Gonzaga and formally recognized by Pope Gregory XVI in 1831. Princess Teresa accompanied her first four “Dame di Carita” to St. John’s Hospital in the Lateran in Rome. This is how the journey of the Hospitaller Sisters of Mercy began. Among other places they minister in the United States, India, the Philippines, Madagascar, Switzerland, Nigeria and Indonesia. In 2016 Pope Francis received members of the Hospitallers in an audience and said, “At times…a secular culture aims to remove all religious references from hospitals. When you are close to an ailing person, keep in your heart the peace and joy that are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. On that hospital bed lies Jesus, present in the person who suffers, and it is He Who asks for help from each one of you.”
By Angela M. Orsini, The Catholic Witness