|St Biagio (Blaise), Maranello, Italy|
Many decades ago when I was a protestant teenager I lived in Italy while going to school in Padua and Venice. The people I stayed with, Carlo and Ann, were friends of my parents from Florida. Ann was from Tampa and had met Carlo at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. They married, lived and worked in Orlando a few years, then went to Italy where Carlo had received a research grant at the University of Padua. I was a teenager and less than happy with my school so my parents arranged for me to go to university in Italy and stay with Carlo and Ann. It was a glorious time although if I had been Catholic then I might have gleaned more from the experience. However, I look back and see how God has his hand in the course of our lives, sometimes even in the tiniest details. This is the story of the Black Lace Mantilla.
Carlo had been born in Modena, Italy before WWII and raised in the small town of Maranello, just south of Modena, where his family had a vineyard. His father died sometime after the war (but not before he sold the lower part of his vineyard to Enzo Ferrari in 1947 and, from that point on, whenever Ferrari wanted to expand his factory, he had to buy more parcels of land from Carlo's family) and his mother - "La Mama" - lived in the family home and was not happy that Carlo, married to an American protestant, had left the Faith.
By the time I arrived in Italy, La Mama had already had a few talks with Carlo about the importance of going to Mass, but to no avail. The only time I ever went to Mass in Italy was when we stayed with La Mama in Maranello and went to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Saint Biagio (Blaise) which was down the street from La Mama's house just before the center of town. Carlo's sister and two small nephews were there visiting from Modena (her husband had recently died from cancer or in a car crash - I cannot remember which, but it was tragic because he was so young and had a family). We were a bit late for Mass (La Mama, the sister and her boys had gone early) so Carlo, Ann and I had to stand outside the doors because the church was packed. It was freezing cold out there and we could see nothing. I remember wondering what was going on inside. I could see bright lights reflecting from the front of the church, but nothing else. I was just cold and could see the glow of lights.
Then we went back to La Mama's. She always looked at Ann and me - also at her son - with an air of disapproval however I had no idea why. I tried to be on my best behavior around her. She was kind to me though, probably realizing it was not my fault that I was a protestant (I had never seen anyone make the Sign of the Cross before dinner - or ever at all) and that night she put me in her own bed while she slept elsewhere. I said that I would sleep on the couch or wherever but she insisted not, and she wasn't a woman to be argued with by a clueless protestant teenager. The house had no heat and was freezing so she put hot bricks wrapped in cloth under the covers at my feet. Being from Florida, I had never been so cold in my young life (although I didn't tell her that and when we went back to Padua I had a very bad cold - took 2 weeks to get well).
On Christmas morning when we opened gifts, in the small wrapped package from La Mama and Carlo's sister to me, I found a beautiful black lace mantilla - or as it's called here, a chapel veil. They explained something to me in Italian which I didn't quite catch, but I'll bet it was, "This is for when you convert!" No really...think it was, "This is for when you go to Mass while here in Italy because this is what is worn on your head in a Catholic church during Mass."
Ann, who I suppose had had a lesson from La Mama on mantilla wearing, explained how to wear it...that the rounded tip was a cap with the long edge going in the back. It's just the opposite of chapel veils here which are flat with women wearing the long edge over their heads and the tip hanging down in the back (basic triangle chapel veil).
I put the veil in my dresser and forgot about it. Over the years every now and then I would take it out and try it on then put it away again. It's been with me all these decades and even after converting (La Mama would be so proud!) I never wore it. Suddenly after the Diocese of Orlando decided that their priests might die if they touched ashes to the foreheads of parishioners, I, after 23 years in this diocese, finally capitulated and went to the SSPX parish - St Thomas More - in Sanford, Florida just to get ashes.
|La Mama's vineyard. Her house is at the left tip of the Ferrari factory|
just to the right of the big tree.
As soon as I got out of the car and walked toward the church I heard someone say, "Well, hello there!" It was a friend from my parish. She and her husband are now members at St Thomas More. Then I saw another former parishioner and her family.
Several years ago when I was doing the Orlando Truth the pastor of St Thomas More wrote me a few times asking to place an ad in the newsletter for the SSPX and I refused. I need to find him one day, apologize and tell him I've gone all SSPX now.
But back to the lace mantilla - Who knew that one day I would need a mantilla? Of course I could always buy a new one at my parish's religious articles shop but I have a brand new, never worn, 55 year-old beautiful black lace one sitting in my dresser in the same place it's been while waiting for me to wear it at Mass all these years - even after converting 35 years ago. Who knew!? Well...God did.
Was it, given to me a lifetime ago, the first indication of future conversion, and, after fighting the modernist Diocese of Orlando for over 2 decades ending in total spiritual exhaustion, now with COVID restrictions and a bare church wiped clean of any Catholicism...was it a sign of finally finding peace and tranquility, truth and incredible beauty in the ancient unchanged Mass of St Peter - the Gregorian Latin Liturgy - at the SSPX parish? This is the Faith I converted for. And God knew. Fifty-five years ago He provided for this moment in my current life.
P.S. - Yesterday I looked on Google Maps and was astounded at the growth of tiny little Maranello over the years. Today, 55 years later, La Mama's entire vineyard is gone and where it once was stands the Ferrari Factory - every square inch of the land it's on bought from Carlo and La Mama. Saint Blaise Catholic Church is still there in the same place. The little 2 lane road that ran in front of La Mama's house is now three wide lanes of traffic, and another road on the other side had not even been there back then. I looked for La Mama's house thinking that surely it had been torn down with all the growth and progress but there it is! It's still there! Incredible - I can't believe it. 26 Via Abetone Inferiore. The picture from Google maps won't link to this post but here is the link: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Via+Abetone+Inferiore,+46,+41053+Maranello+MO,+Italyemail@example.com,10.8635639,3a,75y,69.61h,83.95t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1stywVDklcdSOhjBv8s01-vw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192!4m5!3m4!1s0x477fe3a767ecfaa9:0x26134eb47df0cdb7!8m2!3d44.5319082!4d10.8641048