The Benedictine Nuns of Citerna
Mother Maria Hildegard Sutto, OSB
Mother Hildegard Sutto (1920-2010) is one of the prominent figures in Italian monasticism of the twentieth century. This swift portrait cannot do justice to her long life, rich and forceful personality and her multiple centres of interest.
Brunetta Sutto earned her Licence in Letters and Philosophy at the University of Florence in 1942. She entered the monastery of St Catherine at Perugia on 8th December 1944, where she lived out the first years of her monastic life, making temporary profession on 21st November 1946, and solemn vows three years later. She was appointed assistant novice-mistress, then mistress of novices, a service she fulfilled until her election as abbess on 26th April 1963. During this first period of monastic life she sought to acquire a theological and spiritual formation adapted to her situation, encouraged in this by her abbess and by Dom Isidore Tell, who became abbot of Praglia. He initiated her in the knowledge of the Bible, of theology and of the monastic tradition. This period of study, linked to reading certain periodicals, such as Vie spirituelle and Informations catholiques, prepared her for her future abbatial ministry.
She arrived at Citerna on 3rd June 1963 and received the abbatial blessing on the 6th. In this ministry, which she held for nearly forty years, she helped the community to assimilate the renewal which the Council demanded from the whole Church and the religious Orders. During this period she found Fr Bartolomeo Sorge, SJ, as a spiritual director, a friend and support on her journey. She opened for the community a real building site for revision of its values and the structures of monastic life in the light of the Church, ancient monastic literature and the texts of the Council.
The Opus Dei, community life, lectio, study, hospitality, enclosure and the habit – all these were fields for reflection and revision undertaken by Mother Hildegard with moderation and courage. She used the image of the tent, a real icon of monastic life drawn from the festival of the Transfiguration, to indicate the primacy of the contemplative dimension of monastic life which is already present in the Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict. Reflection and the evolution of post-Conciliar religious life, so often in a crisis of identity, brought to birth a project for urban religious life in the diocese of Palermo, of which one sister was associated with the community.
Parallel with this activity, internal to the community, was added another, not less important or fruitful, aimed at improving the cultural and spiritual education of nuns, so that they should neither be considered nor be treated as children in the Church. Mother Hildegard set in train – with other abbesses – a Studium Theologicum for Italian Benedictine Sisters and an annual meeting for the formation and re-formation of Italian abbesses, which is still held today.
In 1956 six federations were set up in Italy to establish mutual help between monasteries, of which Mother Hildegard was President for eighteen years. Nor may the contribution of Mother Sutto to the work of the International Commission of Benedictine Women be forgotten at its early symposia; in recent years it has become the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum, bringing together in friendship all the feminine communities associated with the Benedictine Confederation. Mother Sutto contributed also to listening to the monastic welcome not only to liturgical prayer, but also to sharing the monastic charism with the local church (laypeople, priests and religious) to the point of organising for many years well attended weekly meetings for biblical and liturgical catechesis. This spread quickly beyond the diocese and embraced a variety of themes.
The third period of her monastic life was no less active. Released from her abbatial ministry, Mother Sutto continued to listen to and advise many people who came up to the monastery to find there a spiritual accompaniment. We also owe her a debt for her historical researches on the community kept in the archives of the monastery.
Mother Hildegard Sutto loved life in all its aspects. She enjoyed the beauty of creatures, music, chant, art and all the reading which brought her a spiritual and cultural richness. We used to see her pass with her swift step, a recently-published book under her arm – that is the image of her which we treasure.
 Cf. M. C. De Magistris, Madre Ildegarde Sutto. Protagonista del rinnovamento monastico, Àncora editrice, 2013.