(FSML) Congregation of the “Daughters of Santa Maria di Leuca” originated in the diocese of Ugento and Santa Maria di Leuca. It was the Bishop, Mons. Giuseppe Ruotolo who erected the Institute with the diocesan decree of August 15, 1941, to express the desire that it would take its name from the largest Marian shrine in the region, dedicated to “Sancta Maria de Finibus terrae”, called by the people “Our Lady of Leuca”, and where mention is made of the apostolic activity that since 1938, our Mother Foundress, was carrying out between youth and childhood.
The Institute of the Daughters of Santa Maria di Leuca originated as a Pious Union, since 1938, through the work of Elisa Martinez, born in Galatina (LE) on 03/25/1905, but began a life of stable coexistence on March 19, 1938 , when our Mother Foundress, together with the group of her first companions, took possession of a house made available to her in Miggiano (LE), Italy.
Two years after the approval of diocesan law, the Decree of Pontifical Law was granted on May 29, 1943.
As soon as its canonical erection was obtained, the Congregation immediately moved towards central and northern Italy. But its development suffered greatly due to the war events that particularly tormented Italy in that year, even dividing it into two sections. The various houses founded, survived the test, and in the immediate aftermath of the war the nascent Congregation extended to Switzerland and Belgium in 1947, then to the United States and Canada from 1947 to 1951.
In 1946 the Generalate and the Novitiate were moved to Rome and after 10 years the new headquarters, the current one, were built for both.
Meanwhile, the fundamental characteristic of the Institute, that is the welfare activities, were being consolidated not only in the field of re-education of single mothers, in which work is done trying to make the child live with the mother and encouraging the formation of a regular family unit, but also in other fields: as well as in abandoned childhood, in prisoners and with the resumption of the emigration movement also that directed to emigrants, as well as indirectly to their families or children who remained at home.
The Congregation continued to expand and with other foundations outside Italy and in mission lands: France 1958; Spain 1965; Portugal 1967; India 1967-1968; Philippines 1967-1969.
The Daughters of St. Maria di Leuca form a large family, in which all members have “equal rights and duties” (Const. 1,6) Although they come from different countries and continents, they are brothers and sisters by the common vocation. They live in more or less numerous local communities, according to needs and possibilities: some in large centers, others on the outskirts of metropolises, still others, especially in the missions, in towns and small centers.
We are all Sisters: although there are distinct tasks and services in each Community, we willingly submit ourselves all to the handling of humble household chores and we freely do any work that is asked of us, within the limits of the activities of our Congregation (Dir. 2:21); because all offices are “intended as a service rendered to the Community and its members” (Const. 1,6)
A characteristic feature of the Congregation is Marian spirituality. The Mother Foundress, Mother Elisa Martinez, had a solid Marian piety, and in order to train her daughters in an equally solid and simple Marian cult, she fixed the maxims of authentic Marian spirituality in the Constitutions of the Congregation. Marian spirituality constitutes one of the most precious features of the patrimony of the “Daughters of Santa Maria di Leuca”, expressly wanted by the Mother Foundress.
The religious family professes its Marian character in the name; Institute born in the shadow of a Marian shrine; in the habit, – which is inspired by the apparitions of Mary to Bernadette in Lourdes, and in the practice of filial, community and individual devotion to Our Lady.
The Congregation is placed under the patronage of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse and her St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The titular feast is the Immaculate Conception (Const. 1.4)
From Mary “the beginning is the model of the Church” (LG 65) we learn love for the Church, we give our apostolate an ecclesial opening and we participate in the mission of the Church “(Dir. 1,3)