Federica Sermarini, RIP
Yesterday in San Benedetto del Tronto, Federica Graci Sermarini died from cancer. She was surrounded by her husband, Marco, and their children. They prayed her home.
If you read The Benedict Option, you will know of my esteem for Marco Sermarini, whom I affectionately call the Doge of l’Opzione Benedetto. Once I was asked on French television who my hero is. I said Marco, because he shows what an ordinary man full of faith, hope, courage, and boundless love, can accomplish.
What people who didn’t know the family personally did not know, and could not know, is how much Marco the flower depended on Federica the gardener. She was everything to Marco, who loved her fiercely. Our friend Rodolfo Casadei, an Italian journalist, pays Federica tribute in the magazine Tempi. From the translation:
I cannot imagine the Company of Tipi Loschi of San Benedetto del Tronto, the GK Chesterton parental school , the Capitani Coraggiosi social cooperative, the Polisportiva Gagliarda, the Hobbit cooperative, the La Contea educational center without Federica Graci. Federica and Marco Sermarini were the representation in flesh and blood of what the fruitfulness promised by the sacramental grace of Christian marriage is.
Rodolfo says that in conversation with an unnamed cardinal, he defended the Benedict Option against the false claim that it was closed and sectarian. Rodolfo cited the Tipi Loschi and their “Shire” (as they call their domani), as a glorious refutation of that claim. He writes:
It is necessary to know how to get out of mental schemes of all kinds. In the dominant mentality, even in ecclesial environments, a subject who promotes a primary school, loves and attends the Mass in the ancient rite celebrated by the Benedictine monks of Norcia (but also all the other Masses) and where a seriously ill patient like Federica offers in recent weeks her sufferings for the healing of none other than Cardinal Raymond Burke, projects a grim, rigid, closed image. But no, things are just the opposite.
The Bergoglian sheep with that smell of them, the poor, the common people, the little ones, the timid, the simple, the foreigners you can find them in the Shire, in the classrooms of the primary school, at work in the social cooperatives, playing with other children in the summer centers whose management the municipalities of the district contract to them (how strange these Christians closed in their shelter: with a cooperative they manage three after-school activities with about 120 children and young people, five clubs with another 185 between children and young people, seven summer centers and a home assistance service, in a small reality like San Benedetto del Tronto). And above all you will find the joy, the gladness, the listening, the gratitude that sees a gift in everything, the wit in the judgments on the contemporary world that are the hallmark of Pier Giorgio Frassati’s spirituality, by Gilbert Keith Chesterton, by St. John Bosco. The latter said: “The devil is afraid of laughing people.” Exactly. And Blessed Frassati: “You ask me if I am happy; and how could I not be? as long as Faith gives me strength, always cheerful! Every Catholic cannot fail to be cheerful: sadness must be banished from Catholic souls.”
Rodolfo reports that some have struggled to accept Federica and Marco’s decision to treat her cancer in San Benedetto, without leaving their small city on the Adriatic to find advanced treatment elsewhere. Writes Rodolfo:
I expected it, because of what little I understood of their relationship with life and with creation. One cannot live and one cannot die far from one’s affections; a plant is not uprooted to cure it. The place where we are born, we grow up, we bring children into the world in the flesh and in the spirit, we open a school, we kneel to pray, we buy an entire hill in the spirit of the “three acres and a cow” of the distributism of Hilaire Belloc, is the only place in the world where one can live and die, heal life and embrace its end.
The Shire is not an adolescent romance, horticulture, the park all made up of local plants, the breeding of donkeys and bees, environmental education workshops with children (also financed with money from the Waldensian Church! From the series: the Catholics of the Masses in Latin turned in on themselves …) are not ecological fixations. They are the integral ecology of man who has his feet planted on the ground with the same strength as the roots of the oak and his head raised among the stars of God’s Heaven.
I can’t imagine all this without Federica. And in fact it will continue to be there. It will continue to be present among the desks that host the 90 students of the primary school which has grown to become a combination of junior high school, scientific high school and professional institute, as in moments of celebration and on occasions of conviviality on the hill of Santa Lucia.
The hill of Santa Lucia is the space overlooking the Adriatic where the Tipi Loschi and their children, and their guests, meet for prayer, for study, for feasting, for growing things, for games, and for living together. I have been there; it is one of the happiest places on earth. Federica helped make that place a reality.
Here is a link to an old video explaining the Scuola Chesterton (Marco is in it; be sure to turn on subtitles).
When I got the news that Federica had died, I went straight away to Expedia.com to book a flight. Turns out they were affordable, even at the last minute. But it turns out that I couldn’t get PCR test results back in time to get a flight to Rome and then get across the country to San Benedetto in time for the funeral. So what I did was make a donation to the Scuola Chesterton Building Fund, in memory of Federica, so her legacy can continue to grow. If you loved The Benedict Option, and the vision of Federica, Marco, and the Tipi Loschi, please consider doing the same.
My heart is so heavy for that sweet family, and the family of families of the Tipi Loschi. But we have all gained a powerful intercessor in heaven — that’s what I believe. Please keep Marco and the kids in your prayers. The Sermarini kids are all older than you see in the photo above. The oldest is 24, and the youngest is 13. Still, that’s a young age to lose your Mama — and a young age to lose your best friend, as Marco has done. Marco said to me that he told Federica to go ahead on and make their home in heaven, and that he would come as soon as he could, and they could be together with Pier Giorgio Frassati and G.K. Chesterton. What a party that will be! I hope God, in His mercy, lets me be there. And you too. I thank Him that he allowed me to meet Federica Sermarini, and be a part of her life, however small. You knew when you met that woman that you were meeting someone who was not tame, but who was good.