Dona Lucilia’s words were never empty of meaning and appeal. However, even more than by her words, it was through her attitude and way of being that she instilled in others, especially in her children, the desire to do good and to follow the path of moral perfection. A living example of the virtues she practised, her very presence spread a discreet but powerful consolation, light, and peace.
A serene gaze, a smooth voice, a luminous smile
Her serene eyes were of a very dark brown; their luminosity varied, depending on the nature of what they communicated. When her gaze was joyful, out of fondness for her interlocutor, its light was soft and warm; if circumstances demanded a serious attitude her look became profound, penetrating and defined. Her eye movements, always controlled, revealed an absence of inner agitation, reflecting her temperance.
Those who knew her will never forget the pleasing sweetness of her melodious voice, which she adjusted according to the topic at hand and the mood of the other. Her inflections were mild, rich, and cordial.
Sometimes she emphasized her words with noble and discreet gestures. Her hands were slender and well-proportioned with long fingers and skin as white and soft as ermine. She knew how to apportion the exact degree of friendliness she wished to convey; the simplest greeting was truly meaningful.
All of these facets of her personality – her serene look, small gestures, soft voice, bright smile – revealed a soul imbued with faith, and which dwelt permanently on a peak of high reflections and perspectives. Her way of being flowed from these heights, conferring an attitude, that made it unthinkable for anyone to approach her without much respect.
Elevation and uprightness with much sweetness
This enchanted her son, when, for example, he went to her room to say good morning or good night and to request her blessing. Her quarters were spacious and high-ceilinged, and the bed was of carved wood with a canopy, from which two lace curtains hung, almost to the floor.
Plinio, always prone to making correlations, saw how this piece of furniture was perfectly suited to her soul, whose elevation called for dignified and well-arranged surroundings. The boy’s innocence also discerned a similarity between his mother’s liking for the canopy and her taste for an order of things based on logical principles, flowing like a cascade down to the smallest details.
Another reason explaining Dona Lucilia’s fondness for this noble covering above her bed was that it lent a feeling of protection, an impression that corresponded to a facet of her mentality.
In Dona Lucilia, there was a combination of two apparently opposite qualities: alongside this elevation and uprightness – indeed, elevation is but an excellence of uprightness – there was sweetness. She was elevated because she was sweet, and sweet because she was elevated.
The modern mentality, in contrast, conceives these two qualities as being mutually exclusive; a person who loves the sublime will necessarily estrange others and tend to be severe rather than sweet. Dona Lucilia was an example of the opposite.
Rosée and Plinio were able to continually enjoy this happy blend of qualities in their mother, in all the circumstances of everyday life and in the thousand measures she took to provide for their education in the best possible way.
A visit to a great statesman of the Empire
Dona Lucilia, as a descendant of illustrious lineage – as was Dr. João Paulo – would never let an appropriate opportunity slip by to draw the children’s attention to their duty to follow the example of their forefathers, some of whom had stood out in the service of country. She would do this in her habitually appealing manner, telling them stories from the family’s past that inspired the children and made the long evenings pleasant.
One of the most celebrated among these was Councillor João Alfredo Corrêa de Oliveira – Dr. João Paulo’s uncle – whose Monarchist statesmanship had raised him to the highest government offices.
Since the Councillor was of advanced age, and the opportunity of visiting him in Rio de Janeiro where he lived had come up, Dona Lucilia wanted the children to benefit from the opportunity of meeting him personally.
She believed that the visit would mark their memories forever, encouraging them to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious granduncle whom they had met in their childhood.
The visit was a cordial event and made a deep impact on the youngsters.
Such encounters were frequent, and stamped with the formality of social norms of the time – precious remnants of bygone splendours. They were woven into the fabric of the daily life of persons from high-society families who were linked by blood, marriage and business ties.
Attention to proper attire
Today it is difficult to grasp the importance that people gave to dress in those times. Society was hierarchical, and it was considered normal and obligatory for each person to dress with dignity, according to his social status.
Conscientious in everything, Dona Lucilia lovingly adhered to this duty, with regard to her own dress as well as that of her children. She clearly understood how her choices could contribute to creating an ambience around her that favoured high-mindedness while shunning vulgarity.
Furthermore, the axiom “age quod agis”1 was Dona Lucilia’s constant guide; without agitation, but with gentle and persistent attentiveness in all her thoughts, words and deeds. It was within this context that her attention to dress should be understood – as a way of showing respect for the reflection of God in human dignity. For what St. Paul says of an apostle can be applied to all: “We have become a spectacle to the world, to Angels, and to men” (1 Cor 4:9).
Some years after his beloved mother’s death, Prof. Plinio would say: “I often watched her as she finished readying herself. Fully dressed, she would sit at a dressing table to arrange her hair. Then she got up, put herself in order, and stood before a larger mirror where she regarded herself with close attention, but without vanity. While carefully attending to what she was doing, her mind was on higher things. I would look at her and think, ‘What perfection!’”
In those days, quality clothing was never purchased off-the-rack; dressing well was an art in its own right, demanding considerable skill. Dona Lucilia, who had both imagination and good taste, chose her fabrics and designed her own wardrobe as well as Rosée’s, drawing her inspiration from French styles. She had a seamstress come to the house to fit them, which was quite an event in the domestic routine. ◊
Taken, with slight adaptations, from:
Dona Lucilia. Città del Vaticano-Nobleto: LEV;
Heralds of the Gospel, 2013, p.169-174
1 From the Latin: Do [well] what you are doing.