In these times there is not only economic poverty, but also a spiritual one: by opening our home to tourists, we welcome these “new poor people”. IMU tax? We pay it handsomely»
Two elegant hotels, facing each other, with a small Spa on the island of Ortigia in Syracuse: nothing special, if it would not have been a property of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family. Sister Rosamaria, coming from Apulia and having her own religious way of doing things, has been the head of the structure for over twenty years, with the manner and the determination of a manager.
Sister Rosamaria, the Ursuline Sisters have always been linked to the world of education: how did you get to the tourist reception?
«In a way, it was the territory that asked us for it. In the early ’90s, when the residents of Ortigia moved to other areas of the town, in the island the first tourists began to arrive and asked us to be welcomed in our structure, as it housed a dormitory and a school. Therefore, we decided to divide our large rooms with 12 beds and make smaller rooms to create a hostel».
Is that where the idea of the hotel came up to your mind?
«The building was almost a hundred years old and needed a renovation: initially we wanted to open a youth hostel, but the structure was too small and we would not have had access to the low-interest mortgage, which was very helpful to us at the beginning, so we changed the project and thought about a hotel. Moreover, the beachfront location was perfect. “Domus Mariae” opened in 1995 and was the first hotel in the historic center».
And what about the structure in front of it? What is the story behind the idea of a hotel with a wellness center?
«This “Domus Mariae Benessere” is a holiday home owned by our Congregation. It is housed in Palazzo Interlandi, a noble residence of the XIV century restored in 2008 and which had been in very poor condition until then. The initial idea was to import into Sicily the concept of hotel-clinic I had seen in Bressanone, in Trentino-Alto Adige (northern Italy). I really liked the idea of a place where guests could take care of their body during their holidays, while we could heal their spirit. When I proposed it to Mother Adele Scibilia (who was the General Mother of the Congregation), she supported me with enthusiasm. The request made us change the project from a clinic to a Spa, where you can take care of your health through water, and in any case the project is now oriented to the well-being of the body and the spirit, rather than to aesthetics».
Some people look at this activity with suspicion and criticize you sisters for becoming greedy entrepreneurs. How do you respond to these judgments?
«These are isolated cases. Most people consider our home a place of serenity. Sure, at the beginning it was a concerning question, even among my most conservative sisters, but we only followed the rule of St. Angela Merici (founder of the Order of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family): “Keep the old road but make life new”. In this sense we continue to be religious, while adapting ourselves to the present. Today Ortigia asks us to welcome tourists who come here on holiday and in these times there is not only economic poverty to think about, but also a spiritual one: by opening our home to these people, we welcome the “new poor” as we can».
«At first the idea of creating a hotel was a concerning question, even among my most conservative sisters, but we continue to be religious: we have just adapted ourselves to the present»
The most frequent sentence you can hear nowadays about the Church is that they don’t pay taxes and owe much money to the Italian State. Do you consider yourself privileged?
«We are not: there are those who believe that sisters receive a contribution from the Vatican and have discounts and facilitations. Actually, we maintain ourselves with our own strength and the State asks us what it requires any entrepreneur and citizen: IMU, VAT and other taxes and contributions, which we pay handsomely».
What does a nun think of running a hotel?
«As a young girl I had already chosen the tourism route by attending the Hotel Institute and for several years I worked as a receptionist at a hotel in Ferrara. Afterwards I enrolled in Economics and Commerce at University and, despite halfway through the path I finally listened to my religious vocation, I graduated. Tourism was my dream and I would never have imagined being able to manage it as a religious person. I have learned all the rest day after day».
What plans do you have for the future?
«I would like the idea of creating a home for elderly. A structure in which, unlike in rest homes, guests are self-employed. We would give them a room with a kitchenette where they could live alone or together with their spouses. Then, they could decide whether to go out and go for a walk or shopping, live in common areas or have meals in the restaurant, with the help (if it is necessary) of a team of doctors or of our staff, in order to help them carry out commissions. Unfortunately, at the moment this project is still a draw: we do not have enough funds to make it happen and we need to be realistic before starting this new adventure».
Translated into English by Eva Luna Mascolino