Nun Who Served Seven Popes Celebrates 90 Years of Life

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Currents News Staff

Sister Maria de Céu was born in Portugal 90 years ago. 

She has lived in the Vatican for 70 years, serving the Church and a total of seven popes.

She is a Franciscan Missionary of Mary, and recounted how she found her vocation when she was very young.

“I was attracted to this life, maybe unconsciously, because I was still young,” she explained. “I would go to the altar of the Virgin and say, ‘Blessed Mother, make me white like this wall,’ the wall where her image was. That’s how I started to feel an attraction not to married life, although there was a boy chasing after me.”

Sr. Maria made her first vows in Rome and began a life of service for Peter’s successor. 

“I thought: I’m happy to be here,” she said. “Not everyone has the opportunity to come to Rome and see the pope.”

Being close to seven popes has been a blessing for Sr. Maria, who could still remember her first time visiting St. Peter’s Basilica.

“I was completely moved, seeing all those people, already, in that time,” she said. “Seeing the pope, who was an extraordinary figure. He was so mystical, Pope Pius XII. It looked like the skies were opened.”

She helped him and other pontiffs with small but important tasks, like washing clothes, and along the way has learned great life lessons from each one.

Sr. Maria even extended an invitation to Pope Francis last year.

“I told him I am Portuguese, that I’d been in the Vatican for such a long time,” she said. “I told him, ‘Holy Father, come visit us one day. We’re two steps away.’ Then he put his hand on my head.”

Although the Holy Father didn’t go visit her, he helped her celebrate her ninetieth birthday with a Mass, marking nine decades serving her community and the Vatican. 

She defines her whole life with one phrase: “A life given to others.”

“If we don’t give ourselves to others, what’s the purpose of living? The Lord always comes first,” she reminded.

This 90-year-old’s secret to happiness? Living a true vocation of service. Sr. Maria is confident her self-giving can benefit many people and inspire new generations to do so as well.