Few have left a legacy as strong as Irene Bertoni who began adopting children in Italy during World War II.
During her lifetime, Bertoni adopted 58 children and inspired dozens of other families to do the same, the Catholic News Agency reports. Bertoni died on May 15, 2016, at age 93.
Known as Mama Irene to many, Bertoni felt called by God to become a mother to adopted children when she was 18 and witnessing the horrors of World War II in Europe, according to the report. She began by adopting two abandoned children, but her outreach quickly grew. In the coming years, she would adopt 56 other children, and also help to set up Nomadelfia, a Catholic community in Italy that takes in abandoned children and provides them with educations, stable homes and families, according to the report.
Elisa Tirabassi, Bertoni’s adopted great-granddaughter, remembered that her kitchen always smelled of warm coffee and had a “relaxed atmosphere where calm reigned and we lived in peace.” She told Avvenire, the Italian bishop conference’s newspaper, that Bertoni sacrificed a lot to make sure they had everything they needed.
“Finally when dinner was served, she sat down in front of me with her wonderful and disarming smile which shown from a face from which seemed to disappear all the signs left by time and her intense life,” she said. “[Her] life mission was always to do what is good.”