In the wake of the great intuitions of the Second Vatican Council and on the occasion of the International Year of Women held by the United Nations (1975), Pope Paul VI wanted to create something as strong sign in the Church of Rome for the valorization of women in the Church and in the world.
Pope Paul VI entrusted this responsibility to the Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), Mons. Enrico Bartoletti, who at the time was also an authoritative member of the Episcopal Commission appointed by the Pope for another direction of the Capranica College; he was helped in the planning of the project and in its realization by Mons. Franco Gualdrini, Rector of the same College. The Capranica College offered its property “Villa Santa Cecilia,” located in Vinitia (near Rome), where in 1974-75 the experience of the first women of the community started and launched this important ecclesial and human adventure, with the direct responsibility of their diocesan Bishops.
The direction was entrusted to a young student of the Pontifical Gregorian University, Ide Manici, chosen by Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, to which Monsignor Gualdrini had directly addressed himself.
In entrusting the task to the first young Director, Bishop Bartoletti said: “This is a deed of God and I almost pretend to consider it a little prophetic and it seems to me that it can be of advantage for the Church” (Ide Manici, Verbal meeting Bartoletti-Manici, 1973, in the CTF “S. Cecilia” Archive).
In the academic year 1974-75 the “Convitto S. Cecilia” started, the cohabitation of the first four students launched in this important ecclesial and human adventure, supported by their bishops of the Dioceses of Agrigento, Reggio Calabria, Rome and Trieste.
Shortly others were added and the group grew considerably, welcoming students from many Countries of the world.
Monsignor Gualdrini also gave to the young students a spiritual assistant, father Sante De Giorgi.
It was a decisive year for the consolidation of the CTF, thanks to the private audience with Pope John Paul II. Before celebrating the morning Eucharist with the students and other former students, the Polish Pope gave them words of encouragement, outlining also the strengths of their academic and ecclesial experience (Johon Paul II, Homily at the Mass for the guests of the S. Cecilia Women’s Theological College, 1982)
Also present at the audience were Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, President of the Episcopal Commission of the Almo Collegio Capranica and promoter of the meeting; the Rector Mons. Franco Gualdrini, Mons. Carlo Caffarra, Dean of the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family (Lateran University), then residing in “Villa S. Cecilia”; in addition, the spiritual assistant Fr Sante Di Giorgi and the newly Director, Dr. Maria Teresa Vaccari; finally, some religious Figlie di Maria Corredentrice, who served the pilgrims at the “Villa S. Cecilia”.
The women sent by their local Churches continued to increase, reaching 37 people in the academic year 1983-1984, coming from Dioceses of 5 Continents.
Meanwhile, there was change in the direction of the CTF, passing form Dr. M.T. Vaccari (1982-1986), now committed to the Pontifical Mission Societies, to ex-member of CTF Caterina Ferlito (1986-1987) and Elisabetta Biguzzi (1987-1988).
The residence in Vitinia proved inconvenient in the face of academic commitments concentrated in the Center of Rome. In 1988 the Rector of the Capranica College, Mons. Luciano Pacomio, succeeded Mons. Gualdrini, while elected bishop of Terni (1983), worked to transfer the CTF to the “Santissima Concezione” Conservatory, a university College for women, near Termini Station, between the Basilicas of San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore.
The Episcopal Commission of the Capranica College undertook to provide financial support to the students, through the establishment of scholarships, with which to cover, at least partially, the costs of accommodation.
At the same time, the Episcopal Commission entrusted the responsibility of the CTF to Sr. Gisella Lupo, ex-member of CTF, who became, in the meantime, religious sister in the Institute of Disciples of the Redeemer of the Diocese of Agrigento.
The religious Institute will have held the leadership for almost 30 years (until 2017) and the direction of the CTF would not anymore be held by a ex-member CTF.
On the occasions of the 20th and 25th anniversary of the CTF (1995 and 2000), a meeting was held with Card. Camillo Ruini, at the time Vicar of the Pope for the Diocese of Rome and Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference (as well as ex-Capranicense). In the meeting the CTF members tried to define a first legal identity and an initial Statute. But it was not yet the right time.
With the change of Capranicense Rectorate, assumed by Mons. Michele Pennisi, in 2002 the CEI began to support the CTF economically, albeit with a minimal contribution.
To date, almost 300 women, coming from the 5 Continents, have returned to their particular Churches and work in Theological and Philosophical Teaching, in Ecclesiastical Tribunals, in Communication and Education, alongside lay people and priests in the different sectors of Pastoral care.
In the 2016/17 academic year the seat of the “SS Concezione” Conservatory is underwent major renovations by the Vicariate of Rome, thanks to the active commitment of Mons. Antonio Interguglielmi, President of the Board of the Foundation, to which the College belongs to.
With the enlightened guidance of the new Rector of the Capranica College, Mons. Ermenegildo Manicardi, the CTF sees its relaunch on the formation and management plan: the leadership is entrusted to Prof. Elisabetta Casadei, ex-member of CTF; next to the CTF the Studium Evangelii Gaudium open, for young students and female teachers, who intend to promote the dialogue between theological, human, social and natural Sciences.
The two institutions share the same style of life, made of communion and a strong commitment to study or teaching, service and prayer.
A sign of this renewal is the change of name: from “Convitto S. Cecilia” to the “Female Theological College “S. Cecilia “, more responsive to its nature of an university coexistence; in which alongside the academic formation in the Pontifical Universities and Institutes, there is the possibility of maturing a human, spiritual and ecclesial growth, specifically lay, and in the perspective of a real insertion in the local Church.
«The feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures».(Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 103)