9 November 2003
Juan Nepomuceno Zegrí
Luigi Maria Monti
Bl. Juan Nepomuceno Zegrí
y Moreno (1831-1905)
Founder of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Juan Nepomuceno Zegrí y
Moreno was born on 11 October 1831 in Granada, Spain. His father, Antonio
Zegrí Martin, and his mother, Josefa
Moreno Escudero, were most vigilant in educating their son and in helping
to form his personality according to evangelical values. The young boy had
a great love for Jesus and Mary and was particularly sensitive to the
needs of the poor.
Binding wounds, healing hearts
As a youth, Juan felt called to serve the Lord in society's poor, and
wanted to become a priest. He entered St Dionysius Seminary of Granada,
and on 2 June 1855 was ordained in the Cathedral of Granada. He served in
the parishes of Huetor Santillan and of San Gabriel de Loja
His vocation, as he once proclaimed in a homily, was to be "like a good
shepherd, going after the lost sheep; like a doctor, healing sick hearts
wounded by faults and binding them with hope; like a father, who visibly
provides for all of those who, suffering from abandonment, must drink from
the bitter chalice and receive nourishment from the bread of tears".
Fr Zegrí's priestly life was
characterized by a profound experience of God and a deep love for Jesus
the Redeemer and Mary, Mother and Protectress. His sermons encouraged
listeners to live the Christian life radically and responsibly.
He always served with great humility in the positions he was asked to
assume as a priest: synodal judge, canon of the cathedral of Malaga,
visitor of the religious orders, formator of the seminarians, and preacher
of and royal chaplain to Her Majesty Queen Isabel II.
Founder inspired by Mary
It was with a profound interest in resolving social problems and in
meeting the needs of the poor and neglected that Fr Zegrí
felt called to found a religious congregation that would serve the most
needy. On 16 March 1878 in Malaga, under the protection and inspiration of
the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, he began the Congregation of the
Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
The Congregation's main charism was to practice all of the spiritual
and corporal works of mercy for the benefit of the poor. He asked the
Religious to do all "for the good of humanity, in God, for God, towards
God". In only a few years, the Congregation was established in many
Dioceses throughout Spain, all due to the dynamism of Fr Zegrí's
charismatic inspiration: heal wounds, repair evils, comfort sorrows,
dry tears, do not, if possible, leave even one person in the world
abandoned, afflicted, unprotected, without religious education and
He firmly believed that "charity is the only answer to all social
problems". In this light the key points of the spirituality of the Founder
were: redemptive charity; love and configuration with Jesus the Redeemer;
love for Mary, Our Lady of Mercy.
Testing and vindication
God permitted Fr Zegrí to be
severely tested and misunderstood after he founded the Congregation, and
his own Religious "daughters" falsely accused him. With a Pontifical
Decree dated 7 July 1888 he was sent away from the Order that he himself
After years of silent suffering, his innocence was recognized with
another Decree dated 15 July 1894. Although he was permitted to re-enter
the Congregation, he was not accepted. He voluntarily kept himself at a
distance in order to preserve communion with the Church and his
"daughters", so that they would not openly disobey Church authority.
On 17 March 1905 in Malaga, Fr Zegrí
died just as he had desired: like Jesus, alone and abandoned. He offered
himself for the good of humanity and forgave "his own" who had accused
After many years, the Congregation once again recognized him as
Founder, all due to the fact that there were Sisters who had kept alive
his memory and witness of holiness. In 1925 Fr Zegrí
was officially declared as Founder of the Sisters of Charity of the
Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
Bl. Bonifacia Rodríguez
Foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of St
Bonifacia Rodríguez Castro was born
on 6 June 1837 in Salamanca, Spain, the eldest of six children. Her
parents, Juan and Maria Natalia, possessed a deep Catholic faith and took
special care to educate their children in the faith. Her first "school"
was her home, where Bonifacia's father, a tailor, carried out his trade
that Bonifacia quite easily learned.
After completing her primary studies and following the death of her
father, the young Bonifacia learned the trade of cord-making to provide
financial support for her mother and family. Eventually she was able to
establish her own house-shop, where she worked tirelessly in imitation of
the Holy Family of Nazareth.
A group of Bonifacia's friends, attracted by her witness of life, soon
began to meet in her house-shop on Sunday afternoons and feast days,
seeking Bonifacia's help in order to avoid dangerous forms of
entertainment. Together with her, they decided to form the "Association of
the Immaculate and St Joseph", later called the "Josephine Association".
In this way, the shop acquired a clear apostolic and social dimension of
spiritual support, especially for women.
Institute to help female workers
As time passed, Bonifacia felt more and more called to enter religious
life and become a Dominican in the convent of Sta Maria de Dueñas
in Salamanca. A providential encounter, however, changed this path.
In 1870 the Jesuit Fr Francisco Javier Butiña
y Hospital arrived in Salamanca with an evangelizing message for manual
workers about the sanctification of their work. Bonifacia felt very drawn
to this ideal and began to receive spiritual direction from Fr Butiña.
She confided to the priest that she wanted to become a Dominican, but
he instead suggested that she establish with him the Congregation of the
Siervas de San José (Servants
of St Joseph), with the mission of protecting female workers.
She consented with great docility and on 10 January 1874, together with
six women from the Josephine Association, she began community life in
Salamanca in her own shop. Three days earlier the Decree of Erection had
been signed by Salamanca's Bishop Joaquin Lluch y Garriga, who strongly
supported the foundation.
Opposition and exile
In the shop, the Siervas de San José
offered work to poor unemployed women to help them avoid the dangers
encountered by those working outside the home at that time.
There were those, however, who did not understand the evangelical depth
and richness of this form of religious life, so close as it was to the
world of work, and it quickly encountered opposition. Among the opponents
were certain members of Salamanca's diocesan clergy.
Three months after the foundation, Fr Butiña
was exiled from Spain with his Jesuit companions, and in January 1875
Bishop Lluch y Garriga was transferred as Bishop to Barcelona. Within one
year, Sr Bonifacia was leading the new Institute on her own.
The new directors of the community appointed by Salamanca's new Bishop
began to sow discord among the Sisters, some of whom began to oppose the
"shop" and the sheltering of women workers in it.
Sr Bonifacia, however, avoided all changes in the original charism as
defined in the Constitutions by Fr Butiña.
Foundress is 'separated'
In 1882, Sr Bonifacia travelled to Gerona in order to unite the other
houses of the Siervas de San José
that Fr Butiña had founded in
Catalonia upon his return from exile; however, upon returning to Salamanca
she found that she had been removed as Superior and Counsellor of the
Institute by the Director of the Congregation.
Humiliations, rejection and calumnies soon followed, all with the hope
that she would leave Salamanca. But Sr Bonifacia's response was simply
silence with forgiveness.
She even developed a compromise when she proposed to the Bishop the
foundation of a new community in Zamora. With approval, she gave the
community life with utmost fidelity, while in Salamanca Sr Bonifacia and
the community in Zamora were completely ignored.
Institute's reunion 'when I die'
The greatest humiliation and moment of self-emptying for Sr Bonifacia
occurred on 1 July 1901, when the pontifical approbation of the Siervas
de San José that was granted by
Leo XIII excluded the house of Zamora.
Not even this, however, separated her from her Salamancan "daughters",
and with complete trust in God she told the Sisters in Zamora that this
reunion between the two would take place "when I die".
Sr Bonifacia died on 8 August 1905 in Zamora. On 23 January 1907, the
house of Zamora was fully incorporated to the rest of the Congregation.
Bl. Luigi Maria Monti
Founder of the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception
Luigi Monti was born on 24 July 1825 at Bovisio in the Diocese of
Milan, the eighth of 11 children. His father died when he was 12, and
Luigi became a craftsman of wood products to help support his other
younger brothers and sisters. Many artisans and farmers his own age used
to gather in his shop. Soon, the group called itself "The Company of the
Sacred Heart of Jesus", but the people of Bovisio referred to it as "The
Company of Friars".
These young men became noted for their austere lifestyle, dedication to
the sick and poor, and zeal in evangelizing lapsed Catholics. Luigi
consecrated himself to God in 1846, at the age of 21, by professing vows
of chastity and obedience in the hands of his spiritual director. He was a
faithful lay man consecrated in the Church of God with neither convent nor
Not everyone understands
Not everyone, however, was able to grasp what the Spirit had bestowed
upon Luigi Monti. In fact, some people in the small town, together with
the parish priest, mounted a campaign which led to slanderous charges of
political conspiracy against the Austrian occupation authorities. In 1851
Luigi Monti and his companions were jailed in Desio, Milan, and released
72 days later at the end of a formal investigation into the charges.
The young man joined his spiritual director in entering the Sons of
Mary Immaculate, the Congregation that was founded by Bl. Ludovico Pavoni.
He remained in the Congregation as a novice for six years. This was a
period of transition for Luigi, during which he gained experience as an
educator and nurse, practicing the latter among those stricken by cholera
during the epidemic of 1855 in Brescia.
Spiritual struggles abound
At age 32 Luigi was still searching to realize his own consecration. In
a letter written in 1896, four years prior to his death, he described his
spiritual struggle at that time:
"I would spend hours before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament,
but they were all hours without a drop of heavenly dew; my heart remained
arid, cold and unmoved. I was on the verge of abandoning everything when,
alone in my room, I heard a clear and distinct inner voice saying
to me: 'Luigi, go to the choir in church and present your tribulations
once again to the Blessed Sacrament'. I heeded this inspiration
and hastened to follow it. I knelt down and after a short time
– what wonder! I saw two figures in human form. I recognized them.
It was Jesus with his Most Holy Mother, who approached me and in a loud
voice said to me; 'Luigi, much indeed will you still have to suffer:
other varied and greater battles will you face. Be strong; you will emerge
victorious from everything; never lacking to you will be our powerful
help. Continue the way you began'. Thus did they speak and then
Inspired by the witness of charity of St Crocifissa Di Rosa, his
spiritual director broached the idea that Luigi Monti establish a
Congregation to serve the sick in Rome. Luigi embraced the idea and
suggested calling it "The Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate
Conception". The idea was shared by several of his friends dating back to
the time of the "Company", including a young, ardent and experienced nurse
by the name of Cipriano Pezzini,
The founding was no simple matter, especially in one of the most famous
health-care facilities of Europe, Santo Spirito Hospital. And when Luigi
arrived in Rome in 1858, the situation he found was quite different
compared to the plans he made with his friends.
For the time being Luigi could simply be a nurse at Santo Spirito, and
he asked to join the Capuchin Friars, who were chaplains at the hospital.
In 1877 Pope Pius IX placed him at the head of "his" Congregation, and so
he remained until his death 23 years later.
The apostolate expands
When he became Superior General, Luigi Monti prepared a rule of life
for the Congregation reflecting the experience he had received under the
Holy Spirit's inspiration. The Brothers dedicated themselves heroically to
the care of the sick. In difficult times they did not hesitate to
surrender their own beds for the comfort of the sick and infirm. Other
small communities were soon opened.
In 1882 a Carthusian monk arrived at Luigi's doorstep with his four
nephews who had lost both their parents. The Superior took this as a sign
from God and expanded his mission by opening a home for orphans in Saronno.
Luigi Monti, a consecrated lay man, called "father" out of veneration
by his followers due to his readily evident spiritual fatherhood,
conceived the community of ordained and lay Brothers with equality of
rights and responsibilities. Luigi died in 1900 at age 75, completely worn
out and practically blind.
In 1904 Pope St Pius X approved the new model of community foreseen by
the Founder, granting the ministerial priesthood as an essential
complement for carrying out an apostolic mission addressed to the whole of
man in assistance both to the sick and youth in need.
Religious Priest of the Order of Friars Minor
Bl. Valentin Paquay (1828-1905)
Valentin Paquay was born on 17 November 1828 in Tongres, Belgium, the
fifth of 11 children to Henry and Anna Neven. His parents were profoundly
religious and honest, and raised their children according to these
standards. Following elementary school Valentin entered the school of
Tongres directed by the Canons Regular of St Augustine in order to
continue his literary studies, and in 1845 he was accepted into the
seminary of St-Trond where he studied rhetoric and philosophy.
His vocation to the Order of Friars Minor
In 1847 Valentin's father died unexpectedly; with his mother's approval
the young man entered the Order of Friars Minor, beginning his novitiate
in the convent of Thielt on 3 October 1849.
On 4 October the following year, he made his religious profession at
the hands of Fr Ugoline Demont, guardian of the convent. Immediately
after, he went to Beckheim to attend a theological course which was
concluded in the convent of St-Trond.
Valentin was ordained a priest on 10 June 1854 in Liegi. He was then
sent by his superiors to Hasselt, where he remained for the rest of his
life, serving as a guardian and vicar of his Order. In 1890 and in 1899 he
was also appointed provincial.
Like St Francis, a simple, humble man of God
Fr Valentin lived deeply the Franciscan spirituality, stressing the
value of every moment and educating all to appreciate even the smallest
and most simple of things that life brings. All of this was carried out
with the most sincere and spontaneous humility.
Fr Valentin was also tireless in the field of apostolic work and
preached "non-stop"; indeed, he was well known for his simple yet
He was an especially devoted confessor and had the gift of penetrating
in an extraordinary way the conscience of penitents, who would travel
great lengths to make their Confession to this holy, humble priest of God.
In addition, he served as the director of the Fraternity of the
Franciscan Secular Order of Hasselt for 26 years.
Special veneration for the 'Immaculate Conception'
Fr Valentin was extremely devoted to the Eucharist and to the Sacred
Heart of Jesus. He also possessed a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin
Mary stemming from his childhood days in the parish church of Tongres,
where Our Lady was venerated under the title of "Cause of our Joy".
As a Franciscan, however, he venerated her especially as the
"Immaculate Conception"; he had been ordained a priest in the same year
that the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed.
Fr Valentin Paquay died in Hasselt on 1 January 1905 at the age of 77.
Bl. Rosalie Rendu (1786-1856) Religious Sister of the Company of the Daughters of Charity of
St Vincent de Paul
Jeanne Marie Rendu was born on 9 September 1786 at Confort, a district
of Gex, France, the eldest of four girls. Her parents were small property
owners who sought to live and teach the Catholic faith to their daughters,
especially by example; in fact, after the outbreak of the French
Revolution when Jeanne Marie was only 3 years old, the Rendu home became a
refuge for the priests who refused to take the oath of support of the
civil Constitution and risked being put to death.
It was in this atmosphere of tension and hiding that Jeanne Marie was
educated and moulded in a solid, strong faith, even making her First
Communion "in hiding" in the basement of her home. She was also put to the
test with the death of her father in 1796 and the death of her younger
sister two months later. As the eldest daughter, she had to help her
mother look after the family.
Entering the Daughters of Charity
After the Revolution ended, Jeanne Marie was sent to boarding school
with the Ursuline Sisters in Gex. Here she discovered the hospital where
the Daughters of Charity cared for the sick and the poor, and she felt the
desire to join them. With her mother's permission, she began to frequent
the hospital and to help the needy.
On 25 May 1802 in Paris, just two years after the re-opening of the
Novitiate which was suppressed by leaders of the Revolution, Jeanne Marie
decided to enter the Daughters of Charity; she was almost 17 years old.
After a period of time, she was sent to the Mouffetard District, the
poorest in Paris, in order to serve the needy there.
Disease, slums and destitution were the daily lot of the people who
were trying to survive. Here, Jeanne Marie, who received the name "Sister
Rosalie", made her "apprenticeship", accompanying the Sisters who would
visit the sick and the poor. During free moments she taught catechism and
reading to young girls accepted at the free school. In 1807, Sr Rosalie
made her religious profession.
A Superior leading by example
In 1815, Sr Rosalie was appointed as Superior of the House of Charity
at Rue des Francs Bourgeois. Her dedication, humility, compassion
and organizational skills quickly became evident as she carried out her
office as Superior and "Mother".
During this time, she sent her Sisters to bring supplies, clothing,
care and a comforting word to the most destitute in the area. To assist
all those in need, Sr Rosalie opened a free clinic, pharmacy, school,
orphanage, child-care centre, youth club for young workers and home for
The reputation of Sr Rosalie grew in all the districts of the capital
and beyond. She was surrounded by many efficient and dedicated co-workers
and began to receive donations from the rich and royalty in order to
assist her efforts in helping the poor.
Her prayer life was intense, as she daily experienced the conviction of
St Vincent: "You will go and visit the poor 10 times a day, and 10 times a
day you will find God there... you go into their poor homes, but you find
God there". It was this prayer life that sustained her, particularly if
she had a difficult mission to fulfil; during these times her Sisters
would find her in the chapel or on her knees in her office.
A Religious on a mission
She made it her mission to "hunt down poverty in order to give humanity
its dignity", and she formed the Sisters under her care to do the same, by
loving God through their care for the poor and their seeking of justice.
In fact, the Revolutions of 1830 and 1848 saw her close to all those her
were suffering, regardless of their allegiance; she even mounted the
barricades to assist the wounded and protected all who sought refuge in
her house. At the risk of her own life, she put herself between the
opposing factions, crying out: "We do not kill here!".
In 1852 Napoleon III awarded her the Cross of the Legion of Honour for
the work she had accomplished in the most miserable area of Paris; while
she declined at first, Father Etienne, Superior General of the Priests of
the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, prevailed upon her to accept it.
Although Sr Rosalie always had fragile health, she never took a moment
of rest, always managing to overcome fatigue and fevers. During the last
two years of her life, however, she became progressively blind. Sr Rosalie
died on 7 February 1856 after a brief, acute illness.
27 April 2003
Maria Christina Brando
Maria D. Mantovani
Mark of Aviano
Bl. James Alberione
Founder of the Pauline Family
James Alberione was born on 4 April 1884 in San Lorenzo di Fossano,
Italy, and baptized the following day. The profoundly Christian and
hardworking Alberione family, made up of Michael and Teresa Allocco and
their six children, were farmers.
God's plan for James became apparent early on. When his first-grade
teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered:
"I want to become a priest!", and never wavered.
When James was 16, he entered the Diocesan Seminary in Alba. Here he
met Canon Francesco Chiesa, who would be father, guide and adviser to
him over the next 46 years.
On the night of 31 December 1900, the teen received a special grace
that would give his life and activity in the Church a new direction.
While in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of
Alba, a "particular enlightenment" came to him, and he
"felt deeply obliged to prepare himself to do something for the
women and men of the new century..., to serve the Church" with new
means of communication offered by human ingenuity. He continued his
studies of philosophy and theology with this call profoundly engraved on
his heart. On 29 June 1907, he was ordained a priest. After a positive
pastoral experience in Narzole, he spent the following years as
spiritual director to both the major and minor seminarians in the
Seminary of Alba, where he also taught. He assisted by preaching,
teaching catechism and giving conferences in the various parishes of the
In addition to this, he devoted much time to studying the
civil-ecclesial situation and the newly-emerging needs of society. The
Lord was preparing him for a new mission in the Church. He felt the
urgency to "bring mankind to God and God to mankind" through
the use of the modern means of communication.
In 1910, Fr Alberione came to a deeper understanding of this new task
when he became aware that the mission of giving Jesus Christ to the
world must be assumed and achieved by consecrated persons. On 20 August
1914, he founded the Pious Society of St Paul in Alba. Shortly
thereafter, in 1915, he met 20-year-old Teresa Merlo from Castagnito,
and with her cooperation, began the Congregation of the Daughters of
St Paul. Slowly but decisively, the apostolate assumed its specific
features as the "Family" developed around male and female
In 1924 the second congregation for women — the Pious Disciples of the Divine
Master, dedicated to Eucharistic, priestly and liturgical
apostolates — was born to the "Pauline
Family". To guide the new congregation, Fr Alberione asked young
Orsola Rivata for assistance.
Fr Alberione tried to identify the speediest forms to bring the
Gospel message to every person and had the intuition that, in addition
to books, the publication of periodicals would be most effective. In
1931 the weekly magazine Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family)
came into being which aimed at nourishing Christian life in homes. Other
magazines would follow: Mother of God ("to reveal to souls
the beauty and grandeur of Mary"); Pastor Bonus; in 1952 the
Way, Truth and Life (for the spread and teaching of Christian
doctrine); Life in Christ and in the Church (to make "known
the treasures of Liturgy... to live the Liturgy according to the
Church"); and not forgetting the Little Newspaper for
In 1926 the first branch of the Pauline Family was founded in Rome,
and in the succeeding years there were other foundations in Italy and
abroad. Towards the end of 1945, in fact, Fr Alberione engaged in long
trips around the world to meet and confirm countless brothers and
sisters in the faith. Pope Paul VI described this tireless apostle as
"humble, silent, untiring, always vigilant, always recollected in
his thoughts that make prayer flow into action...".
In October 1938 he founded the third congregation for women, known as
the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd, to assist parish priests
in their work. In 1959 the Queen of Apostles Institute for Vocations,
dedicated to the vocation apostolate, was founded, together with several
secular Institutes for consecrated life — Institute of St Gabriel the
Archangel (for men); Our Lady of the Annunciation (for
women); Jesus Priest (for diocesan priests); and Holy Family (for
married couples). The Pauline Cooperators completed the great
"tree" of the Pauline Family, with its 10 branches.
Fr Alberione described the Pauline Family in the following way:
"In the first place, our piety is Eucharistic. Everything is
born, as from the spring of life, from the Divine Master. Thus, the
Pauline Family was born of the Tabernacle, nourishes with it, works and
is sanctified in the same manner. From the Mass, from Communion, from
the Visit — everything: holiness and apostolate".
He said that "the Pauline Family aims to live fully the Gospel of
Jesus Christ, the Way, Truth and Life, in the spirit of St Paul, under
the gaze of the Queen of the Apostles".
Fr James Alberione died on 26 November 1971 in Rome.
Bl. Maria D. Mantovani
Cofoundress of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family
Born on 12 November 1862 in Castelletto di Brenzone, Italy, Maria
Domenica Mantovani was the first of Giovanni and Prudenza Zamperini's
four children. She grew up in this small farming village and attended
elementary school up to the third grade. Her intelligence, strong will
and good sense made up for her incomplete education. She learned a
healthy, balanced piety from her parents and at an early age was drawn
to prayer and to helping others.
In 1877, when Maria Domenica was 15 years old, Fr Giuseppe Nascimbeni
arrived in Castelletto as curate of the parish. As Maria's spiritual
director he encouraged the young girl to play an active role in the
parish by visiting the sick and teaching catechism. Fr Nascimbeni, who
desired to enter into the lives of the townspeople to lead them to God,
found Maria Domenica to be a zealous "collaborator". Her life
of prayer and her love of God and others continued to expand under the
care and direction of this austere, holy priest (beatified 17 April
On 8 December 1886, before a statue of Mary Immaculate, Maria made a
private vow of perpetual virginity. She felt that God was calling her to
be consecrated to Him. This profound love for the Virgin Mary was
characteristic of Maria Domenica, who allowed herself to be guided by
Mary and to follow Our Lady's motherly example in caring for souls.
In 1892, Fr Nascimbeni founded the Congregation of the Little
Sisters of the Holy Family with four women, to promote parish life
and any activity that would help the spiritual and material well-being
of people in need. Maria Domenica assisted him in the foundation and was
made Cofoundress and Superior General. She was given the name
"Mother Maria of the Immaculate", and to the sisters and
townspeople she was simply known as "Mother".
She was faithful in assimilating and putting into practice the
formation she had received from Fr Nascimbeni during the
"preparatory years", carefully passing it on to the sisters
and novices who were entrusted to her care. Mother Maria's life of
prayer was exemplary; she was noted for her complete trust in Mary
Immaculate and always sought guidance for the direction of the
congregation and the direction of the souls of her "daughters"
at Our Lady's feet.
Mother Maria felt her own "littleness" in front of the
greatness of what God was calling her to do, especially since she, after
Fr Nascimbeni, became a reference point and a model for the townspeople
who came to her for counsel and comfort. With deep faith, however, she
would say: "The Holy Family, for the great and mysterious
project [that God is calling it to], has chosen me as its Cofoundress...,
knowing that the Lord uses the least qualified, little, unknown
instruments to do great works.... I am tranquil and convinced that the
Institute, the work of God, will be provided for and guided by
The sisters were put under the direct care of Mother Maria in their
spiritual and apostolic formation. Their charism was one of service to
the poor and needy of the villages, achieved through the religious
instruction of parishioners, assisting the sick and elderly in their
homes and working with children in nursery schools.
Mother Maria constantly transmitted to all around her a feeling of
great peace and was known for her goodness, humility, and also firmness
when needed. In 1922 Fr Nascimbeni died, and Mother Maria continued to
guide the growing religious family with constancy, simplicity and
dedication. She herself died on 2 February 1934 in Castelletto di
Today the Little Sisters of the Holy Family can be found in
Italy, Switzerland, Albania, Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and
Paraguay. They are dedicated to serving children and youth, families,
priests, the elderly and the disabled in parishes.
Bl. Julia Salzano (1846-1929)
Foundress of the Catechist Sisters of the Sacred Heart
Julia Salzano was born on 13 October 1846 in Santa Maria Capua Vetere,
Italy, the daughter of Adelaide Valentine and Diego Salzano, a Captain
in the Lancers of King Ferdinand II of Naples. Julia made her First
Communion on 8 December 1854, the day of the proclamation of the Dogma
of the Immaculate Conception. A very determined child, she attempted
from early on to practice fully the Christian faith that she was taught
and that grew through her strong prayer life.
Her father died when she was four, and the young Julia was entrusted
to the Sisters of Charity in the Royal Orphanage of San Nicola La Strada,
where she remained until she was 15. She earned a teaching diploma and
then taught at the local school at Casoria, in the Province of Naples,
having moved there with her family in October 1865.
Along with her academic teaching, she had a great interest in
teaching catechism, imparting the faith to children, young people and
adults. She also encouraged devotion to the Virgin Mary.
Since she was busy teaching in the school, the only free time Julia
could dedicate to this activity was in the afternoons, and she began
inviting children to her home to instruct them. In the Diocese of Naples
in the 1850s, there was growing interest and a revival of catechetical
teaching and charitable works, and it was not long before Julia became a
protagonist of this development.
Julia wanted to "make Jesus known and loved" by the
children and those around her, and this was the purpose of her
catecheses. She always prepared her lessons with great care, and
included Sacred Scripture into each lesson. In the room where she taught
catechism, she had on display different episodes of the Old and New
Testaments, to make the faith more "visible". She tried to
meet the needs of all the townspeople and even organized "Marian
months" for married women and mothers who were unable to come to
church in the evenings because of their difficult schedules. When Julia
was going to give a talk in the Church of Mt Carmel, the men, women and
children of the town would spread the word and they looked forward to
hearing her speak about the faith and love of God.
Above all, Julia was known for her goodness and patience, and this
made her teaching even more valid and persuasive. Those around her
discovered her to be a person of great coherence and strength, one who
practiced daily what she taught. This, in fact, was the key to her
method of teaching.
Julia began to understand that she was being called to live this
teaching and to pass it on to others in a very radical way. In 1905 she
founded the Congregation of the Catechist Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
She would tell the sisters: "These truths [that we teach] must be
lived, not explained; if you do not live them, your presence is
irrelevant". The newly-founded congregation especially reached out
to the poorest and even taught catechism in peoples' homes. Today, too,
it continues to be engaged in parish catechesis, in training centres for
pastoral workers and in education.
Mother Julia transmitted to the sisters an "ordinary
holiness". She was a woman who put all her energy and talent at
God's disposal and lived the evangelical counsels. "Life before
words", Mother Julia would repeatedly tell the sisters, and would
accept nothing less from her spiritual daughters. With the single desire
to give glory to God, she would pray: "May the satisfaction that I
feel in speaking about You, O sweet Jesus, not be a vain one, but
because it penetrates into the soul of who is listening". She also
exhorted her daughters: "The Sister-catechist must be ready, at
every moment, to instruct the little ones and the uneducated. She must
not count the sacrifices such a ministry demands; indeed, she should
desire to die while doing it, if this be God's Will".
Mother Julia died on 17 May 1929 in Casoria.
Bl. Mark of Aviano
Mark of Aviano was born on 17 November 1631 in Aviano, Italy, to Marco
Pasquale Cristofori and Rosa Zanoni and was given the name Carlo Domenico
on the day of his Baptism. He was educated at home and later he attended
the school in Gorizia conducted by the Jesuit Fathers.
Fascinated by the lives of heroes and martyrs and moved by holy zeal,
he left Gorizia on foot when he was 16 years old and headed for the island
of Crete where the Venezians were at war with the Ottoman Turks. He too
wanted to be a martyr for the faith. After a few days walk, tired and
hungry, the young man arrived in Capodistria and knocked on the door of
the Capuchin Convent. He was welcomed by the superior who, after providing
him with food and rest, advised him to return home.
Deeply inspired by his encounter with the Capuchins, Carlo felt that
God was calling him to enter the order. In 1648, at Conegliano Veneto, he
entered the novitiate of the Capuchins. A year later, he professed his
vows and was given the name "Fr Mark of Aviano". On 18 September
1655 he was ordained a priest in Chioggia. He lived the next few years
immersed in prayer and in fulfilling his duties within the community,
dedicating himself without reserve to living as faithfully as possible the
Rule and Constitutions.
His cloistered life, however, took a different turn in 1664 when he
received the "licence to preach" and was called to the
missionary activity of spreading the Gospel throughout Italy, especially
during the Advent and Lenten seasons. He was also given more
responsibility within the Order when he was elected superior of the
convent of Belluno in 1672, and of the convent of Oderzo in 1674.
Fr Mark of Aviano's life changed unexpectedly on 8 September 1676.
While preaching at a monastery in Padua, he gave his blessing to Sr
Vincenza Francesconi who had been bedridden for some 13 years. Upon
receiving Fr Mark's blessing, she was healed. The news of the
"miraculous blessing" spread throughout the town, and it was not
long before the sick and suffering came in search of him to ask for his
Fr Mark continued, obedient to his superiors and to the direct
instructions of the Holy See, to preach inside and outside of Italy. His
preaching was incisive and essential, and he especially educated and
encouraged the faithful to repent of their sins and to lead a consistent
evangelical life. He always led the public recitation of the "Act of
Perfect Contrition", a prayer that was printed and circulated in many
European countries. His blessing brought abundant spiritual graces to the
faithful, and often miraculous physical healings.
Among those who sought his help and counsel was the Austrian Emperor
Leopold I. From 1680 until his death, Fr Mark assisted Leopold I, offering
him spiritual guidance and helping him to discern solutions for every sort
of problem: political, economic, military and religious. The priest was
also appointed by Pope Innocent XI as Apostolic Nuncio and Papal Legate,
leaving his convent in Padua for Vienna. He encouraged everyone through
his preaching and was successful in freeing Vienna from the Ottoman Turks
on 12 September 1683.
From 1683-89 he participated in the military campaigns of defence and
liberation, with the aim always to establish and to promote reciprocal
friendly relations within the Imperial army, to teach authentic Christian
conduct and to help the soldiers spiritually. His assistance
re-established peace in Europe (he also helped to bring about the
liberation of Buda on 2 September 1686 and of Belgrade on 6 September
1688), and his intercession promoted unity between the Catholic powers in
the defence of the faith, so threatened by the Ottoman forces.
Throughout his missions and frequent contact with others, Fr Mark
always lived in the presence of God, and indeed it was this union with God
that gave him the light of discernment and the ability to give appropriate
counsel in the most difficult situations. He once wrote: "God knows
that the scope of all of my works is only to do His will. My only interest
is God's glory and the good of souls. I am always an obedient son of Holy
Mother Church and am ready to shed my blood and give my life for
Her". Capuchin Fr Mark of Aviano died of a tumor on 13 August 1699 in
Vienna. As he was patient and strong in facing the difficulties of his
apostolate and persecution from the enemies of the Church, so was he
equally strong in accepting the suffering that his disease caused him at
the end of his life.
Bl. Maria Christina Brando
Foundress of the Sisters, Expiatory Victims of Jesus in the Blessed
Maria Christina of the Immaculate
Conception (Adelaide Brando) was born on 1 May 1856 in Naples, Italy, to
Giovanni Giuseppe Brando and Maria Concetta Marrazzo. She was the eldest
of four children, and baptized Adelaide, Her mother died a few days
later and her father eventually remarried.
Possessing a gentile and docile nature, the
young Adelaide received a fruitful and sound religious education within
her family and showed clear signs of an inclination toward prayer and
Attracted by the things of God, she fled
from worldly vanities, and in addition to a love for solitude, she
frequently received the sacrament of Penance and was a daily
communicant. She heeded the teaching of our Savior (cf. Mt 5:48), and
was accustomed to saying repeatedly: "I must become holy; I want to
be a saint." At about the age of 12, before an image of the Child
Jesus, she professed a vow of perpetual chastity.
When she perceived that she had a vocation
to religious life, she tried to enter the Monastery of the Sacramentine
Nuns in Naples, but was prevented from doing so by her father. However,
she did obtain his consent to be received as a candidate for the Poor
Clare Nuns at their Monastery of the Florentine. Nevertheless, because
of illness she was prevented twice from entering and was forced to
return to her family for medical care. Following her recuperation, she
received permission to enter the Monastery of the Sacramentine Nuns. In
1876 she was vested in the religious habit and took the name of Sister
Maria Christina of the Immaculate Conception. Here, too, she became ill
and was forced to abandon the venture that she had undertaken with such
In July 1878 she moved to the Teresian
Conservatory in Torre del Greco, with her sister, Concetta, who had left
the Poor Clares. They lived as boarders together with a few young women
who were discerning a similiar call. The new Congregation grew quickly
despite economic constraints and other obstacles, as well as the
unstable health of the foundress herself.
Following the counsel of a holy Franciscan
of Naples, Blessed Ludovico of Casoria, Sr Maria Christina moved to
Casoria for the new foundation. Here, together with her first sisters,
she was generously welcomed by the rector Domenico Maglione, brother of
Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Secretary of State of Pope Pius XII. He gave
them a large apartment and encouraged Sr Maria Christina in this
"work of God".
Over the next few years, the new
Congregation expanded to 76 members. It was first given the name
"Pious Institute of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament". Mother Maria Christina summarized the purpose of the
Institute in the following way: "Other than Perpetual Adoration of
the Blessed Sacrament, in reparation for all of the insults He receives,
the Institute has as its scope the Christian education of young girls
through spiritual exercises, boarding schools, day schools, and nursery
In February 1892, Mother Maria Christina
moved to a permanent central residence on San Rocco Street in Casoria.
In order to be nearer in spirit and in body to the tabernacle, she built
a cell adjacent to the church, which she called the "grotticella"
(little grotto). It was a source of edification for everyone in Casoria.
Notwithstanding her frail health — she often suffered from heart problems
and bronchitis — she spent every night of her life
seated in a chair, when awake and while sleeping.
The Congregation increased in members and
in houses, and in 1897 Mother Maria Christina professed her temporary
vows. Together with many of her sisters, the Foundress made her final
profession on 2 November 1902. On 15 June 1903 the Congregation was
granted the Holy See's approval and received the definitive name of the Sisters,
Expiatory Victims of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
On 20 January 1906 Mother Maria Christina
died in Casoria. She would be remembered for the burning love of God and
neighbour that characterized her life. Often she would tell her
spiritual daughters: "Love of God and of neighbour are two branches
that are connected to the same trunk. The love of God gives life to the
love of neighbour; and this, in turn, nourishes love towards God".
Bl. Eugenia Ravasco
Foundress of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
Eugenia Ravasco was born on 4 January 1845
in Milan, Italy, the third of Francesco Matteo and Carolina Mozzoni
Frosconi's six children. When she was three years old her mother died
and her father moved to Genoa where his two brothers lived, taking with
him his eldest son, Ambrose, and the youngest daughter, Elisa. Eugenia
remained in Milan with her Aunt Marietta Anselmi, who became a second
mother to her and carefully educated her in the faith.
In 1852, the family was reunited in Genoa
and following her father's death in March 1855, Eugenia went to live for
some time with her uncle Luigi Ravasco and her aunt Elisa and their 10
children. Luigi Ravasco was careful to give his nephews and nieces a
Christian upbringing. He was well aware of the anticlericalism on the
rise in Italy at the time and of the efforts of the Freemasons, and was
especially worried about Eugenia's brother, Ambrose, who had come under
the influence of this spreading problem.
From early adolescence, Eugenia was deeply
influenced by her uncle's responsible Christian example and his
generosity towards the poor. Unlike her shy younger sister, Elisa,
Eugenia was expansive and energetic and loved to serve others.
Eucharistic worship, together with devotion to the Sacred Hearts of
Jesus and Mary, became an essential part of her spirituality.
On 21 June 1855, Eugenia made her First
Communion and Confirmation in St Ambrose's Church and from that day on,
whenever she passed a church she would enter it to pray. God was
preparing her for greater things.
In December 1862, her uncle died, leaving
Eugenia with the responsibility of caring for the family. With the help
of God and the advice of Canon Salvatore Magnasco, she valiantly faced
the problems caused by her brother. Aunt Marietta joined Eugenia to help
the family. Both made every effort to rescue Ambrose, but without
Although her aunt wanted her to marry,
Eugenia prayed that the Lord would show her the path to take, since she
felt a growing inner call to religious life. On 31 May 1863 she received
an answer as she entered the Church of St Sabina to pray. Fr Giacinto
Bianchi, an ardent missionary of the Sacred Heart, was celebrating Mass.
When she heard him say to the faithful, "Is there no one out there
who feels called to dedicate themselves to doing good for love of the
Heart of Jesus?", Eugenia understood that God was speaking to her,
calling her to him through the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Eugenia found a spiritual director to help
her discern what she was feeling, and shortly thereafter she began to
teach catechism in the parish church to the disadvantaged young girls of
the city. Her aunt and those close to her were against this, especially
because these girls were unmannered and street-wise. But Eugenia
persevered, accepting with patience the humiliations that she received
from all sides. Little by little, she won the young girls over,
organizing day trips and games for them and gaining their trust. She
reached out to the most uneducated, neglected girls who, left to
themselves, were in danger of going down the same errant path as her
As time went on, Eugenia felt that God was
calling her to found a religious order that would form "honest
citizens in society and saints in Heaven". Other young women had
also joined her in this effort. On 6 December 1868, when she was 23
years old, she founded the religious congregation of the Sisters of
the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Canon (later Archbishop)
Magnasco had prepared her carefully and she continued, together with the
sisters, to teach catechism and to open schools.
Despite open hostility towards the Church
and the activity of the Freemasons, Mother Eugenia opened in 1878 a
school for girls to give them Christian instruction and to prepare
"Christian teachers" for the future. She proved courageous in
the face of the persecution and ridicule she received from the local
press. She also gave particular attention to the dying, the imprisoned
and those away from the Church. Notwithstanding her poor health, she
travelled around Italy and to France and Switzerland, opening new
communities and attracting religious vocations.
In 1882 the Congregation received diocesan
approval and in 1884, together with her sisters, Mother Eugenia made her
perpetual profession. She guided the foundations and her sisters with
love and prudence, giving them as model the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and
Mary. Her apostolic ideal in life was "to burn with the desire to
do good to others, especially to youth", and to "live in
abandonment to God and in the hands of Mary Immaculate". Mother
Eugenia Ravasco died on 30 December 1900 in Genoa, consumed by illness.
And in 1909 the Congregation she founded received Pontifical approval.
Today the Congregation of the Sisters of
the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (also known as the "Ravasco
Institute") are present in Albania, Italy, Switzerland, Argentina,
Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Venezuela, Africa and the
Philippines. They continue their work in schools, parishes and missions
and are especially dedicated to serving youth and the needy and to
promoting the dignity of women.
23 March 2003
Juana María Condesa Lluch
Bl. Dolores Rodriguez
Foundress of the Sopena
the Sopeña Lay Movement
and the Sopeña Social
and Cultural Work
She was born on 30
December 1848 in Vélez-Rubio,
Almería, Spain. She was
the fourth of seven
children. Her father worked
as an estate manager and
later, a lawyer. Dolores
grew up in a peaceful and
devout family. Her faith
was the driving force
behind all that God was
to ask of her in the future and in
her deep commitment to serving others, especially the spiritually,
materially and culturally
When she was 17, her father was appointed
judge of Almería and Dolores made
her debut in society; but the glitter of social life left her cold. Her
sole interest was in
doing good for others. She
cared for a leper and two sisters
with typhoid fever; she kept this secret
as she feared her parents might not approve, although she visited
the poor with her mother.
In 1869, her father was sent
to Puerto Rico and took one son with
him. The rest of the family moved
to Madrid. In Madrid, Dolores found a
spiritual director and began teaching
Catholic doctrine at the hospital, at Sunday school and to women
in prison. In 1872, the
family was reunited in Puerto Rico.
Here she came into contact with the
Jesuits, one of whom became her spiritual
director. She founded the Sodality of the Virgin Mary and schools
children to whom she taught
reading, writing and catechism.
In 1873 her father was posted to Santiago,
Cuba; the strong feelings unleashed by a religious schism on the island
restricted Dolores' charitable activities. She asked to enter the
religious institute of
the Sisters of Charity but was
refused admission due to poor eyesight (she had had an eye operation at
the age of eight which left her with this
disability). When the schism ended, she
set to work in the poor neighbourhoods
and founded Centres of Instruction
where she taught catechism and provided general instruction
and medical assistance to the needy. She set up centres in three
different districts and received the necessary help.
In 1877, after her mother's death, Dolores
returned with her family to Madrid.
She devoted herself to caring for her father, to the same kind of
apostolic work she had
done previously and, with the help
of a spiritual director, to discerning
God's call. In 1883 her father died; once
again she found herself grappling with
the problem of her vocation. On the advice of her spiritual
director, a Jesuit, Fr López
Soldado, she entered the Visitation convent although she did not feel
called to the contemplative life. She left
after 10 days, realizing that she had a
vocation to the active apostolate.
In 1885 she opened a centre, modern
for her times, to provide social assistance to the destitute and
became better acquainted
with the poor Madrid neighbourhood of the Injurias. When she discovered
the moral, material and spiritual condition of its inhabitants, she
began weekly visits. She turned to friends
for help, and set up the first centre of
the "Work of the Doctrines" the name
given to these young women teaching
catechism or doctrine.
At the end of the 19th century, it was
inconceivable that a woman work in a
poor neighbourhood. The secret of her
lack of fear was her deep faith and confidence in God. She
recognized this as her
greatest treasure and saw herself
as an instrument of God's
work to bring love, hope,
dignity and justice to
those who had none, at
the time a risky
In 1892, Bishop D.
Ciríaco Sancha of Madrid
suggested she found a
movement (known as the Sopeña
Lay Movement) which
would continue her work
in the poor quarters of
Madrid. The following
year she received
government approval which enabled
her to expand its apostolic activity to eight neighbourhoods. In 1896
she began activities outside
Madrid. In four years she made 199
journeys across Spain to establish
and consolidate the Work of the Doctrines as well as
helping out on the missions in Andalucía.
In 1900 Dolores went on pilgrimage to
Rome and received permission to found
a religious institute that would continue
her Work of the Doctrines and give spiritual support to
the Sopeña Lay Movement.
On 24 September 1901, Dolores
founded the Ladies of the Catechetical
Institute and began community life with
eight companions. In 1907 the Institute
received the Decree of Praise from the
Holy See; two years later Dolores received direct approval from
Pope Pius X. Today the
Institute is known as the Sopeña
Catechetical Institute. In 1902
the Spanish Government also approved
the association now known as the Sopeña Social and Cultural
During these years, her Work of the
Doctrines gradually became Centres for
Workers' Instruction. Many of the centres' members were
influenced by anticlerical sentiments and it would have
been unwise for the instruction to have
anything outright religious about it. This
was the main reason why the community chose not to wear a habit
or any outward sign of religion. The changes were
made in order to come close to workers
"alienated from the Church", deprived
of any cultural, moral or religious instruction and to put them
in touch with people who
were better off to give them an
opportunity to learn from each other.
Indeed, Dolores had set her heart on
"making of all one family in Christ Jesus".
It did not take her long to establish
communities and centres in industrialized cities. In 1910 the
first General Chapter was
held and Dolores was reelected Superior General. In 1914 she
founded a community in Rome, and in
1917, opened the first houses in the
Americas. A year later, on 10 January
1918. Dolores died in Madrid.
The Sopeña Family (the Sopeña Catechetical Institute,
the Sopeña Lay Movement and the Sopeña Social and Cultural
Work) are present in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Chile,
Ecuador, Mexico and the
Bl. Caritas Brader (Mary Josephine Caroline)
Foundress of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary
Mary Josephine Caroline was born in
Kaltbrunn, St Gallen, Switzerland, on 14 August 1860 and was baptized
the next day.
She was an unusually intelligent child. Her
mother raised this child with loving care, giving her a sound Christian
faith. She received an intense love for Jesus Christ and devotion to Our
Lady. Aware of her daughter's talents and ability, her mother took pains
to give her a good education. At school in Kaltbrunn she shone in the
elementary grades. At the Maria Hilf Institute in Alstätten, run by
Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St Francis, she was the first of
the intermediate classes.
When all the world lay at her feet, to
entice her, she followed Christ's call and decided to embrace the
religious life. At first, her mother predictably opposed this decision,
since she was a widow and Mary Josephine was her only child.
On 1 October 1880 she entered the enclosed
Franciscan convent of Maria Hilf. On 1 March 1881 she was clothed with
the Franciscan habit and was given the name of "Mary Charity of the
Love of the Holy Spirit". On 22 August 1882, she professed her
religious vows. Because of the high standard of her education, she was
designated to teach at the convent school.
At the end of the 19th century, it became
possible for cloistered nuns to engage in apostolic activity outside
their monastery so that they could undertake missionary work. Missionary
bishops visited convents in search of sisters who felt called to work in
Bishop Pietro Schumacher of Portoviejo,
Ecuador, a zealous missionary of St Vincent de Paul, wrote to the
religious of Maria Hilf, asking for volunteers to work as missionaries
in his diocese. The religious replied enthusiastically, and one of those
most eager to be a missionary was Sr Caritas Brader. Blessed Maria
Bernarda Bütler, superior of the convent, who was to head the group of
six missionaries, chose Sr Caritas as one of them, saying: "Sr
Caritas will go to the missionary foundation; she is supremely generous,
shows no reluctance to any sacrifice, and with her extraordinary
practical sense and education will be able to render great services to
On 19 June 1888 Sr Caritas and her
companions set out for Chone, Ecuador. In 1893, after catechizing
countless groups of children, she was sent to the foundation in
There she showed her missionary zeal; she
loved the locals and spared no efforts to reach them, braving the wild
breakers of the ocean, the tangled undergrowth of the jungle, and the
intense cold of the high plateaux. Her zeal knew no bounds. She was
concerned above all with the poor, the outcast and those who did not yet
know the Gospel.
To face the urgent need for more
missionaries in the vast field of the apostolate, with the backing of
the German Fr Reinaldo Herbrand, she founded the Congregation of the
Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate. The Congregation was first
made up of young Swiss girls who followed the example of Mother Caritas.
They were immediately joined by local vocations, above all from
Colombia, who swelled the ranks of the new Congregation and allowed it
to spread to several countries.
In her apostolic activity, Mother Caritas
took care to combine contemplation and action. She encouraged her
daughters to acquire effective academic qualifications, but without
permitting the spirit of holy prayer and devotion to be extinguished,
"Do not forget", she told them, "that the better
educated, the greater the skills the educator possesses, the more she
will be able to do for our holy religion and the glory of God,
especially when virtue is the vanguard of her knowledge. The more
intense and visible her external activity, the deeper and more fervent
her interior life must be".
She focused the apostolate mainly on the
education of the poor and the marginalized, wherever need called.
Her great love for Jesus in the Eucharist
prompted her to ask and obtain permission for Perpetual Adoration of the
Blessed Sacrament in the convent. She left this most sacred treasure to
the Congregation along with great respect for priests. During adoration,
Mother Caritas received light and strength for the apostolate. She
taught the sisters to "see God's will in everything, and to do His
will with joy, out of love of Him", hence the motto of her life :
"It is His will".
She was Superior General of the
Congregation from 1893-1919 and from 1928-1940. In 1933, she had the joy
of receiving pontifical approval of the Congregation.
On 27 February 1943, she died in Pasto,
Colombia. As soon as her death became known, people streamed to venerate
her mortal remains, asking for her intercession and hoping for some
relic. Her grave has become the destination of constant pilgrimages. The
most precious relic she left to her daughters was Franciscan poverty, a
constant in her governance. As a missionary in Chone, she lived the same
poverty as the people she had gone there to evangelize and instruct.
Indeed, she was determined that the Congregation always preserve this
poverty and trust in divine providence.
Bl. Juana María Condesa Lluch (1862-1916)
Foundress of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Immaculate
Conception, Protectress of Workers
She was born in Valencia, Spain, on 30
March 1862, into a wealthy Christian family. She received a well-rounded
human and Christian formation from her parents. She was deeply devoted
to the Eucharist and to the Blessed Mother, opening her eyes and heart
to the needs of those around her and nourishing a deep desire to help
the neediest. She had a deep prayer life and already as an adolescent,
felt that God was calling her to live in deep communion with Him. Those
who knew her saw that she "lived the ordinary in an extraordinary
way". Her joy, self-giving and humility enabled her to touch a
multitude of hearts.
She was especially sensitive to the plight
of the exploited factory workers who, with the rapid growth of
industrialization in the 19th century, were forced to leave the
countryside to seek work in the cities. Their only option was work on
the assembly-line; they were usually treated as mere
"instruments" and stripped of their dignity. Juana wanted to
help them materially, morally and spiritually. When she was only 18
years old, she felt called to consecrate herself totally to God and to
found a religious order that would be committed to helping exploited
workers and their families. The Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal
Antolín Monescillo, considered her too young to begin a Congregation,
but after struggling for several years, in 1884 she received permission
to open a shelter to welcome and to offer spiritual formation and human
dignity to the oppressed workers.
A few months later, Juana opened a school
for the factory workers' children in the shelter. She was joined by
other young women who also felt called to the religious life and to
"live and give their all for the good of the workers".
Convinced that this religious family was a
fruit of the Spirit for the good of the Church in the 19th century,
Juana continued her work to have it approved by the Church as a
religious congregation. She followed Christ and, embracing the
evangelical counsels, devoted her life to serving him in the workers.
In 1892, the Congregation of the
Handmaids of the Immaculate Conception, Protectress of Workers,
received diocesan approval. The number of its members rapidly increased
and it spread in other industrial zones. In 1895, Juana and the first
sisters made their first vows and in 1911 their perpetual profession.
A key to Sr Juana's spirituality is her
desire to be known as the "the Handmaid of the Lord", living,
like Mary, unconditional acceptance of God's will, conforming to God's
will and seeing God's will in everyday events. As she said so often to
her sisters, she longed "to be holy in heaven, without any
ostentation on earth". She was known as a "Biblical
woman, full of courage in her decisions and evangelical in her action".
It was this "evangelical action" that she was anxious
to pass on to her sisters, desiring that they live with total confidence
in God and, through their lives, transmit to the workers around them
"the Gospel Beatitudes".
Mother Juana died in Valencia, Spain,
on 16 January 1916. On 14 April 1937,
the Congregation received temporary
pontifical approval from Pope Pius XI;
on 27 January 1947 definitive approval
from Pope Pius XII.
Bl. Pierre Bonhomme
Founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Calvary
He was born on 4 July 1803 in Gramat,
France. As a child, Pierre showed an inclination for study, a deep
piety, and generousity to his parents and sister. He felt called to be a
priest from an early age and was attracted to a life of simplicity and
He completed his studies at the Royal
College and entered the major seminary of Cahors in November 1818. On 23
December 1827 he was ordained a priest. From that time, he demonstrated
an extraordinary ability to help others, both spiritually and
materially. While still a deacon, he opened an elementary and middle
school for boys. In 1831 he opened a school to prepare students for the
major seminary. He also founded the spiritual group "Children of
Mary" for young girls in Gramat, convinced of the need to give
youth both human and spiritual guidance when there was nothing else of
the kind for them in the area.
Shortly after his appointment as parish
priest of Gramat, Fr Bonhomme came into contact with the wretchedness
and neglect suffered by so many of the poor, elderly and sick. He longed
to help them and was undaunted by the scarcity of the available means.
He urged "his young people" to visit them, bringing material
aid and spiritual comfort. A little later, Fr Bonhomme received
permission to establish a home for the needy. He understood that to run
this charitable institution a religious congregation was indispensable,
and that its members must be women who would give all of themselves for
the good of the poor and the suffering. He believed that the young
members of the "Daughters of Mary", so generous in the gift of
themselves and in love for God, might have this vocation. It was this
that inspired Fr Bonhomme to found the Congregation of the Sisters of
Our Lady of Calvary in Gramat. They were dedicated to educating
children and to providing assistance to the poor, sick, elderly,
deaf-mutes and the seriously mentally and physically disabled. Hortense
and Adèle Pradel and Cora and Mathilde Roussot, all of whom lived in
Gramat, became the first members. They felt called to be consecrated to
God in his service, and began their formation under Fr Bonhomme and at
several religious institutes in Cahors.
Fr Bonhomme continued his parish
activity and was known for the many
missions he preached in nearby Lot and
Tarn-et-Garonne. He acquired a reputation as a gifted preacher,
converting many and
attracting other young women to
his newly-founded congregation. Scorching
heat and bitter cold did not deter
him from preaching with the same
zeal to save souls. He had a special devotion to Our Lady of
Rocamadour, in Gramat,
and through her sought the strength
and inspiration he needed. On one
occasion, while preaching a retreat
he completely lost his voice. It was
through prayer to Our Lady of Rocamadour that he received a
recovered his voice and was able
to go on speaking.
In 1836, Fr Bonhomme made a brief
retreat in the Trappist monastery of
Mortagne, feeling the need to discern
God's will for him in deeper prayer and
reflection. He felt a growing desire to
become a Carmelite, and
to found a Carmelite
community in Gramat.
However, the Bishop of
Cahors did not accept
this proposal and
encouraged him to continue his
missionary activities and to collaborate with the group
of newly-established diocesan
missionaries in Rocamadour. Fr
Bonhomme obeyed and threw
himself into this new project
with all his energy and
In 1848, during a mission in Lot, Fr
Bonhomme was once again unable to
speak; but this time he was obliged to
give up preaching and a disease of the
larynx was diagnosed. The priest did
not despair; he trusted in God's providence and believed that
this would afford him the opportunity to dedicate
himself to the flourishing congregation
he had founded; it already had 61 religious members in various
communities in the rural
parishes who were dedicated to educating children and caring for
the sick. In 1844, Fr Bonhomme sent a
community to serve a psychiatric hospital in Leyme and paid
frequent visits to "his
daughters" there to encourage
them in their difficult mission. In 1856,
he opened another community in Paris,
dedicated to serving "mentally ill, convalescent poor"
His own disability, due to the disease
that deprived him of his voice, made
him particularly sensitive to the disabled, especially
deaf-mutes. In 1854 he opened
a school for deaf-mute children in
Mayrinhac-Lentour, Lot, and in 1856
he sent sisters to Paris to found a home
In his last years, Fr Bonhomme devoted all
his time and energy to forming the
sisters and to writing the Rule of his
institute which he put under the protection of Our Lady of
Calvary, who became Mother and Model of the Congregation.
Fr Bonhomme died in Gramat on 9
September 1861, Today the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady
of Calvary consists of 250 religious who work
in France, Brazil, Argentina, Guinea,
Ivory Coast and the Philippines.
Bl. Ladislaus Batthyány-Strattmann
A layman, doctor and father of a family
He was born on 28 October 1870 in Dunakiliti, Hungary, into an
ancient noble family. He was the sixth of 10 brothers. In 1876 the
family moved to Austria. When Ladislaus was 12 years old his mother
died. He was already convinced at an early age that when he grew up he
would be a "doctor of the poor". He often said: "When I
grow up, I will be a doctor and give free treatment to the sick and the
When he was preparing for his university studies, Ladislaus's father
wanted him to receive the education he would need to look after the
family property. Ladislaus therefore enrolled in the faculty of
agriculture at the University of Vienna, where he also studied
chemistry, physics, philosophy, literature and music. It was not until
1896 that he began to study medicine in which he obtained a degree in
On 10 November 1898, he married Countess Maria Teresa Coreth, a
deeply religious woman. Their marriage was a happy one and God blessed
them with 13 children. The whole family took part in Holy Mass every
day. After Mass Ladislaus would give the children a catechism lesson and
assign to each one a concrete act of charity for that day. Every evening
after they prayed the Rosary they would review the day and the assigned
act of charity.
In 1902, Ladislaus opened a private hospital in Kittsee with beds for
25 patients. Here he began working as a general practitioner, later
specializing as a surgeon and oculist. During the First World War, the
hospital was enlarged to admit 120 wounded soldiers for treatment.
On the death of his uncle, Ödön Batthyány-Strattmann, in 1915,
Ladislaus inherited the Castle of Körmend, in Hungary. He also
inherited the title "Prince" and the name "Strattmann".
In 1920 his family moved from Kittsee to Körmend. They turned one wing
of the castle into a hospital that specialized in ophthalmology.
Ladislaus became a well-known specialist in this field, both in Hungary
and abroad. He was also known as a "doctor of the poor", and
the poor flocked to him for assistance and advice. He treated them free
of charge; as the "fee" for their medical treatment and
hospital stay, he would ask them to pray an "Our Father" for
him. The prescriptions for medicines were also free of charge and, in
addition to providing them with medical treatment, he often gave them
As well as the physical health of his patients, Ladislaus was also
concerned with their spiritual health. Before operating he would ask God
to bless the operation. He was convinced that as the medical surgery was
his domain, he was still an instrument in God's hands, and that the
healing itself was a gift of God. Before his patients were discharged
from hospital, he would present them with an image of Our Lord and a
spiritual book entitled: "Open your eyes and see". This was a
way to give them guidance in their spiritual life. He was considered a
"saint" by his patients and even by his own family.
When Ladislaus was 60 years old, he was diagnosed with a tumor of the
bladder. He was admitted to the Löw Sanatorium in Vienna. This was to
be the greatest trial of his life. His patience and charity were
unfailing. From the sanatorium he wrote the following words to his
daughter, Lilli: "I do not know how long the good Lord will make me
suffer. He has given me so much joy in my life and now, at the age of
60, I must also accept the difficult moments with gratitude". To
his sister he said: "I am happy. I am suffering atrociously, but I
love my sufferings and am consoled in knowing that I support them for
Dr Ladislaus died in Vienna on 22 January 1931 after 14 months of
intense suffering. He was buried in the family tomb in Güssing. His
lifelong motto had been: "In fidelity and charity".
14 September 2003
Vasil' Hopko (1904-1976)
Bishop and Martyr
Vasil' Hopko was born on 21 April 1904 in Hrabské, a small village in
eastern Slovakia. His father died when he was 1 year old, leaving his
mother alone to care for the child. Vasil's mother left for the United
States in 1908 to find work, putting Vasil' under the care of his
grandfather. When the boy was 7, he went to live with his uncle, Demeter
Petrenko, a Greek-Catholic priest.
His uncle's example awakened in Vasil' a call to the priesthood, and
in 1923 he decided to enter the Greek-Catholic Seminary of Presov. He
was ordained a priest on 3 February 1929 and was entrusted with the
pastoral care of the Greek-Catholic faithful in Prague. Here, he was
involved in many different activities: work with youth, the elderly, the
unemployed and orphans. Fr Vasil' founded the Movement of
Greek-Catholic Students and the Greek-Catholic Youth Union,
and contributed to the building of the city's Greek-Catholic parish,
becoming its priest. It was also in Prague that, after 22 years, the
young priest met his mother who had returned from the United States.
In 1936, Fr Vasil' returned to Slovakia where he served as spiritual
father in the Greek-Catholic Seminary of Presov. In 1941, he was
appointed as secretary of the Bishop's Curia, and he became professor of
moral and pastoral theology at the Theological Faculty in Presov in
1943. He also found free moments to write and publish various works and
became the first editor of the magazine Blahovistnik (The Gospel
After World War II, the Czechoslovakian Republic fell under a growing
Soviet Bolshevik and atheist influence. Foreseeing a systematic "Sovietization"
and the resulting totalitarian-atheistic Marxism, Bishop Gojdic of
Presov asked the Holy See for an Auxiliary Bishop to help him defend
against the attacks on the Greek-Catholic faithful and the Church. Fr
Vasil' became the newly-appointed Auxiliary Bishop and was ordained on
11 May 1947. He helped the Bishop greatly, preparing the people for hard
times on the horizon.
Little by little the Czechoslovakian Communist Party prepared for the
violent elimination of the Greek-Catholic Church in its nation. On 28
April 1950, the Communists carried out their work of
"liquidation" during the so-called "Council of Presov",
held without the presence of Bishops. Here they declared that the
Greek-Catholic Church of Czechoslovakia no longer existed and that all
its priests, faithful and churches were to be transferred over to the
Orthodox Church. Bishops Gojdic and Hopko were arrested.
Following the arrest, Bishop Hopko underwent drastic interrogation
and torture so he would deny his faith and confess to fabricated
accusations. On 24 October 1951, after more than a year of cruel and
diabolic interrogation, he was condemned by the State Court to 15 years
in prison and a loss of all civil rights for 10 years. While in prison,
in addition to the torture he received, he was given small doses of
arsenic which caused a chronic poisoning, which was later verified by an
analysis of his bones.
On 12 May 1964 he was released from prison for health reasons. After
years of mistreatment, the Bishop suffered from grave physical ailments
and mental depression caused by the constant torture and inhuman
treatment. Notwithstanding all this, he continued to contribute actively
to the resurgence of the Greek-Catholic Church.
On 13 June 1968, the renewal of the Greek-Catholic Church of
Czechoslovakia was re-estabilized after 18 years of open persecution.
From 1968, Bishop Hopko began living in Presov; on 20 December 1968,
Pope Paul VI confirmed his appointment as Auxiliary Bishop for all
Greek-Catholic faithful in Czechoslovakia. He carried out this
responsibility with great care, encouraging the faithful and ordaining
Bishop Hopko died on 23 July 1976 in Presov. He made his own the
words of Bishop Gojdic: "For me, it is not important if I die in
the Bishop's Palace or in prison; what matters is entering into
Blessed Zdenka Schelingová (1916-1955)
Religious and Martyr
Cecilia Schelingová was born on 24 December 1916 in Krivá in
Orava, the mountainous region of northeastern Slovakia. She was one of
10 children born to Pavol Schelingová and Zuzana Pániková. From an
early age the children acquired a sense of responsibility and of
sacrifice from their parents and, above all, a deep and practical faith.
Cecilia attended the local elementary school from 1922 to 1930. In
1929, the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross
arrived at Cecilia's parish, and the presence of the order helped her to
see that God was calling her to religious life. She was particularly
impressed by the Sisters' unconditional love and disciplined lifestyle.
In 1931, when Cecilia was 15 years old, she went to the motherhouse
of the congregation in Podunajské Biskupice, accompanied by her mother,
to ask permission to join the order. However, before her entry into the
novitiate in 1936, she was sent to nursing school and then took a
specialized course in radiology. On 30 January 1937 she made first vows
and received the name "Zdenka".
Sr Zdenka was remembered by her Sisters as a person who lived
continually in God's presence, both in prayer and work. She once wrote:
"I want to do God's will without paying attention to myself, my
comfort or my rest". She demonstrated love and compassion to
everyone and was always ready to serve, especially sick hospital
Her first nursing experience was in the hospital in Humenné, near
Ukraine. In 1942 she was transferred to the hospital in Bratislava,
where she continued work in the radiology department.
In 1948, while Sr Zdenka was in Bratislava, the totalitarian
Communist regime began. As a result and until 1953, the Catholic Church
was deprived of all rights and her members persecuted. During this
period, prisoners were sent to the hospital to receive care, priests
among them. One day, Sr Zdenka understood that one of the priests,
accused of being a Vatican spy and of betrayal, was going to be shipped
to Siberia where death would be awaiting him, and so she acted at the
risk of her own life: she slipped sleeping pills into the guard's tea,
allowing the priest to escape. After he was free, Sr Zdenka went into
the chapel and prayed: "Jesus, I offer my life for his. Save
Some days later, however, on 29 February 1952, when she tried to help
three priests and three seminarians escape, her plan backfired and she
was arrested. She was interrogated and suffered many humiliations,
including being brutally tortured by the police. She finally received a
sentence of 12 years in prison and 10 years of civil rights'
deprivation. The torture that she underwent left her body mutilated and
her right breast torn apart from the continual kicks by the police.
From 1952 until 1955 Sr Zdenka was transferred from one prison to
another. She accepted torture and mistreatment with great humility; most
difficult of all for her, however, was being deprived of the Holy
Sacraments for the three years of her imprisonment.
On 16 April 1955, Sr Zdenka was released from prison by the President
of the Republic so she would not die there (she had a malignant tumor in
her right breast). When she returned to her congregation's motherhouse
in Bratislava, she was not accepted because of the general situation of
fear that existed at the time as well as the constant police
surveillance; nor was she received in the hospital of Bratislava.
Instead, a friend from Trnava took her in. Sr Zdenka was eventually
accepted into the hospital of Trnava. On 31 July 1955, after receiving
the Sacraments, Sr Zdenka died. She was 38 years old and is remembered
as a true martyr of the faith.
One final note; On 6 April 1970, the regional court of Bratislava
declared that Sr Zdenka was innocent, having received a "false and
artificial accusation... issued [with a] sentence of high betrayal...
based on facts manipulated by the state police themselves".