BIOGRAPHIES OF NEW BLESSEDS - 1994
The following were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1994:
Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga
Elizabeth Canonori Mora
Gianna Beretta Molla
Maddalena Caterina Morano
Petra of St. Joseph Perez Florido
5 November 1994
BL. MADDALENA CATERINA MORANO was born in 1847 into a large family in Chieri, near Turin, Italy. When she was eight years old, her father and older sister died, and so young Maddalena had to work. However, she applied herself to study as well, and in 1866 she received her diploma as an elementary school teacher.
Her studies increased her knowledge of Christian doctrine and her longing to be a saint. She wished to enter religious life, but the needs of her family required her to wait. For 12 years she worked as a rural school teacher in Montaldo and taught catechism in the local parish.
In 1878, having set aside enough savings for her mother's future needs, Maddalena entered the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a congregation founded six years earlier by Don Bosco. She was a model religious, and after a brief but intense novitiate she took her first vows. In 1881, with Don Bosco's blessing, she was sent to Trecastagni (Diocese of Catania), Sicily, and put in charge of an existing institute for women, to which she gave a new orientation inspired by the principles of the Salesian method.
Sicily became her second home, where she carried out a varied and fruitful apostolate. She opened new houses, set up after-school activities and sewing classes, trained teachers, etc. Her real love, though, was for catechism class, since she was convinced that the formation of Christian conscience was the basis of personal maturity and all social improvement. She coordinated catechetical instruction in 18 of Catania's churches and trained lay and religious catechists to bring the Christian message to needy boys and girls.
She spent 25 years in Sicily and served her community as local and provincial superior. She was an attentive mother and caring guide for many local vocations, faithfully living the charism of Mother Maria Mazzarello, co-foundress of the institute. She died in Catania at the age of 61 on 26 March 1908.
16 October 1994
BL. MARIA RAFOLS was born on 5 November 1781 in Vilafranca del Penedes Spain, to a simple hard-working family. Because of her talent, she was sent to a boarding school in Barcelona, where she completed her formation while maintaining a life of solitude, prayer and piety.
She then joined a group of 12 young women under the direction of Fr Juan Bonal, who administered Our Lady of Grace Hospital in Zaragoza. The small community formed an apostolic association dedicated to serving the most helpless: the sick, the mentally ill, abandoned children and all types of disabled people.
At the age of 23 she was appointed superior of the group, a task requiring heroic effort, since she often had to confront a hostile atmosphere created by some of the hospital employees. During the Napoleonic wars she laboured in the bombed ruins, endangering her life to save the sick and the children. She even ventured into the enemy camp to plead with the French general for help with the sick and wounded.
She struggled tirelessly for the approval of her small community. Finally in 1825 they took their first public vows. The victim of calumny, she was imprisoned during the Carlist War, but later released; she spent her remaining years at her Foundling Home. She died on 30 August 1853 at the age of 72.
BL. ALBERTO HURTADO CRUCHAGA was born in Vina del Mar, Chile, on 22 January 1901. His father died when he was four and the family was impoverished.
He received a scholarship to the Jesuit College in Santiago, where he developed a lively interest in the poor, spending time with them in the most miserable neighbourhoods every Sunday afternoon.
In 1923 he entered the Jesuit novitiate and was ordained a priest in 1933. He taught religion at Colegio San Ignacio and pedagogy at the Catholic University of Santiago. He frequently gave retreats to young men, guiding several to the priesthood and contributing to the formation of many others as outstanding Christian laymen.
In 1941 he published his famous book, Is Chile a Catholic Country?, and was asked that same year to serve as chaplain to the youth movement of Catholic Action, first within the Archdiocese of Santiago and then at the national level. He carried out these tasks with exceptional dedication and sacrifice.
In 1944, while giving a retreat, he felt impelled to ask his audience to consider the many poor people of the city, especially the numerous homeless children who roamed the streets of Santiago. This request received a generous response and was the beginning of the initiative for which Fr Hurtado is especially well-known: the "El Hogar de Cristo", a charitable work that provides not only housing but a home-like atmosphere for the homeless.
With the help of benefactors and committed lay people, he opened a house for children and then similar ones for women and men. The homes multiplied: some were rehabilitation centres, others trade schools, etc.
In 1945 Fr Hurtado visited the USA to study the "Boys Town" movement and to consider how it could be adapted to his own country. The last six years of his life were devoted to developing various forms of "El Hogar".
In 1947 Fr Hurtado founded the Chilean Trade Union Association (ASICH) to promote a union movement based on the Church's social teaching. Between 1947 and 1950 he wrote three important works on trade unions, social humanism and the Christian social order. In 1951 he founded the journal Mensaje, dedicated to explaining the Church's teaching.
Pancreatic cancer brought him, within a few months, to the end of his life. In the midst of terrible pain, he was often heard to say: "I am happy, Lord".
After having spent his life manifesting Christ's love for the poor, Fr Hurtado was called to the Lord on 18 August 1952. He accomplished all the works described above in the 15 years between his tertianship and his death at the age of 51.
BL. NICOLAS ROLAND was born in Reims, France, in 1642. At a tender age his parents instilled in him a love for God and the poor, and entrusted him to the Jesuits for his education.
He excelled in his studies and his family connections assured him a successful business career, but at the age of 18 he decided to study for the priesthood. He was given a well-endowed canonry before being ordained a deacon and was highly regarded as a preacher, but realized that his elegant style reached few of the faithful. He decided to establish free schools for the Christian education of girls.
After receiving priestly ordination, he went to Rouen where he received spiritual direction from the curate of Saint-Amand and lived in complete poverty. He also met Fr Nicolas Barre, an exemplary Minim, who had collected a group of men and women who worked in free schools located in several neighbourhoods of the city. He returned to Reims with the intention of starting similar projects there.
A poorly maintained orphanage was entrusted to him and he gradually transformed it into a real school. Young girls, frequently of unknown parentage, were welcomed into a warm atmosphere and educated. Fr Barre sent him two teachers from charitable schools in Rouen, who were accustomed to living in community and wanted to consecrate themselves totally to God. Thus began an intense religious life connected with apostolic activity. The Sisters of the Infant Jesus were founded in Reims. Their name suggests that the spirit of childhood is the quickest and simplest way to find God and to open one's heart to others.
Some mean-spirited critics rebuked the sisters, maintaining that teaching Christian doctrine was reserved to priests. But Archbishop Le Tellier of Reims was convinced by the founder's arguments and so their work was extended to four sectors of the city.
Fr Roland next thought of boys, but for this task he turned to his disciple, John Baptist de la Salle. The seed would later sprout, but first the sower had to die. In fact, the future founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools did not feel particularly attracted by this kind of apostolate and it took providential events to convince him of its necessity.
On his deathbed, Fr Roland asked his friend to see that the Sisters of the Infant Jesus were officially approved and entrusted the community to him. He died of fatigue and overwork on 27 April 1678 at the age of 35.
On 9 May 1678, Fr de la Salle and Archbishop Le Tellier received the king's approval for the community and the sisters took their first vows in 1684.
BL. PETRA of ST JOSEPH PEREZ FLORIDO was born on 7 December 1845 to a Christian family in Malaga, Spain. From her early years she felt called by God to prayer and to belonging totally to him. I thought about nothing else but becoming a nun, she would later say, "and I was consumed by this longing". She practised charity towards the poor. "When they asked for something and were given nothing, I felt as grieved as they were".
While still in secular life she started begging on behalf of the destitute, after having overcome her father's strong opposition thanks to the intercession of St Joseph. Soon three young girls joined her, attracted by her simple and joyful way of living out charity.
With the approval of the Bishop of Malaga, she founded the Congregation of the Mothers of the Helpless and of St Joseph of the Mountain in 1880. In fact, it was the Bishop who named them "Mothers of the Helpless" because of the way they treated the poor. Amid many trials, the congregation grew and new homes were opened.
In 1895 she started working on the Royal Sanctuary of St Joseph of the Mountain in Barcelona, known as the "Montana Pelada". The Church was dedicated in 1901.
She lived her faith deeply and her delicate charity led her to be available to serve those in need, like a caring mother. She died, serene and full of love, on 16 August 1906 in Barcelona.
BL. JOSEPHINE VANNINI was born in Rome, Italy, on 7 July 1859 and lost her parents as a small child. She was raised in the Torlonia Conservatory on Via Sant'Onofrio, under the guidance of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. She entered the Daughters' novitiate in Siena, but was forced to leave because of poor health. While on retreat in 1891 she met Fr Luigi Tezza, procurator general of the Camillians. For some time he had been thinking of founding a women's community, which would be consecrated to God for the care of the sick. Moved by divine grace, he invited her to join him in establishing the new community. She thought about it, prayed and sought advice; then in characteristic fashion she gave him a decisive "yes".
In 1892, the Servant of God and two companions received the scapular of Camillian tertiaries. One year later they professed private vows, adding a fourth vow of service to the sick, even at the risk of their own lives. They made their perpetual profession as Daughters of St Camillus in 1895 and Josephine was elected Superior General.
In 1900 Fr Tezza was sent to Lima, and so responsibility for the new congregation rested in the hands of Mother Vannini. The congregation continued to grow and spread to France, Belgium and Argentina. On the night of 23 February 1911, Josephine Vannini went serenely to meet the Lord she had served in the poor and sick.
24 April 1994
BL. ISIDORE BAKANJA, one of "the least brothers" of Jesus, was born in northeast Zaire (then, Belgian Congo) sometime between 1885 and 1890. His baptismal record is the first document about him, as he was attracted to Christ when he was about 18 years of age, working for white colonizers as an assistant mason. He never forgot the lessons taught him by the Trappist missionaries from Westmalle Abbey in Belgium: a follower of Jesus should be characterized by prayer and witness. He should be recognized by the rosary and scapular (Mary's habit, as it was rendered in Isidore's native tongue).
Mild, honest, respectful by nature, Isidore worked conscientiously and prayed faithfully, as many non-Christian witnesses attested. Often with rosary in hand, he looked for opportunities to share his new-found faith with others, to the extent that many thought of him as a catechist. He definitively left his native village because there were no fellow followers of Christ there. In a larger settlement, he found employment with the agent of a Belgian company that controlled the rubber plantations in the region. He was hired as a domestic boy. Many of the agents were avowed atheists, who hated the missionaries because of the latter's defence of the natives' rights and their denouncing of injustices perpetrated against them. "Mon pere" was a pejorative name given to priests and to all that had to do with religion.
Isidore soon experienced the hatred of the agents for Catholicism. He asked for leave to return home; permission was refused. He was told to stop teaching his fellow workers how to pray: "You'll have the whole village praying and no one will want to work", one agent shouted at him.
Isidore was told to discard his scapular. When he did not, he was twice flogged. The second time, the agent flew into one of his rages. He jumped at Isidore, tore the scapular from around his neck and threw him to the ground. He had two servant boys hold Isidore by his hands and feet and a third domestic flogged him. The whip was made of elephant hide with nails protruding at the end. The writhing Isidore asked for mercy. "My God, I'm dying", he muttered. But the colonizer kept kicking Isidore in the neck and head, and ordered his domestic to scourge him harder still. After 100, those assisting lost count of the number of blows. Isidore's back was one open wound; some of his bones were exposed. After scourging he was thrown, legs chained, into a hut for processing rubber. He could not even move to relieve himself.
Since an inspector was due, Isidore was banished to another village. But because he could not walk, he fell by the wayside and hid in the forest. He dragged himself before the inspector, who was horrified at the sight of this modern Job. The inspector himself left a written account of his impression: "I saw a man come from the forest with his back torn apart by deep, festering, malodorous wounds, covered with filth, assaulted by flies. He leaned on two sticks in order to get near me -he wasn't walking; he was dragging himself". The agent appeared on the scene and tried to kill "that animal of mon pere", but the inspector even physically prevented him. He took Isidore to his own settlement, hoping to help him heal. But Isidore felt death in his bones. He told someone who had pity on him: "if you see my mother, or if you go to the judge, or if you meet the priest, tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian".
Two missionaries spent several days with him. He devoutly received the last sacraments. He told them the reason for his beating: "The white man did not like Christians.... He did not want me to wear the scapular.... He yelled at me when I said my prayers". The missionaries urged Isidore to forgive the agent; he assured them that he had already done so and that he nursed no hatred for him. This "animal of mon pere", this convert of two-and-a-half years proved that he knew what it meant to follow Jesus - even to the point of being flogged like him, even to the point of carrying the cross, even to the point of dying. The missionaries urged Isidore to pray for the agent. "Certainly I shall pray for him. When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much".
His agony - more painful than the actual flogging - lasted six months. He died on either 8 or 15 august 1909, rosary in hand and the scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel around his neck.
BL. ELIZABETH CANORI MORA was born in Rome on 21 November 1774 to Tommaso and Teresa Primoli. Her family was well-off, profoundly Christian and diligent in the education of their children.
Elizabeth studied with the Augustinian Sisters of Cascia (1785-88), where she was noted for her intelligence, profound interior life and spirit of penance. Returning to Rome, she led a remarkable life for some years and in 1796 married Cristoforo Mora, a young lawyer.
Matrimony for her was a thoughtful, mature decision, but after some months, the psychological fragility of Cristoforo compromised the serenity of the family. Attracted by a woman of simple status, he deceived his wife and estranged himself from the family, reducing it to destitution.
To the physical and psychological violence of her husband, Elizabeth responded with absolute fidelity. There are no excuses, conveniences or interests that can justify any detraction whatsoever to the code of fidelity which is of love and of total surrender.
In 1801 a mysterious illness brought her to death's door. She was cured in an inexplicable way and had her first mystical experience.
She was the mother of four children, of whom the first two died a few days after birth. Forced to make a living working with her hands, she continued to care for her daughters, Marianna and Luciana, and the daily chores of the home with utmost care. She also dedicated much time to prayer, the poor and the sick.
Her home soon became a reference point for many people who turned to her for material and spiritual help. She devoted special care to families in need. For her, family meant a place for each person, a place of fruitfulness and life, of faith, solidarity and responsibility. It was the temple in which she welcomed the "beloved Lord, Jesus of Nazareth" and all those who turned to her. Through self-denial, Elizabeth offered her life for the peace and holiness of the Church, her husband's conversion and the salvation of sinners.
In 1807 Elizabeth joined the Trinitarian Third Order. She came to know and understand profoundly the spirituality of the Trinitarians, responding with dedication to the vocation of the family and secular consecration. Her admirable human and Christian virtues and the fame of her holiness spread through Rome, Albano and Marino, where she was popularly known as "the saint".
On 5 February 1825, while being cared for by her two daughters, Elizabeth died, entering gently into the light of the Holy Trinity. She is buried in Rome in the Trinitarian church of San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane. Shortly after her death, as she had predicted, her husband converted, joined the Trinitarian Third Order and later became a priest of the Conventual Franciscans. He died on 9 September 1845 and is buried in the Conventual Franciscans' church in Sezze.
BL. GIANNA BERETTA MOLLA was born in Magenta (Milan), Italy, on 4 October 1922, the 10th of 13 children. Already as a young girl she willingly accepted the gift of faith and the clearly Christian education that she received from her excellent parents. As a result, she experienced life as a marvellous gift from God, had a strong faith in Providence and was convinced of the necessity and effectiveness of prayer.
She diligently dedicated herself to studies during the years of her secondary and university education, while, at the same time, applying her faith in generous apostolic service among the elderly and needy as a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society. After earning degrees in medicine and surgery, from the University of Pavia in 1949, she opened a medical clinic in Mesero (near Magenta) in 1950. She specialized in pediatrics at the University of Milan in 1952 and thereafter gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor.
While working in the field of medicine - which she considered a "mission" and practised as such - she increased her generous service to Catholic Action, especially among the "very young" and, at the same time, expressed her joie de vivre and love of creation through skiing and mountaineering. Through her prayers and those of others, she reflected on her vocation, which she also considered a gift from God. Having chosen the vocation of marriage, she embraced it with complete enthusiasm and wholly dedicated herself "to forming a truly Christian family".
She became engaged to Pietro Molla and was radiant with joy and happiness during the time of their engagement, for which she thanked and praised the Lord. They were married on 24 September 1955 in St Martin's Basilica in Magenta, and she became a happy wife. In November 1956, to her great joy, she became the mother of Pierluigi; in December 1957 of Mariolina; in July 1959 of Laura. With simplicity and equilibrium she harmonized the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life.
In September 1961, towards the end of the second month of pregnancy, she was touched by suffering and the mystery of pain; she had developed a fibroma in her uterus. Before the required surgical operation, and conscious of the risk that her continued pregnancy brought, she pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child she was carrying, and entrusted herself to prayer and Providence. The life was saved, for which she thanked the Lord. She spent the seven months remaining until the birth of the child in incomparable strength of spirit and unrelenting dedication to her tasks as mother and doctor. She worried that the baby in her womb might be born in pain, and she asked God to prevent that.
A few days before the child was due, although trusting as always in Providence, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: "if you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child - I insist on it. Save the baby". On the morning of 21 April 1962 Gianna Emanuela was born. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of 28 April, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you", the mother died. She was 39 years old. Her funeral was an occasion of profound grief, faith and prayer. The body of the body of the newly blessed lies in the cemetery of Mesero (4 km. from Magenta).
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