BIOGRAPHIES OF NEW BLESSEDS - 2003
The following Blesseds were beatified by John Paul II in 2003:
9 November 2003
Juan Nepomuceno Zegrí y Moreno
Bonifacia Rodríguez Castro
Luigi Maria Monti
Bl. Juan Nepomuceno Zegrí yMoreno (1831-1905)
Founder of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy
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 hada 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 in Granada.
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 assistance.
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 had founded.
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 him.
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 Castro (1837-1905)
Foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of St Joseph
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 Joséoffered 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 (1825-1900)
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 habit.
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:
"Iwould 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 innervoice saying to me: 'Luigi, go to the choir in church and present your tribulations once again to the Blessed Sacrament'. Iheeded 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 disappeared".
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.
Bl. Valentin Paquay (1828-1905)
Religious Priest of the Order of Friars Minor
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 persuasive words.
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 elderly.
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 (1884-1971)
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 diocese.
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 vocations.
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 Newspaperfor children.
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 forVocations, 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 (1862-1934)
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 1988).
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 Him".
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 Brenzone.
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 (1631-1699)
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 blessing.
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 (1856-1906)
Foundress of the Sisters, Expiatory Victims of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament
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 celibacy.
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 great fervour.
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 schools".
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 (1845-1900)
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 success.
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 brother Ambrose.
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 RodriguezSopeña (1848-1918)
Foundress of theSopena CatecheticalInstitute, the SopeñaLay Movement andthe Sopeña Socialand Cultural Work
She was born on 30December 1848 inVélez-Rubio, Almería,Spain. She was thefourth of seven children. Her fatherworked as an estatemanager and later, alawyer. Dolores grewup in a peaceful anddevout family. Herfaith was the drivingforce behind all thatGod was to ask of her in the future andin her deep commitment to serving others, especially the spiritually, materiallyand culturally deprived.
When she was 17, her father was appointed judge of Almería and Doloresmade her debut in society; but the glitter of social life left her cold. Her soleinterest was in doing good for others.She cared for a leper and two sisterswith typhoid fever; she kept this secretas she feared her parents might not approve, although she visited the poorwith her mother. In 1869, her father wassent to Puerto Rico and took one sonwith him. The rest of the family movedto Madrid. In Madrid, Dolores found aspiritual director and began teachingCatholic doctrine at the hospital, at Sunday school and to women in prison. In1872, the family was reunited in PuertoRico. Here she came into contact withthe Jesuits, one of whom became herspiritual director. She founded the Sodality of the Virgin Mary and schools fordisadvantaged children to whom shetaught 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 religiousinstitute of the Sisters of Charity butwas refused admission due to poor eyesight (she had had an eye operation atthe age of eight which left her with thisdisability). When the schism ended, sheset to work in the poor neighbourhoodsand founded Centres of Instructionwhere 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 workshe had done previously and, with thehelp of a spiritual director, to discerningGod's call. In 1883 her father died; onceagain she found herself grappling withthe problem of her vocation. On the advice of her spiritual director, a Jesuit, FrLópez Soldado, she entered the Visitation convent although she did not feelcalled to the contemplative life. She leftafter 10 days, realizing that she had avocation to the active apostolate.
In 1885 she opened a centre, modernfor her times, to provide social assistance to the destitute and became betteracquainted 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 friendsfor help, and set up the first centre ofthe "Work of the Doctrines" the namegiven to these young women teachingcatechism or doctrine.
At the end of the 19th century, it wasinconceivable that a woman work in apoor neighbourhood. The secret of herlack of fear was her deep faith and confidence in God. She recognized this asher greatest treasure and saw herselfas an instrument ofGod's work to bringlove, hope, dignityand justice to thosewho had none, at thetime a risky apostolate.
In 1892, Bishop D.Ciríaco Sancha ofMadrid suggestedshe found a secularapostolic movement(known as the Sopeña Lay Movement)which would continueher work in the poorquarters of Madrid.The following yearshe received government approval whichenabled her to expand its apostolic activity to eight neighbourhoods. In 1896 she began activitiesoutside Madrid. In four years she made199 journeys across Spain to establishand consolidate the Work of the Doctrines as well as helping out on the missions in Andalucía.
In 1900 Dolores went on pilgrimage toRome and received permission to founda religious institute that would continueher Work of the Doctrines and give spiritual support to the Sopeña Lay Movement.On 24 September 1901, Doloresfounded the Ladies of the CatecheticalInstitute and began community life witheight companions. In 1907 the Institutereceived the Decree of Praise from theHoly See; two years later Dolores received direct approval from Pope PiusX. Today the Institute is known as theSopeña Catechetical Institute. In 1902the Spanish Government also approvedthe association now known as the Sopeña Social and Cultural Work (OSCUS).
During these years, her Work of theDoctrines gradually became Centres forWorkers' Instruction. Many of the centres' members were influenced by anticlerical sentiments and it would havebeen unwise for the instruction to haveanything outright religious about it. Thiswas the main reason why the community chose not to wear a habit or any outward sign of religion. The changes weremade in order to come close to workers"alienated from the Church", deprivedof any cultural, moral or religious instruction and to put them in touch withpeople who were better off to give theman 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 establishcommunities and centres in industrialized cities. In 1910 the first GeneralChapter was held and Dolores was reelected Superior General. In 1914 shefounded a community in Rome, and in1917, opened the first houses in theAmericas. A year later, on 10 January1918. 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 Dominican Republic.
Bl. Caritas Brader (Mary Josephine Caroline) (1860-1943)
Foundress of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate
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 mission lands.
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 the mission".
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 Tùquerres, Colombia.
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 anextraordinary 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 temporarypontifical approval from Pope Pius XI;on 27 January 1947 definitive approvalfrom Pope Pius XII.
Bl. Pierre Bonhomme (1803-1861)
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 poverty.
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 parishactivity and was known for the manymissions he preached in nearby Lot andTarn-et-Garonne. He acquired a reputation as a gifted preacher, convertingmany and attracting other young womento his newly-founded congregation.Scorching heat and bitter cold did notdeter him from preaching with the samezeal to save souls. He had a special devotion to Our Lady of Rocamadour, inGramat, and through her sought thestrength and inspiration he needed. Onone occasion, while preaching a retreathe completely lost his voice. It wasthrough prayer to Our Lady of Rocamadour that he received a miraculouscure, recovered his voice and was ableto go on speaking.
In 1836, Fr Bonhomme made a briefretreat in the Trappist monastery ofMortagne, feeling the need to discernGod's will for him in deeper prayer andreflection. He felt a growing desire tobecome a Carmelite,and to found aCarmelite communityin Gramat. However,the Bishop of Cahorsdid not accept thisproposal and encouraged him to continuehis missionary activities and to collaborate with the groupof newly-establisheddiocesan missionaries in Rocamadour.Fr Bonhommeobeyed and threwhimself into this newproject with all hisenergy and enthusiasm.
In 1848, during a mission in Lot, FrBonhomme was once again unable tospeak; but this time he was obliged togive up preaching and a disease of thelarynx was diagnosed. The priest didnot despair; he trusted in God's providence and believed that this would afford him the opportunity to dedicatehimself to the flourishing congregationhe had founded; it already had 61 religious members in various communitiesin the rural parishes who were dedicated to educating children and caring forthe sick. In 1844, Fr Bonhomme sent acommunity to serve a psychiatric hospital in Leyme and paid frequent visits to"his daughters" there to encouragethem in their difficult mission. In 1856,he opened another community in Paris,dedicated to serving "mentally ill, convalescent poor" persons.
His own disability, due to the diseasethat deprived him of his voice, madehim particularly sensitive to the disabled, especially deaf-mutes. In 1854 heopened a school for deaf-mute childrenin Mayrinhac-Lentour, Lot, and in 1856he sent sisters to Paris to found a homefor deaf-mutes.
In his last years, Fr Bonhomme devoted all his time and energy to formingthe sisters and to writing the Rule of hisinstitute 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 9September 1861, Today the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Calvary consists of 250 religious who workin France, Brazil, Argentina, Guinea,Ivory Coast and the Philippines.
Bl. Ladislaus Batthyány-Strattmann (1870-1931)
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 poor".
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 1900.
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 financial assistance.
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 Christ".
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
Blessed 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 Messenger).
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 priests.
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 Paradise".
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 patients.
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 him!".
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".
Weekly Edition in English
Various dates, 2003
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:
The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069