St Magdalene of Canossa

St Magdalene of Canossa

FOUNDRESS OF THE CANOSSIAN SISTERS. Magdalene of Canossa was born into a noble and wealthy family in Verona, Italy on March 1, 1774. She was a woman who believed deeply in the love of Jesus and felt she was sent by the Holy Spirit to those most in need.

During her early childhood Magdalene experienced deep suffering. At the age of five her father died in a geological expedition and her mother remarried and left the Canossa Palace and her children behind when Magdalene was seven years of age. In the absence of parental affection Magdalene turned to Mother Mary for consolation.

Magdalene’s growing years were marked by suffering and trials. She lived in a society of contrasts between the very rich and those living extreme poverty caused by the wars in Europe. The society she grew up in was forgetful of God and dominated by arrogance and privileges.

During the revolutionary upheaval, Magdalene of Canossa to give of herself without reserve to children, youth and women who had to reckon with economic as well as moral, spiritual, intellectual and family poverty.

In 1808 Magdalene left the Canossa Palace indefinitely and with some companions, established herself in the poverty-stricken district of San Zeno where she was happy to give herself. Magdalene called her companions “Daughters of Charity” because their task was to reveal God’s love to humanity. Her vision was to go anywhere and do anything so that Jesus would be known and loved.

Today the Daughters of Charity living the spirit of Magdalene are present in 35 countries around the world and the “Canossian family” includes the Canossian Sons of Charity (priests/brothers), the Secular Missionaries of St. Magdalene and the Association of the Lay Canossians.

On October 2, 1988 Pope John Paul II proclaimed Magdalene “Saint”, a prophet of Charity. Magdalene, with her life, has written a significant page in the history of humanity, a page that speaks of her personal journey in the Spirit, and above all of the Greatest Love of Christ in a broken world.

St Magdalene's school for children with hearing loss

At Don Pietro's hospice, Magdalen, deprived of her customary visits to the patients of the hospital, and with more time to spare, often mixed with the orphans, watching them at play, or telling them stories. Thus she came to befriend one of the little boys under unusual circumstances.

The hedgehog in the corner of Don Leonardi's garden foresaw disaster unless something was done to prevent it, and done quickly. So, that bright morning of the St. Martin's summer day, he hid himself cleverly under a heap of dead leaves and waited in ambush. After a time, in all the sinuosity of her elegant cunning the unwary viper came along. The hedgehog waited till the tail of the snake was just in front of him, and then, jumping out all of a sudden, caught hold of its tip and then rolled himself up without delay into a prickly ball.

The viper turned back, spitting venom, and plunged into repeated attacks on the hedgehog, only to brain itself against the formidable spikes.

It was at this point that Magdalen, who was walking in the garden, saw a little boy standing alone in a corner, spell-bound in contemplation of something moving on the grourid. She came near, and realising what was happening said to the boy, "Don't touch it, the hedgehog has been kind, he has killed the viper before it hurt you."

The boy gave no sign of having heard, but going to-a heap of stones took one of them, to hurl it at the hedgehog. Magdalen restrained him, and taking the stone from his hand, threw it back to its heap.

It was only then that the boy looked at her and blushed, then he pointed to the hedgehog who was now dragging the blinded and brained viper to his lair, and made a gesture and uttered an indefinable sound. Magdalen realised then that the boy was dumb, and deaf too, he must have been, since he had not, apparently, heard her speak. How did Don Leonardi teach this boy of the existence and fatherly love of God? She asked the priest this question later and he replied that, of course, he did not know how far the boy was teachable at all.
"Yet," thought Magdalen, "he too is a child of God, for him too Christ has died,"

Fascinated by the thought of breaking through the barriers nature seemed to have placed between God and this innocent soul, she took the boy under her special protection. She had noticed he was not stupid, for he had clearly understood the tragedy enacted under his eyes between the hedgehog and the viper. So Magdalen began to teach him, using pictures which she drew herself (she was gifted this way) or found in the house, and by degrees the boy followed her into what was for him a new world.

The day came when, as Magdalen was teaching the boy, Eleanor, who was sitting by, witnessed an unforgettable scene.

St Bakhita

St Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in a village in Sudan, Africa. She came from a happy family with six children. When she was around seven years old, she was kidnapped and sold to some Arab traders. She managed to escape with another little girl, running through the forest at night. The girls met a man we who gave them food and shelter, but he cheated them and sold them off to another merchant. After days of traveling with a slave caravan, they arrived at the slave market in the city of El Obeid where she was sold to different masters and mistresses. Among these was a Turkish General whose wife and mother ill-treated their slaves.

One day they decided to tattoo the slaves. She was given six cuts on her breast, sixty cuts on her stomach and forty-eight on her right arm. Then the woman spread salt on the wounds and rubbed it in. She lost so much blood and was in great pain. The agony lasted for days.

In 1883, war broke out and the Turkish General had to escape to Khartoum with his family and ten of their slaves. At Khartoum, St Bahkita was sold to Mr. Calisto Legnani, the Italian Consul, who treated her well. Two years later, Mr. Legnani received orders to return to Italy. She begged him to bring her along and he agreed. Mr. Legnani’s friends, Mr. and Mrs. Michieli, asked for her to stay at their home in Zianigo near the city of Venice. A year later, a beautiful baby girl Mimmina was born and she was asked to look after her. When Mr. & Mrs. Michieli had to return to Africa for their hotel business, she and Mimmina were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters at their Catechumen’s Institute in Venice. The following year, in 1889, Mrs. Michieli returned to take them back to Africa. St Bahkita decided to remain in Italy as she wanted to become a Catholic.

Josephine became a novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity religious order on December 7, 1893, and took her final vows on December 8, 1896. She was eventually assigned to a convent in Schio, Vicenza. When speaking of her enslavement, she often professed she would thank her kidnappers. For had she not been kidnapped, she might never have come to know Jesus Christ and entered His Church.

In 1902, she was transferred to the Canossian Convent in Schio and was happy to serve as cook, sacristan, nursing aide and door-keeper. During World War II, the people of the village of Schio regarded her as their protector. Although bombs fell on their village, not one citizen died. On the evening of February 8, 1947, Josephine died. Her body lay on display for three days afterwards. In 1958, the process of canonization began for Josephine under Pope John XXIII. On December 1, 1978, Pope John Paul II declared her venerable. He canonized her on October 1, 2000.

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