Welcome to KNOW YOUR SAINTS! a Sunday blog that features a saint whose feast day is celebrated during the following week.
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St Mary di Rosa
1013 – 1885
Feast Day (TODAY!) Dec 15th
Have you ever knows someone who always seemed frail, as though life was just harder for them to move about in? Those people appear to have a choice to make in their lives; give in to their own frailty and let life pass them by, or put up, shut up, and become a saint. That is just what St. Mary di Rosa did.
Born in 1813 in Bresica, Italy, this saint was born Paolina Francesca di Rosa, and always seemed a frail creature. However, she was not hampered by her seeming delicateness, and was very active in her parish, organizing retreats, fundraisers for the poor, and whatever else her youth allowed her to do. She attended school in a convent until she was 17, when her mother died. Here, young Paolina had the opportunity to allow despair to overwhelm her, to allow herself to give in to her own grief. However, she continued to give of herself so that, by the time she was 24, she was asked to be the supervisor for a poor women’s workhouse.
Paolina helped these girls by day, but lying in her own bed at night, worried about them, who had no beds, indeed, no place to go after the workhouse closed. Seeing that no one else cared about these poor women’s fate after dark, Paolina founded a boarding house for them herself, while at the same time helping her brother set up a school for the deaf. Apparently, good work ethic motivated by charity ran in the di Rosa family! Paolina herself said that she couldn’t go to sleep at night, knowing that there was more good works for her to do. If only we could be so bothered!
Merely three years after starting the boarding house, Paolina became Mary Crocifissa di Rosa and the superior of the Handmaids of Charity, a ministry that attended to the suffering in hospitals. Mary-formerly-known-as-Paolina and her sisters, though they did good work, were not always welcomed in the hospitals by the doctors and staff, but, strengthened by the presence of two good friends –a fellow sister and a priest- Mary helped her order gain a good reputation and become more accepted in the hospitals ,where they brought Christ to those who needed it most.
Mary’s work continued uninterrupted for nearly ten years when, in 1848, the first Italian war of independence started, throwing many more into the very hospitals Mary and her sisters were working. Remember, at this time, these Handmaids of Charity were not medical practitioners in any way. They assisted where they could, but they were there primarily for the spiritual and emotional needs of the patients. With the war starting, doctors saw the sisters as merely in the way, and Mary had to work even harder to make them see the necessity of their presence. Mary, who looked as though she were near needing a hospital bed herself, and her sisters recognized that when peoples’ bodies are suffering, often their souls are as well, and both were in need of healing.
In that same year, not only did Mary have a greater challenge with the war starting, she also lost the support of her friends through their deaths. Once again, Mary had the opportunity to simply allow her ministry to falter. It seemed the sisters were not wanted, and it was simply too hard to continue. However, Mary, in love with Christ on the Cross, knew to lift up her own sufferings with His, and persevere. In fact, Mary stopped enemy soldiers seeking to pillage the hospital where she ministered by simply standing before them at the front door with a large crucifix. The soldiers were ashamed that this this seemingly frail young woman could stand so bravely in the face of their own savagery, and left the way they came.
St. Mary di Rosa continued to work and lead the Handmaids of Charity until her death in 1885 at the age of 42. She was officially recognized a saint in 1954.
St. Mary di Rosa, on this Gaudete Sunday, please pray for us, when life feels overwhelming and we feel small and frail. Pray that we can remember Christ crucified, who, though he was barely alive and in unspeakable pain, continued to teach and lead His people. Help us to remember to do His will, as you did, even with your own last breath, in Christ’s name. Amen
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