Some Awesome People

Saturday, December 15, 2012

St. Maria Crocifissa Di Rosa

(1813 -1855)

Feastday: December 15

Paula Francesca Maria Di Rosa was born in Brescia, Italy, in 1813, one of nine children of a spinning mill owner and countess. At age 10, Paula had to come to terms with the death of her young mother due to a terminal illness. This situation made her realize that life cannot be considered a pleasure for rich people and a Calvary for the poor, but a trial for everyone, to face. Paula was restless in her household chores, seeing suffering and charitable need everywhere around her in Brescia. She told her sisters, “I suffer from seeing suffering,” and set about trying to improve the plight of those in need.

A Strong-Willed Young Woman

Paula first turned her attention to the workers in her father’s mills and the other factories of town. When she was 19, Paula became the manager of the spinning mill in Acquafredda. She especially cared for and offered assistance to the young women who were forced by financial circumstances to work long hours in difficult conditions. Her father encouraged Paula to attend to the spiritual and material needs of his workers. She further spent long hours visiting local hospitals, ministering to the sick—especially those that no one else would help.

Her father began to realize that his daughter’s strong personality would never accept the ties and restrictions of family life. He arranged for suitors to visit Paula, but she turned them all down. Her heart was set on service to others in religious life. He wished to see his daughter married, not entering the convent, but was persuaded by her confessor to stop pressuring her to marry.

Living for Others

During the cholera epidemic of 1836, Paula slept only a few hours each night, running herself into exhaustion helping others. She soon discovered that goodness in itself had a value far greater than any company or firm that her father could ever offer her. At the age of 27, Paula decided that she needed to be a bit more organized in her charitable efforts. She was concerned with the lives of the factory workers after they left their jobs, as many of the young were living in unsafe conditions and were easily targeted and victimized. Together with a wealthy widow, Gabriela Bornati, she founded the society of Handmaids of Charity. The sole purpose of the Handmaids was to minister to the material needs of those afflicted by poverty or disease. Her first act was to found a home dedicated to the spiritual needs of the young women she cared for, and a school for deaf children. Forsaking luxury, she lived in a tiny shack by the hospital, caring for the ill on a daily basis.

Her father, for his part, while still wishing to see her married, was concerned with her living conditions. He offered a house to the women, which they accepted. Gabriela died there some three years later, but not before the Handmaids of Charity had established a solid presence throughout the region. In 1840, Paula became the superior of the Order, taking the name Maria Crocifissa. The local bishop offered approval of the order, followed by papal approval in 1850.

Courageous Handmaid

In 1852, when war broke out in the region, the Handmaids cared for the soldiers of both sides, seeing God’s people regardless of nationality. They worked throughout the war, being recognized for their courage in defending their patients in the hospitals by blocking doorways to wards with crucifixes and lighted candles, and ministering to the wounded and dying on the battlefields. Soon after the war, a second cholera epidemic pushed the growing order to its limit—with the tired and dedicated sisters working in schools, orphanages, and hospitals.

Maria, worn out from her tireless work, found herself in the hospital at the age of 42. She never recovered, and died at Brescia in 1855, after a selfless lifetime of service to those in need. However, the congregation still exists; fruit of a love that is eternal, just as God is.

St. Maria, pray for us - that we would courageously recognize Christ in the eyes of everyone we meet.

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