On Sunday 15 May, Pope Francis proclaimed 10 new saints in what was the first canonisation Mass to take place in Rome after more than two years. Among them were some well-known figures, like Charles de Foucauld. However, there were also four women canonised, all of whom were leaders in their time and founders of influential religious congregations.
In his homily during Mass, Pope Francis reminded those gathered that the path of holiness ‘is so simple! To see Jesus always in others.’ The more we serve Christ in others, the more we can become saints and be ‘a luminous reflection of the Lord in history.’
The Pope emphasised that the source of strength for all of these saints was the recognition that their abilities and efforts were not the most important thing – only the knowledge that they were definitively loved:
He loved us first; he waits for us; he keeps loving us. This is our identity: we are God’s loved ones. This is our strength: we are loved by God.’
Here are their stories: the four women who, named after the Blessed Virgin, followed the path of holiness and served Christ in the poor, the sick, and the abandoned.
Marie Rivier lived during the French Revolution, a period of deep hostility towards the Catholic Church on the part of a secular government. Monasteries and convents were forced into closure, nuns and priests were martyred, and the French government increasingly accrued to itself rights over ecclesiastical property and activity. In the year 1796, when she was only 28 years old, the Frenchwoman Marie Rivier founded her own religious congregation.
The Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary was originally dedicated to the education and formation of young girls across France, and they expanded rapidly despite the pressure of the Reign of Terror. In the space of 42 years, they expanded to have 130 houses of religious sisters.
This religious movement begun by Marie Rivier was not the only heroic aspect of her Christian witness: she suffered deeply from a physical condition that made walking very difficult without crutches. This had affected her since she was only 16 months old, and the condition meant that her joints would swell and her limbs shrink. This did not prevent her from wanting to dedicate her life to the education of children. Even from the age of nine, she was known as “little mother” by her friends.
On 3 February 1838, her strength finally failed her and she died. Her congregation now ministers across 18 different countries, on five continents.
Maria Domenica Mantovani, born in Castelletto di Brenzone, Italy, in 1862, was the first general superior of the Institute of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family. This was a community she co-founded in order to serve the poor of Italy, along with Blessed Giuseppe Nascimbeni, a priest who had been her spiritual guide since the age of 15.
The spirituality of the Institute was inspired by the rule of the Third Order Regular of St Francis, and across the 40 years that she served as the general superior, she shaped the Constitution to reflect this. The Institute saw tremendous expansion throughout her life. In fact, by the time she died in 1934, the Little Sisters had grown to 1,200 members, in 150 convents in Italy and internationally.
She was a humble force of holiness for the Institute, constantly working to keep from growing lax in their founding principles.
Originally born Anna Maria Rubatto in 1844, in Turin, St Maria suffered the death of her father when she was only four years old, and then her mother when she was 19. She served a noble family for many years before discovering her vocation at the age of 40.
One day, while leaving church, Maria heard the cries of a young labourer whose head had been struck by a stone falling off nearby scaffolding. Maria was immediately at the man’s side, tending his wounds and washing him. She then generously gave him the equivalent of two days’ pay and sent him home. As it turned out, the scaffolding was attached to a building that was being constructed for the purpose of a community of Capuchin Sisters. The priest in charge of the project, Angelico Martini, witnessed the way in which Maria tended to the man with such compassion and charity, and invited her to become the new director and founding member of the community.
This would become the Institute of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of Loano. Throughout the rest of her life, Sister Maria would travel across the Atlantic Ocean seven times in order to found new houses of their congregation across South America. Her life was one that displayed clear witness to the Gospel and the life of Charity the Gospel should inspire in all of us. Sister Maria passed away in 1904.
Born Carolina Santocanale, in Palermo in 1852, from the early age of 19, Maria felt an attraction toward religious life. Although she never earned any formal educational degrees, she was schooled at home and was quite talented musically and artistically. Despite the protestations of her father, she would go on to religious life, although not a cloistered one: her desire was to actively serve the poor in the streets.
In 1910, she founded the Capuchin Sisters of Immaculate Mary of Lourdes, a congregation inspired by the radical spirituality of St Francis.
Even during the First World War, when material means were short, the Sisters experienced a stunning expansion. Their work on the ground, serving the poor, the orphaned and the sick, inspired many people and many vocations. In 1923, after two years of deteriorating physical health, Sister Maria died.
Melbourne Catholic29 April 2022