A Saint in Schio
During World War II, the industrial town of Schio in northern Italy, like other places in the country, endured bombings. This happened even after the overthrow of Mussolini due to the Nazi occupation that kept the people in peril. But in the bombings of Schio, not a single death was recorded. The townspeople credited this to Mother Josephine Bakhita of the Canossian Daughters of Charity, who was living amongst them and had already been identified by many as a saintly figure. Josephine Bakhita was canonized in 2000 by Pope John Paul II, and today her image hangs over the front door of the Church of the Holy Family, adjacent to the Canossian convent in Schio.
Her life of holiness began in Sudan, where she was raised in a loving family with three brothers, three sisters, and a prosperous father whose brother was the village chief. Tragically, at the age of nine years old, Josephine was abducted and sold into slavery. She suffered horrible abuse for many years, until she was sold to an Italian consular agent stationed in Africa. While this man and his family treated her in a kindlier manner, they still maintained an unjust sense of ownership over her. Nevertheless, when the family was returning to Italy, Josephine requested to go with them, so they brought her along as their servant.
In Italy, Josephine had the opportunity to learn about Jesus through the Canossian Daughters of Charity, who also lobbied for her to be granted freedom, which she won in a court case, enabling her to devote herself to learning the faith. On January 9, 1890, Josephine received baptism, confirmation, and first communion from the patriarch of Venice, who had been instrumental in helping her attain freedom. In 1902, she made her profession as a Canossian Daughter of Charity and was asked to serve in the town of Schio.
Over the next 45 years, Josephine became known for her devout prayer life and the tremendous mercy she showed to others. She contributed to her community through simple tasks of cooking and sewing, her artistry as an embroiderer, and her selfless service to the many visitors they received. As she grew older, she began to suffer physical pain and eventually had to use a wheelchair to get around, but she was known for the joy she displayed even amid her suffering. She had a great devotion to Mary, writing in her autobiography, “Mary protected me even before I knew her!” Josephine died on February 8, 1947. Just before passing, she cried out, “Our Lady, Our Lady!”
The people of Schio continue to venerate Saint Josephine Bakhita, and the Canossian Daughters of Charity maintain a permanent exhibit dedicated to her memory. She has also been designated as the patron saint of Sudan, where there has been much turmoil in recent years. Her feast day is on February 8th, which is a great time to pray for her intercession for an end to war and violence in Sudan and for the people of Schio and all those who make pilgrimages there.
The life of Saint Josephine Bakhita is a testament to God’s grace at work in the world. Through all her hardship, she did not give up, and God led her to a better place, where she could then inspire others to know they were protected even amid the horrors of war. May Saint Josephine Bakhita inspire us all to the holiness she displayed on her road to sainthood.