Modern Day Saints

St. Maria Bertilla Boscardin

When we think of saints we think of those who have been martyred for their faith, formed a new order, had visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or were outstanding in some way. St. Maria Bertilla Boscardin did not fit any of these images. She was born Anna Francesca on October 6, 1888, to a dysfunctional peasant household in Bendola, Italy. Her father was an alcoholic who neglected the welfare of his family and was also known for his violent temper. Anna Francesca, surprisingly, developed into a loving child with a peaceful temperament and a pious nature. Because of her limited education she was considered somewhat mentally slow and was often teased with a nickname, "the goose.”

At 16, Anna Francesca gave in to her growing desire to enter religious life and joined the “Teaching Sisters of Saint Dorothy, Daughters of the Sacred Heart” in Vincenza, Italy. She was given the name, “Sr. Maria Bertilla” and assigned to the convent’s kitchen and laundry duties. She said of herself. “I can't do anything. I'm a poor thing, a goose. Teach me. I want to be a saint."

At the age of 19, the young nun was trained as a nurse, sent to a hospital in Treviso and assigned to the children’s ward, where she became the favorite nurse among her many patients. As one doctor testified, “Children are admitted to the ward with diphtheria; they have been taken from their families and they find themselves in such a state of agitation, of depression, so much so that it is not easy to calm them; for two or three days they are like little beasts, beating, boxing, rolling under the bed, refusing food. Now Sister Bertilla succeeded in rapidly becoming a mother to them all; after two or three hours the child, who was desperate, clung to her calmly as to his mother and followed her wherever she went. The ward, under her action, presented a moving spectacle: groups of children clinging unto her. The ward was really exemplar”.

In 1917 during World War I, as the town and its surroundings were being bombed, Sr. Maria Bertilla voluntarily stayed with wounded Italian soldiers to tend to them during that dangerous scenario.

As her popularity grew, so did the jealously of those who worked with her. One of her superiors, unhappy with Sr. Maria Bertilla’s growing reputation, transferred her from the children’s ward to the laundry room to keep her out of the limelight.

The humble sister made no complaint but continued with her new duties, saying only that she missed her patients. When the mother-general of her congregation heard of the transfer, she not only reinstated Sr. Maria Bertilla to the children’s ward but made her the ward’s supervisor, ensuring her continued service to the sick.

Sr. Maria Bertilla died on October 20, 1922, after having lived a life of total dedication to God through the service of the sick and the poor. She was canonized in 1961. As someone remarked, “The simple peasant woman who was once called “the goose” had taken flight and soared all the way up to Heaven.”

Jim Fritz

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