The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Venerable Maddalena of Canossa

Saint Magdalena Gabriela CanossaThe Venerable Maddalena of Canossa shed new splendor on the lineage of the Margraves of Canossa. When the Margravine Maddalena, along with some other ladies, began a life of poverty and devoted herself altogether to works of charity, her relatives were much distressed, fearing that it would bring disgrace to the name of Canossa. But of all who have borne the name in the nineteenth century none has brought more renown to that ancient family than the same Margravine Maddalena by her life and labors as foundress of the Daughters of Charity. She was born on 1 March 1774, at Verona, and after the early death of her father went to live in the castle of her uncle, Jerome of Canossa. At an early age she felt called to the religious life and was received among the Carmelites, but she soon found that the contemplative life was not her particular vocation and returned from the novitiate. In her own family circle she possessed the highest reputation and the administration of the whole household was placed in her hands. She greatly impressed all by her sincere piety, and her abhorrence of everything that could in the least endanger her chastity. When Napoleon was on his Italian campaign he lodged at the castle of the Margrave of Canossa. Eye-witnesses relate that the dignity and grace of Maddalena greatly impressed him. On one occasion she had the misfortune of falling down some steps while he was present. An officer hastened at once to lift her up, but she refused his assistance, and it is said that Napoleon cried out, “Leave her alone. Do not dare to touch her; she is an angel.”

The Revolution forced the Margrave to seek refuge in Venice. According to the acts of the process of beatification it was here that her future vocation was first made manifest to the young Margravine by the Blessed Virgin in a vision at Saint Mark’s. After her return to her home in Verona she rented a house and with a few companions began to lead a religious life. The object of the young Society was the instruction of girls, especially of the lower classes, and the practice of works of charity. The special protection of God was evident. The Daughters of Charity, or of Canossa, as they were called after their foundress, soon spread through the principal cities of Italy in spite of the unfavorable circumstances of the times. Frequently there were great difficulties to be encountered. But when a woman endowed with extraordinary prudence and sanctity is the superior, such difficulties serve only to give internal strength to the Congregation. This was the case with Maddalena of Canossa. Men knew what she had left in the world, they knew the innocence of her life and saw the noble example of her humility and extreme poverty. God granted her extraordinary graces and we can not be surprised that even during her lifetime she was revered as a saint. Her process is already far advanced.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916