Bakhita was born in Eastern Sudan around 1869 and was captured by slave traders, who named her Bakhita, which means “lucky one”.
Bakhita came from a happy, loving tribal family, which consisted of her parents, three brothers, and four sisters. In comparison to other African tribal families, her family was well to do, as her uncle was the village chief and her father owned cattle and large plantations. When Bakhita was about nine years old, slave traders captured her.
During the course of her life, she was sold five times before she received her freedom. She was subjected to many cruel tortures, some of which included whip lashing, which tore off her flesh, and being tattooed multiple times on her body via incisions with a razor and having salt rubbed into her womb. Despite the cruel treatments, she had no resentment or bitterness in her heart, but prayed for those who hurt her.
When Bakhita’s fourth owner, Callisto (Legnani), an agent of the Italian Consul in Sudan, was recalled to Italy, Bakhita insisted on accompanying him, and her master could not refuse her. On the ship bound for Italy, however, the Consul gave Bakhita to some fellow countrymen, Mr. and Mrs. Micheli, who needed a nanny for their child in Mirano Veneto, Italy.
It was in Italy at age 21 that the Canossian Sisters in Venice introduced Bakhita to the Catholic faith. Accompanying the five-year-old child she cared for to the Sister’s boarding school in Venice, Bakhita received religious instruction along with the child. When the child’s parents returned from Sudan to take them both back to Africa, Bakhita refused to go, but insisted that she remain in Italy to complete her religious instruction and to practice her faith. When Mrs. Michieli’s pleas and threats toward Bakhita failed, she appealed to the King’s Procurator, who informed her that slavery was illegal in Italy. Bakhita was now a free woman – free to serve the One she loved. Approximately two months later, on January 9, 1890, Bakhita was baptized and confirmed and was given the names Josephine and Margaret and Bakhita. She also made her first Holy Communion on the same day.
Bakhita continued her studies at the school for four more years, then began her postulancy with the Canossian Sisters on December 3, 1893, in the same house where she had lived for five years. On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1896, Sr. Josephine made her final vows at the Motherhouse in Verona, where the foundress, Magdalene of Canossa, had lived and died.
For six years, Bakhita remained in Venice, performing simple household tasks. Then, in 1902, she was transferred to Schio, a small town in the beautiful mountain area of northern Italy. Her first assignment there was as a cook. She sought to do her best, taking special care that the food she prepared was as pleasing as possible and she even heated the dishware in the winter to ensure warm meals for the boarding school girls and the Sisters.
In 1935, the Sisters asked Sr. Josephine to go on a speaking tour to tell her faith story as a form of missionary work. The shy and modest Sister reluctantly consented, as she disliked being the center of attention. She relayed her witness to captivated audiences for the next year and always did so “For God’s Glory.” For the next two years, she served as the doorkeeper at the Sister’s missionary novitiate in Milan.
In 1938, Sr. Josephine’s health was beginning to decline, so she returned to Schio to perform household chores. She celebrated a joyous golden 50th anniversary as a religious on December 8, 1943 with nearly the whole town present, congratulating and thanking her for all her work.
As Bakhita’s life drew to a close, she began to spend more time with the Lord, gazing upon Him in the tabernacle or on the crucifix and praying. She spent much time in prayer for her fellow missionary Sisters.”
At times, I have sleepless nights: then I feel bored and sad. But I do not pay any attention to it: I offer my suffering and I feel happy. I thank God for the many graces granted me, happy to have something to offer in return, as a token of my gratitude.”
As she was nearing the end of her life on this earth, some of her Sisters, expressed their concerns and fears about God’s judgement to her, to which Bakhita replied, “When a person loves another, she wishes to be together [with him], so why be afraid? Death takes us to God.”She added, “I am going slowly, slowly towards eternity…I carry two bags with me; one contains my sins, the other, much heavier, contains the infinite merits of Jesus Christ. When I appear before the tribunal of God, I will cover my ugly bag with the merits of Our Lady. Then, I shall open the other and will present to the eternal Father the merits of His Son Jesus. I will tell Him: “Now, judge from what you see.”
Sister Josephine suffered from a violent attack of pneumonia in the winter of 1947 and her fever caused her to go through periods of delirium and unconsciousness. When she regained consciousness, someone asked her, “How are you Sr. Josephine? Today is Saturday.” As she lay dying, she replied, “Yes, I am so happy: Our Lady, Our Lady!” These were her last words on February 8, 1947.
Pope John Paul II canonized St. Josephine Bakhita on October 1, 2000.
“Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!”
~ St. Josephine Bakhita
Visit this website to learn more about the life of St. Josephine: Bakhita: African Flower
. It contains a poem commissioned by the Canossian Daughters of Charity and a pictoral biography.
Loving God, rewarder of the humble, you blessed St. Josephine Bakhita with charity and patience. May her prayers help us, and her example inspire us to carry our cross and to love you always. Pour upon us the spirit of wisdom and love with which you filled St. Josephine Bakhita. By serving you as she did, may we please you by our faith and our actions. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.