St. Maria Crocifissa Di Rosa: Hero of Charity and Courage
Today’s saint was born Paolina (Paula) Francesca Maria at Brescia, Italy on Nov. 6, 1813. She was the sixth of nine children of a wealthy noble landowner and industrialist, Clement de Rosa and his wife Countess Camilla Albani. At the age of eleven, Paula’s mother died and she was educated by the Visitandines. At the age of seventeen, she returned home to care for her father’s household.
As was common in noble families, her father found a proper husband for her. However, Paula had taken a vow of celibacy. With the help of her spiritual director, Msgr. Faustino Pinzoni, she persuaded her father to respect her wishes. She remained at home and spent all her free time performing good works in the community. She organized a women’s guild, for which she planned retreats and special missions. She also tended to the spiritual needs of young women employed at her father’s textile mill in Acquafredda.
During a cholera epidemic, she and Gabriela Echenos-Bornati cared for the sick with dedication, compassion, and gentleness. She opened a home for poor and abandoned girls and a school for the deaf. Paula was soon joined by two other women in her ministries and under the direction of Msgr. Pinzoni; the Handmaids of Charity was formed in 1840 in the city of Brescia. Paula was appointed superior of the order and took the name Mary Crucifixa because of her devotion to the Crucified Christ. The group of four soon grew into a flourishing community of thirty-two. Their rule was approved by the bishop in 1843.
In 1848, her life seemed to fall apart. First, she lost Gabriela and then Msgr. Pinzoni died, leaving her without the support, guidance, and friendship she had come to depend on. War broke out in Europe and her homeland was invaded. Facing that kind of heartache, would have been devastating to many others, who would have retreated. But Paula saw the opportunity to serve. War meant that many would be wounded, so she and her Sisters went to work at a military hospital and even went out into the battlefield to care for spiritual and physical needs of the wounded and the dying.
During the war, when a military hospital where Paula worked, was about to be attacked, she showed great courage, trusting in the providence of God. The soldiers pounded relentlessly on the barricaded door and demanded that it be opened. When the door swung wide, they saw their way blocked by a large crucifix held by Paula di Rosa and two candles held by two of the six sisters who stood by her. Suddenly their frenzy to destroy disappeared, and full of shame before this display of great courage and faith, they disgracefully departed.
In December 1850, Pope Pius IX approved of the constitutions of the congregation, but it wasn’t until 1852 that the civil authorities allowed the twenty-six sisters to make their vows.
Paula lived only a few more years and expansion took place at Brescia as well as convents opened in Spalata, Dalmatia and near Verona, Italy. She was taken seriously ill at Mantua and shortly after returning to Brescia, died on December 15, 1855 at the age of 42. She was canonized in 1954 by Pope Pius XII.
Paula’s life was one of availability to any and every one in need. She would go to the aid of anyone at any hour whether it be caring for someone sick or dying, bringing peace in a quarrelsome home, or comforting someone in great distress. Whatever the need, she brought God’s love and healing. She passionately practiced the virtue of charity in her daily work, sharing the love of Christ with all those she encountered. Thus, her passionate love for the Crucified Christ was demonstrated by her great love for the members of His Mystical Body.