St. Josephine Bakhita: From Slave to Saint
Today is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Canossian Sister who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Sudan.
Bakhita was born in Eastern Sudan around 1869 and was captured by slave traders, who named her Bakhita, which means “the lucky or fortunate 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. 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 daughter in Mirano Veneto, Italy.
It was in Italy at age 21 that the Canossian Daughters of Charity 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 courageously insisted that she remain in Italy to complete her religious instruction and to practice her faith. When Mrs. Michieli’s pleas 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. 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 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.
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.” Her humility, her simplicity and her constant smile won the hearts of all. Her sisters in the community esteemed her for her sweet nature, her exquisite goodness and her deep desire to make the Lord known. For the next two years, she served as the doorkeeper at the Sister’s missionary novitiate in Milan.
In the winter of 1947, Sister Josephine suffered from a violent attack of pneumonia 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
To obtain a favor from St. Josephine Bakhita please say this prayer, an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.
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.