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The Catholic Defender: Magdalena di Canossa


Magdalena di Canossa (1 March 1774 – 10 April 1835) was an Italian professed religious and foundress of the two Canossian congregations.


Magdalene of Canossa was born on 1 March 1774 in Verona


Wealth and privilege did nothing to prevent today’s saint from following her calling to serve Christ in the poor. Nor did the protests of her relatives, concerned that such work was beneath her.


Born in northern Italy in 1774, Magdalene knew her mind—and spoke it. At age 15 she announced she wished to become a nun. After trying out her vocation with the cloistered Carmelites, she realized her desire was to serve the needy without restriction. For years she worked among the poor and sick in hospitals and in their homes, and also among delinquent and abandoned girls.


At 17, she believed she was called to the life of the cloister and attempted to join the Carmelites twice, but the Spirit of God urged her interiorly to give herself to the service of the neediest persons whom the convent grills prevented her from reaching out to.


MAGDALENA OF CANOSSA, was a woman who believed in the love of the Lord Jesus and, sent by the Holy Spirit among those most in need, she served them with a Mother's heart and an Apostle's zeal. Born in Verona on 1st March 1774, of a noble and wealthy family, she was the third of six children.


In her mid-20s, Magdalene began offering lodging to poor girls in her own home. In time she opened a school, which offered practical training and religious instruction. As other women joined her in the work, the new Congregation of the Canossian Daughters of Charity—or Canossian Sisters—emerged. Over time, houses were opened throughout Italy.


Under the Canossian education, we learn from our Foundress, St. Magdalene of Canossa on how to love selflessly and offer our humble service to others. “Those who love are never tired, since love knows no burden”. With Love, we are driven to serve each other with humility and show concern for the needy.


Magdalene sought and found her first companions called to follow Christ, poor, chaste, obedient and who were to be sent out as witnesses of His unconditional Love towards all people. In 1808, Magdalene overcame her family’s opposition and left Canossa Palace once and for all, to begin in the poorest district of Verona what she knew in her heart to be the Will of God, to serve the neediest persons, with the heart of Christ.


Canossa wanted the pope to legitimize her work by granting formal recognition to the congregation. She decided to meet with Pope Pius VII in Genoa in 1815 and arrived in Milan on 14 May to learn that the pope had left for Rome. She reached the pope on 23 May at Piacenza where she was received in an audience but she recounted later that she lost her courage before him.


His Holiness Pope Leo XII approved the Rule of the Institute with the Brief Si Nobis, of 23 December 1828.


In 1834 she organized the Spiritual Exercises for the congregation in Verona before setting off for Venice before returning to Verona in May. That autumn she went to Bergamo and then to Milan. Canossa died on 10 April 1835 after a period of deteriorating health; she had known in January that her time was coming to an end, and returned to Verona from Milan in March.


Above all, make Jesus Christ known! This heartfelt concern of Magdalene’s was the great inheritance that the Daughters and Sons of Charity are called to live, a life of complete availability to God and service towards others, willing to go to the most distant countries for the sake of this holy work.


Members of the new religious congregation focused on the educational and spiritual needs of women. Magdalene also founded a smaller congregation for priests and brothers. Both groups continue to this day.

Magdalene died in 1835. Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1988.


Her beatification was celebrated in Rome on 7 December 1941 and she was later canonized as a saint in Saint Peter's Square on 2 October 1988.


The Daughters of Charity travelled for the Far East in 1860. Today, there are about 4000 sisters throughout the world, grouped into 24 provinces.

The Sons of Charity number about 200. They work in various cities in Italy, Latin America and the Philippines.

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