Culture of Life
‘Blessed,’ With Children
More married models of holiness are recognized by the Church
BY Mary Ann Sullivan
October 28 - November 3, 2001 Issue | Posted 10/28/01 at 1:00 PM
This All Saints Day, Nov. 1, laypeople can celebrate more of their own than ever before.
That's because, in 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed a concern that few lay people, particularly mothers and fathers, appeared on the Church's calendar of saints.
As a result, the Vatican Congregation for Causes of the Saints took a closer look and, finding numerous cases of heroic virtue, presented parents to the Holy Father for beatification and canonization. Some of their lives, lived in times of war and persecution, are particularly apropos amid today's terrorist threats.
Here are just a few of the husbands and wives recognized recently by the Church:
Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi (beatified Oct. 21) became the first married couple in the history of the Church to be beatified together. Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, spoke of the couple's deep prayer life, their activity in Church associations and the family's “atmosphere of mutual affection between the parents and their children.”
During their courtship the couple wrote and saved love letters. “I have put a kiss so warm as my love,” wrote Luigi. “I take your hands and put them on my face, on my heart, on my mouth,” wrote Maria. They married in 1905 and gave birth to three children in the following four years.
When Maria became pregnant with their fourth child, doctors warned she would die unless she aborted the baby. The couple, however, chose life for their child. In 1914, when their daughter was born, both mother and child survived.
I'If we do not risk our lives today,’ said Blessed Nikolaus, ‘how do we then justify ourselves before God and our people?’
Luigi, a lawyer, died in 1951 at the age of 71, Maria died in 1965 at the age of 81. Three of their four children became priests or religious.
Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962, beatified April 24, 1994), a Brazilian, studied medicine in her homeland and later specialized in pediatrics at the University of Milan.
In 1955 she fell in love and married Pietro Molla. They had three children. When Gianna became pregnant with her fourth child, doctors discovered a fibrous tumor in her ovary and advised an operation that would abort the infant. Pleading for her child's life, Gianna requested another procedure that risked her own.
On April 28, 1962, Gianna gave birth to her daughter Emmanuela and died shortly thereafter. When Pope John Paul II beatified her he said, “In the dramatic choice between saving her own life or that of the baby she bore in her womb, she did not hesitate to sacrifice herself. What a heroic witness she gave!”
Nikolaus Gross (1898-1945, beatified Oct. 7), born in Essen, Germany, became an editor for a miner's newspaper in his early 20s. He married Elizabeth Kock from Niederwenigern and they had seven children.
Nikolaus loved his family dearly and, as Europe changed during Hitler's rise to power, he painstakingly balanced family life with his growing social responsibilities. He formed a Nazi resistance group and frequently exposed injustices in his newspaper.
Msgr. Caspar Shulte cautioned the editor to be careful, reminding him of his wife and seven children. Nikolaus responded, “If we do not risk our lives today, how do we then justify ourselves before God and our people?” He trusted God's care for his family.
Although innocent, Nikolaus was arrested, imprisoned and accused of conspiracy in the attempted 1944 assassination of Hitler. From prison, he continually wrote letters to his wife and children, asking for their prayers, and assuring them of his.
His wife, Elizabeth, visited him twice in prison and grieved when she saw his tortured hands and arms. He entrusted his family to God's care, and on Jan. 23, 1945, was hanged in Berlin-Plotzenesee, accused of treason.
Manuel Morales (1898-1926, canonized May 21, 2000), a faithful spouse and affectionate father to his three children, took action when religious persecution intensified in Mexico. On Aug. 15, 1926, when he learned his pastor, Father Batis had been imprisoned, he assembled a group of youths to respond.
The authorities approached the group, singled out Manuel, insulted him and brought him with the pastor to the outskirts of the city. The priest pleaded for the life of Manuel in consideration of his family, but Manuel boldly responded, “I might die, but God does not die. He will take care of my wife and my family.”
He then exclaimed, “Long live Christ the King and the Virgin of Guadalupe!” Moments later, he was martyred.
Ceferino Gimenez Malla (1861-1936, beatified May 4, 1997) was a Spanish gypsy whom people called “El Pele.”
A respected horse dealer, Ceferino married a young gypsy named Teresa Gimenez Castro. Because they had no children, they adopted a niece, Pepita, and raised her as a Catholic.
During the Spanish Revolution, when the militia arrested a priest, Ceferino protested and was imprisoned. Separated from his wife and child, this faithful husband and father recited the rosary day and night. Officials offered him freedom if he would stop reciting the rosary, but he refused.
As a result, on Aug. 2, 1936, Ceferino was shot. He died holding his rosary and uttering the words, “Long live Christ the King!”
Vicente Vilar David (1889-1937, beatified Oct. 1, 1995) was born in Valencia, Spain, and worked as an industrial engineer in his family's ceramics firm. He married Isabel Rodes Reig, the primary witness to his life and martyrdom.
Vicente was a devout husband, active in parish activities and Catholic youth groups. When anti-religious sentiment sprang up in 1931, he sheltered persecuted priests and religious in his home and did not hide his faith.
As a result, Vicente was arrested. While he was being taken away, his wife said to him: “See you tomorrow!” He answered, “Until tomorrow or in heaven!” Moments later, his wife heard shots.
Peter To Rot (1912-1945, beatified Jan. 17, 1995), born on an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, was the chief catechist of his village. He married Paula la Varpit, one of his former catechists and they had three children together.
Peter defended the sanctity of marriage. When the Japanese occupied his island, legalized polygamy, and made resistance to polygamy punishable, Peter openly opposed the regulations and was arrested.
Knowing he might be put to death, Peter asked his wife to bring his best clothes, so that he would be ready to meet God. At age 33 he was taken to a hut, held down, and murdered by lethal injection.
Victoire Rasomanarivo (1848-1894, beatified April 30, 1989) was born into the ruling elite of Madagascar. On May 13, 1864, she married the son of the prime minister. Her husband openly abused her, and many people counseled her to divorce him. Victoire refused to leave her husband, staying with him until his death in 1887.
Elizabeth Canori Mora (1774-1825, beatified April 24, 1994) was born to a wealthy Roman family and, when she was 22, married a young lawyer named Cristoforo Moro. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy.
Her husband, attracted by another young woman, remained distant from the family, and squandered their money, leaving Elizabeth alone to raise and support her daughters Marianna and Luciana.
Although her husband was both physically and psychologically violent, Elizabeth remained faithful to him, continued to love him, and prayed constantly for his conversion. She foretold her husband would repent and return to the Church.
In 1807, Elizabeth joined the Trinitarian Third Order, and continued to respond with dedication to her family. On Feb. 5, 1825, under the loving care of her two daughters, she died. Shortly after that, her husband converted, joined the Trinitarian Third Order and later became a priest of the Conventual Franciscans.
Frederic Ozanam (1813-1853, beatified Aug. 22, 1997) first considered the priesthood, but then, as a professor of literature at the Sorbonne, he was introduced to Marie-Josephine Amelie-Soula croix and married her in 1841. Both were devoted to helping the poor and tried hard to balance married life with good works They had a daughter named Marie.
Frederic and a handful of students at the University of Paris started a “Conference of Charity” to help the poor in 1952. One year later the group divided into units, and eventually it became known as the Society of St. Vincent De Paul.
Emilie Tavernier Gamelin
(1800-1851, beatified Oct. 7, 2001) was born in Montreal and, at the age of 23, married Jean-Baptiste Gamelin, a wealthy merchant. They had three boys, all of whom died at an early age. Her husband died in 1827.
Without her children or husband, Emilie dedicated the rest of her life to serving the poor. She started a home for elderly and destitute women. She nursed the sick, and visited prisoners. A few of her friends joined her in these works of mercy.
In 1842, she took a private vow to serve the poor. One year later, she founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor. She pronounced religious vows on March 29, 1844, and was then appointed as first superior of the congregation, known today as the Sisters of Providence.
She died of cholera in 1851, after a 12-year illness.
Edmund Rice (1762-1844, beatified Oct. 6, 1996), from Ireland, married Mary Elliot when he was 23. While his wife was pregnant, she was thrown by a horse. Mary died, but the doctor saved the child who was baptized Mary. Several months after her birth, Mary demonstrated signs of retardation, and Edmund's stepsister came to his home to help care for the child.
Edmund inherited his uncle's successful business and worked hard. At the age of 40, 13 years after his wife's death, he sold everything he had and sent his daughter to live with his brother Patrick and his wife, who had no children of their own.
In a stable, Edmund started a school to educate poor boys in the Catholic faith. Other men joined him in his work. In 1802 he built a monastery where he and his followers could live a full religious life.
At first his brothers were under the diocesan bishop, but Edmund wanted them to expand. To do that, he needed papal approval, which he finally received in 1820. He was elected the superior general of the new congregation, which was called the Christian Brothers.
Throughout his life, Edmund provided for his daughter Mary. He also made sure she would have what she needed after his death, which came in 1844.
Gaetana Sterni (1827-1889, to be beatified Nov. 4, 2001) was born in Vicenza, Italy, and at the age of 15 married Liberale Conte, a young businessman and widower, who had three children.
She deeply loved her husband and cared for his three children as if they were her own.
While she was pregnant with her first child, her husband died. She carried her child to term, but the infant died a few days after birth. Rumors about the death of her husband and child led Gaetana's in-laws to take the other three children. Gaetana tried to help the children understand the separation.
In her 20s she felt a strong call to serve the sick and dying, which she did with much fervor. In 1865 she and two friends formed the order that would later be known as the Daughters of the Divine Will, dedicated to service of the sick and poor. Gaetana died on Nov. 26, 1889.
Maria Domenica Brun Barbantini (1789-1868, beatified May 7, 1995) was born in Lucca, Italy. She married at the age of 22. She became pregnant, but within six months of her marriage, her husband died. She gave birth to a son.
While carrying on her husband's business transactions, she made sure that her son was raised with Christian values, but he died at age 8.
She felt a strong call to serve the sick, poor and abandoned. A group of like-minded women joined her and they devoted themselves to charitable service. In 1817 they became the Pious Union of the Sisters of Charity. In 1829 this group became known as the Sisters Servants of the Sick of St. Camillus.
St. Marguerite D'Youville (1701- 1771, canonized Dec. 9, 1990), a Canadian, married Francois d'Youville at the age of 21. They had six children, four of whom died young.
Her husband wasted money, and sold illegal liquor. Though he treated her with indifference, when he became seriously ill, she nursed him for two years until he died in 1730.
Marguerite then worked to feed her children and settle her husband's debts. While raising her two boys, both of whom became priests, she found time to help a hospital get back on its feet, through skilled administration.
Over time a number of women joined her to form a group that would eventually become the Sisters of Charity — also called the “Gray Nuns” because of the color of their habit.
At first, they offered medical assistance for the people of Quebec. In 1747, however, Marguerite was given charge of the General Hospital in Montreal. The selfless sacrifices of her nuns gave witness to profound Christian charity.
Mary Ann Sullivan writes from Durham, New Hampshire.
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