Michael O’Neill is a radio and television host, author, and creator of the website MiracleHunter.com, the top online resource on miracles. His books include Exploring the Miraculous, 365 Days with Mary and 20 Answers: Apparitions and Revelations. He is the creator and host of the new EWTN docuseries “They Might Be Saints” about the lives of future saints and the search for canonization miracles.
Antonietta put the card with the novena the Virgin Mary back into the copy of the Imitation of Christ that always rested on her nightstand. She knew the prayer by heart, from having recited it so many times but she still liked the card. When she needed, or even just wanted, something — a virtue, help on a test, or an unimportant trifle — she started the novena. She had never had to pray the whole nine days before the favor arrived.
She was born in New York in 1909, but when she was five, her mother had died, and her father, Francesco Giugliani, decided to return to their home in Afragola in the province of Naples with her and her two sisters. Now Antonietta was almost grown up, with even features, thick dark hair and large brown eyes — an Italian beauty with position and money, not a likely candidate for the cloister. But any vocational commitments, whether marriage or otherwise, were still several years away. She wouldn’t be an adult under Italian law until she was 21. In the meantime, she would finish coming of age in the family home with her father and stepmother and seven siblings.
She started this new phase with a plan, called “Regulation of the Christian Life,” as she had entitled her personal commitment to the spiritual life. It listed 32 points, from the schedule she would follow to the weekly penances she would do to the habits she would cultivate. Waking up at 5:30 in the morning to be at the parish church at 6:30 for meditation and Mass did not bode well in the eyes of her family who expected her to marry well and continue to build the Giugliani fortune. She found one confidant in her friend and relative Raffaelina Tuccillo. The two girls spent a lot of time together and, with this younger relative, Antonietta shared her desire to become a cloistered nun and hide herself from the world.
The two girls took a trip to France, and visited a mutual cousin who was missionary sister. This opened Antonietta’s mind to a different way of give herself to God — hiding herself from the world in a far off mission land where she could also do active charity. Now 20, and having recently lost her father, she sought guidance in her vocational discernment from her parish priest.
He suggested that she go to Father Vicenzo Del Prete for spiritual direction. Fr. Sosio told her she could do the good works she desired right there in Afragola. He believed God was calling her to found a new community of sisters to care for the poor. He gave Antonietta the elderly and poor of nearby Lazzaretto as her first mission. (Fr. Del Prete is considered the co-founder of the Little Servants of Christ the King. His cause for canonization is also underway and has been named Servant of God.)
Back at home, the Giugliano family was shocked. From entreaties and arguments, her brother-in-law eventually moves on to physical violence to push Antonietta away from her vocation. Desperate, she runs away and finds refuge in a convent in a nearby village and then later with Raffaelina’s family. Using the promise of her pending inheritance, Antonietta provisionally purchases a building next to the Franciscan convent. The community began on June 13, the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, begging for alms on the steps of the convent church in the “in the name of the Institute of the Little Servants of Christ the King.”
With the support of a group of Third Order Franciscans, Antoinette and other future sisters turned the old building into a hospice for the elderly and a day care center for children. In October 1935, Antonietta took her religious vows as Antonietta of Jesus. The institute is officially constituted as part of the Third Order of St. Francis. However, Antonietta met serious resistance. Besides an outcry among the wealthy families of the sisters, an arson attempt was made on the convent itself. Luckily, the fire didn’t cause any injuries or interrupt the apostolate.
Once Antoinette and the other sisters had won over the people of Afragola, the fascists of the Mussolini regime and then the Second War World challenged her dedication. The local fascists tried to confiscate it and turn it into their headquarters, but Antonietta defended the poor in her care. During World War II, the convent was also converted into an emergency hospital during the English bombing campaign of 1943. Antonietta and her Sisters stayed through the bombardment, administering medicine and tending the wounded. The convent wasn’t hit.
After the war, Antonietta focused the work of the Sisters on children orphaned or left destitute by the war, and expanded the apostolate to other parts of Italy. She had long been plagued with chronic pain and she became stricken with disease. By early June 1960, she was dying. The chaplain came to say Mass in her room and asked her what she wanted him to offer it for. She said, “Only one thing: The will of God.” Father proceeded and in the middle Antonietta whispered, “God’s will be done,” and died. It was June 8, 1960. At her early death at the age of 51, she left behind 200 sisters and postulants, 450 elderly and 1,500 orphans.
She was declared venerable in 2019. Her canonization cause now seeks to identify and validate a miraculous healing: an instantaneous, complete and lasting cure of a serious medical condition through the singular intercession of Antonietta Giugliano.