"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." John 6:68


Saturday, 15 December 2018

St. Virginia Centurione Bracelli (1587-1651)

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        Widower, Virginia Centurione Bracelli was born on April 2, 1587, in Genoa, from the family of Giorgio Centurione, duke of the Republic in the year 1621-1622, and Lelia Spinola. Both of them were of the ancient noble origin. She was baptized two days after her birth, received her first religious and literary formation from her mother and private tutor. She soon felt the desire for a cloistered life but she had to succumb to her father's strong will and marry Gaspare Grimaldi Bracelli on December 10, 1602. Gaspare's family was both illustrious and wealthy, but he was wholly taken up with gambling and dissolute life. She gave birth to two daughters: Lelia and Isabella.

        The conjugal life of Virginia did not last long. As a matter of fact, Gaspare Bracelli, in spite of the matrimony and the fatherhood, he did not abandon his pleasures, which brought him to shorten his life. Virginia, however, with her great patience, prayer and affection, tried to convince her husband to a modest life. Unfortunately, Gaspare fell ill and died on June 13, 1607, in Alessandria, she enabled him to reach a state of grace and peace with God, before his death.

        At the age of twenty, she became widow, pronounced her perpetual vow of chastity, refusing the occasion of the second marriage proposed by her father. She lived in her mother-in-law's house, taking care of the education and the administration of the goods of her children and dedicating herself through prayer and act of charity. In 1610, she clearly felt the special vocation "to serve God through the poor". Although she was strictly controlled by her father and never disregarded the care for the family, Virginia began to devote herself to the needy. She personally helped the poor by sharing half of her wealth. 

        Virginia conveniently settled the marriage life of her daughters and totally offered herself to the needs of the abandoned children, the aged, the sick and to elevate the life of the marginalized people. In autumn of 1624-1625, the war between the Liguorian Republic and the Duke of Savoy, supported by France, increasing the unemployment and starvation, led Virginia to welcome in her home at first 15 abandoned youth, and then, with the expansion of the refugees in town, she provided for their needs, especially impoverished women.  On August of 1625, with the death of her mother-in-law, she started not only to house the youth but instead to go herself to town, mostly in the disreputable quarters, in search for the needy and in danger of depravity.

        To develop the initiative of accomodating the youth, precisely at the time of plague and of famine in 1629-1630, Virginia was obliged to rent the empty convent of Monte Calvario, where she transferred on the 13th of April 1631, together with her beneficiaries placed under the protection of Our Lady of Refuge. Three years after, the Institution expanded into three houses accomodating 300 patients. Hence, she petitioned for the official acknowledgement from the Senate of the Republic, which was conceded on December 13, 1635. 

        The beneficiaries of Our Lady of Refuge became for Virginia her excellent "daughters", with whom she shared the food and clothing. She taught them catechism and train them to work so that they could earn their own sustenance. Virginia renounced to purchase the Monte Calvario's convent because it was very expensive, for this reason, she bought two villas next to Carignano's Hill that , with the construction of the new annex of the Church dedicated to Our Lady of Refuge, became the Mother House of the Institution. Later, the Institution is divided into two Religious Congregation: the "Sisters of Our Lady of Refuge in Mount Calvary" (Suore di Nostra Signora del Rifugio di Monte Calvario) and the "Daughters of Our Lady on Mount Calvary" (Figlie di Nostra Signora al Monte Calvario). 

        After the nomination of the Protectors (July 3, 1641), who were considered to be the real superiors of the Institute, Virginia disengaged herself from the government house.  She lived in obedience to them as the last "daughter" devoted to the household chores, went out in the morning and in the evening to beg for the sustenance of the living. She was a mother to everyone, specially for the sick, giving them most of her availability. With the increase of the activities and of the efforts, the collaborators of Virginia declined, particularly the women of the middle and upper class, who had feared to compromise their reputation in dealing with the corrupt people. Abandoned by the Auxiliaries and by the Protectors of the Institute, Virginia, while her physical health was weakening, took the position and became responsible for the sisters in Carignano's House. 

        Gratified by the Lord with exultations, visions, interior locutions and other mystical gifts, she died on December 15, 1651 at the age of 64.

        She was beatified on 22 September 1985 and canonized on 18  May 2003 by Pope John Paul II.

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