Saint of the Day – 20 October – St Maria Bertilla Boscardin (1888 – 1922) – Religious nursing Sister of the Teachers of Saint Dorothy, Daughters of the Sacred Heart – born on 6 October 1888 at Brendola, Italy as Anna Francesca Boscardin and died on 20 October 1922 of cancer at Treviso, Italy.
St Maria (1888–1922) was an Italian nun and nurse who displayed a pronounced devotion to duty in working with sick children and victims of the air raids of World War I. She was born into a peasant family and was known as Annette in her family and hometown. Her father, Angelo Boscardin, would testify during her beatification process that he was jealous, violent and frequently drunk. As a child she could only attend school irregularly, as she was needed to help at home and in the fields. When she did attend school, she also worked as a servant in a nearby home. ,,She did not display any particular talents, was thought to be not particularly intelligent and was often the target of insulting jokes. ,,These included being referred to as a “goose” for her slowness by a local clergyman.
She was allowed to make her First Holy Communion at eight and a half years old, when the authorised age in those years was eleven. At twelve years old, she was accepted into the parish association of the “Children of Mary” apostalate. The parish priest gave her a catechism as a gift. They found it in the pocket of her habit, when she died, at 34 years old.
After being rejected for admission to one order because of her slowness, she was accepted as a member of the Teachers of Saint Dorothy, Daughters of the Sacred Heart at Vicenza in 1904, taking the name “Maria Bertilla”. She herself internalised some of her earlier criticism, telling the novice-mistress of the order, “I can’t do anything. I’m a poor thing, a goose. Teach me. I want to be a saint.” She worked there as a kitchen maid and laundress for three years.
She was then sent to Treviso to learn nursing at the municipal hospital there, which was under the direction of her order. During her training period, she was once placed to work in the kitchen. However, upon completing her training, she was promoted to working with victims of diphtheria in the hospital’s children’s ward. During the air raids of Treviso following the disastrous Battle of Caporetto, the hospital fell under the control of the military. Sister Bertilla was noted for her unwavering care of her patients, particularly those who were too ill to be moved to safety.
This devotion to duty, attracted the attention of the authorities of a local military hospital. However, her Sister Supervisor did not appreciate Sister Bertilla’s work and reassigned her to work in the laundry, a position she remained in for four months until being reassigned by a higher superior, who put Sister Bertilla in charge of the children’s isolation ward at the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Sister Bertilla’s already poor health got worse. A painful tumour which she had had for several years had progressed to the point of requiring an operation, which she did not survive. She died in 1922.
Her reputation for simplicity and devoted, caring hard work had left a deep impression on those who knew her. A memorial plaque placed on her tomb refers to her as “a chosen soul of heroic goodness … an angelic alliviator of human suffering in this place.” Crowds flocked to her first grave at Treviso. After a tomb was erected for her at Vicenza, it became a pilgrimage site where several miracles of healing took place.
In 1961, 39 years after her death, she was Canonised as a saint by St Pope John XXIII. The crowd in attendance included members of her family as well as some of her patients.