Saint of the Day – 13 November – St Agostina Livia Pietrantoni S.D.C. (1864-1894) – virgin, of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret, medical nursing sister – Born Livia Pietrantoni on 27 March 1864 at Pozzaglia Sabina, Rieti, Italy as Livia Petrantoni and died by being stabbed to death on 13 November 1894 in Rome, Italy by Giuseppe Romanelli. Patronages – abuse victims, against impoverishment and poverty, martyrs, people ridiculed for their piety.
“Once there was and there still is but with a new face now, a village named Pozzaglia. In the Sabina hills… and there was a blessed house, a cosy little nest filled with childrens’ voices, amongst which that of Olivia who was later called Livia and was to take the name of Agostina in the religious life.”
The very short life of Sister Agostina, which inspired St Paul VI, the Pope who beatified her, to relate it in extraordinarily poetical terms, began and unfolded itself: “simple, transparent, pure, loving…but ended sorrowfully and tragically… or rather symbolically.”
27th March 1864: Livia was born and baptised in the little village of Pozzaglia Sabina, at an altitude of 800 meters in the beautiful area which is bordered geographically by Rieti, Orvinio, Tivoli. She was the second of 11 children! Her parents, Francesco Pietrantoni and Caterina Costantini, were farmers and worked their small plot of land along with a few added plots which they leased. Livia’s childhood and youth were imbued with the values of an honest, hard-working and religious family, in the blessed house in which “all were careful to do good and where they often prayed”. This period was marked especially by the wisdom of Uncle Domenico who was a real patriarch.
At the age of 4 Livia received the Sacrament of Confirmation and around 1876 she received her first Holy Communion, certainly with an extraordinary awareness, judging by the life of prayer, generosity and sacrifice which followed it. Very early on, in the large family in which everyone seemed to be a beneficiary to her time and help, she learned from her mother Caterina the thoughtfulness and maternal gestures which she showed with such gentleness towards her many younger brothers and sisters. She worked in the fields and looked after the animals… Therefore, she barely experienced childrens’ games… or school which she attended very irregularly but from which she drew great benefit to the point of earning the title of “teacher” from her classmates.
At the age of 7, along with other children, she began “to work”, transporting by the thousand, sacks of stones and sand for constructing the road from Orvinio to Poggio Moiano. At the age of 12 she left with other young “seasonal workers” who were going to Tivoli during the winter months for the olive harvest. Precociously wise, Livia took on the moral and religious responsibility for her young companions. She supported them in this tough work far from their families and proudly and courageously stood up to the arrogant and unscrupulous “bosses.”
Through her wisdom, her respect for others, her generosity, her beauty, Livia was a young attractive woman… and several young men in the village had their eyes on her. Their admiring looks did not escape mother Caterina’s notice and she dreamed of marrying her daughter well. Yet what did Livia think? What was the secret of her heart? Why did she not make a choice? Why did she not make up her mind? “Make daring by the voice which spoke to her inwardly, the voice of her vocation, she surrendered; it was Christ who would be her Beloved, Christ, her Spouse.” To these in her family or in the village who attempted to dissuade her by saying she was running away from hard work, Livia replied: “I wish to choose a Congregation in which there is work both day and night.” Everyone was certain that these words were genuine. A first trip to Rome in the company of her Uncle Fra Matteo ended in bitter disillusionment; they refused to accept her. However, a few months later, the Mother General of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne-Antide Thouret, let her know that she was expecting her at the Generalate. Livia understood that this time she was saying farewell for ever. With emotion she took leave of the village people, all the loved corners of her land, her favourite prayer places, the parish and the Virgin of Rifolta; she kissed her parents goodbye, received on her knees the blessing of Uncle Domenico, “kissed the door of her house, traced the sign of the cross on it and left hurriedly…”
23rd March 1886: Livia was 22 when she arrived in Rome at Via S. Maria in Cosmedin. A few months as a postulant and novice were enough to prove that the young girl had the makings of a Sister of Charity, that is of a “servant of the poor”, in the tradition of Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Jeanne-Antide. Indeed, Livia brought to the Convent a particularly solid human potential inherited from her family which guaranteed its success. When she received the religious habit and was given the name of Sister Agostina, she had the premonition that it fell to her to become the saint bearing this name. For Indeed she had not heard of any Saint Agostina!
Sister Agostina was sent to the Hospital of Santo Spirito where 700 years of glorious history had led it to be called “the school of Christian charity.” In the wake of the saints who had preceded her, amongst whom were Charles Borromeo, Joseph Casalanz, John Bosco, Camillus de Lellis, Sister Agostina made her personal contribution and in this place of suffering gave expression to charity to the point of heroism.
The atmosphere in the hospital was hostile to religion. The Roman question poisoned peoples’ minds. The Capuchin fathers were driven out, the Crucifix and all other religious signs were forbidden. The hospital even wanted to send the sisters away but was afraid of becoming unpopular. Instead their lives were made “impossible” and they were forbidden to speak of God.
But Sister Agostina did not need her mouth in order to “cry out for God” and no gag was able to prevent her life from proclaiming the Gospel! First in the childrens’ ward and later in the tuberculosis ward, a place of despair and death, where she caught the mortal contagion of which she was miraculously healed, she showed a total dedication and an extraordinary concern for each sick person, above all for the most difficult, violent and obscene ones like “Romanelli.”
In secret, in a small hidden corner she had found for herself to reside, in the hospital, Sister Agostina commended them all to the Virgin and promised her many more vigils and greater sacrifices in order to obtain the grace of the conversion of the most stubborn ones. How many times she offered Giuseppe Romanelli to Our Lady! He was the worst of them all, the most vulgar and insolent, especially towards Sister Agostina, who was more and more attentive towards him and welcomed his blind mother with great kindness when she came to visit him. He was capable of anything and everyone had had enough of him. When, after the umpteenth provocation at the expense of the women working in the laundry, the Director expelled him, from the hospital, he sought a target for his fury and poor Agostina was the victim he picked. ‘I will kill you with my own hands.” “Sister Agostina, you only have a month to live!,” were the threats which he had sent to her several times in little notes. The male patient Giuseppe Romanelli began to harass her at this point – he even sent her death threats and on the evening of 12 November 1894 her religious asked her to take time off since the sisters worried for her; she refused. Romanelli attacked and stabbed her to death in the morning on 13 November 1894. Pietrantoni forgave her killer moments before she died; Romanelli stabbed her in a dark corridor with three stabs at the shoulder and left arm and the jugular before a final stab in the chest. Her final words were, “Mother of mine, help me“. Professor Achille Ballori (d. 1914) – who had once warned her about Romanelli – inspected her remains and observed that “Sister Agostina has allowed herself to be slaughtered like a lamb” and noted there were no contractions of either her nerves or heart.
When Romanelli caught her unawares and struck her before she could escape, that 13th November 1894, her lips uttered nothing but invocations to the Virgin Mary and words of forgiveness.
The late nun’s funeral blocked the streets of Rome (thousands lined the streets and knelt before the casket as it passed them) and a “Messaggero” report on 16 November stated that “never a more impressive spectacle was seen in Rome”. Her remains were moved to the generalate on 3 February 1941 and then to her hometown on 14 November 2004.
The beatification process opened under Pope Pius XII on 14 December 1945 and Pietrantoni was titled as a Servant of God. The confirmation of her life of heroic virtue on 19 September 1968 allowed for St Pope Paul VI to title her as Venerable that same pope presided over her Beatification on 12 November 1972 in Saint Peter’s Square upon the confirmation of two miracles attributed to her intercession.
The final miracle required for sainthood was investigated and then received validation from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 19 March 1996. St Pope John Paul II approved this miracle on 6 April 1998 and later Canonised Pietrantoni as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church on 18 April 1999.
Pietrantoni was named as the patron saint for nurses on 20 May 2003 after the Italian Episcopal Conference named her as such.