Saint of the Day – 24 May – Blessed Maria Gargani OFS (1892-1973) – Religious, Founder of the the Sisters Apostles of the Sacred Heart, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, Teacher and was involved with Catholic Action during her teaching career but is well known for having been the first spiritual daughter and correspondent of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968) from World War I until St Pio’s death in 1968. He wrote a total of 67 letters to Gargani during this period. Blessed Maria is the Patron of the Order she founded.
Maria Gargani was born in the evening on 23 December 1892 in Morra de Sanctis as the last of eight children to Rocco Gargani and Angiolina De Paola. Her devout father instructed the children in catechism and it was from him that Gargani’s faith grew over time.
Her education was spent in her hometown before finishing it in Avellino where she was the guest of an uncle. She obtained a master’s degree in 1913 that would allow her to begin work as a teacher.
She began teaching in San Marco la Catola in Foggia from 1913 to 1928 and lived there alongside her married sister Antonietta. It was also there, that she first met Father Benedetto and Father Agostino Daniele who both became spiritual guides for her as she discerned her vocation. It was in 1914 that this manifested and she recorded that she wept as she discerned her call to follow God, due to the seriousness of the task. Gargani later entered the Secular Franciscan Order after having discovered Saint Francis of Assisi. St Francis represented to her, a model of love, that served as an influence on her religious convictions. Not long after this she began teaching catechism to children while also preparing them for the reception of their First Communion and she even purchased a machine to project images to explain to them the life of Jesus Christ, a very rare possession in those days. Blessed Maria also began collaborating with Catholic Action around this time. From 1928 to 1945 she began teaching in Volturara Appula.
In 1915 her adviser Father Agostino was summoned to serve in World War I as a chaplain and so entrusted her to the spiritual care of the Franciscan Capuchin priest Padre Pio, while advising her to maintain correspondence with the friar. Gargani made first contact with the friar at the beginning of August 1916 via letter which began several decades of spiritual guidance, friendship and correspondence that lasted until the saint’s death in 1968. The first letter he wrote to her was dated 26 August 1916. St Padre Pio became a spiritual guide to Blessed Maria and a source of moral support. The two met for the first time, face-to-face, in the Capuchin convent at San Marco la Catola in mid-April 1918.
In 1934 she received diocesan permission to form a group of companions in the former convent of Santa Maria della Sanità – this became the foundation for the religious congregation that she would establish not long after. She later established the Sisters Apostles of the Sacred Heart on 11 February 1936 with the permission of the Archbishop of Lucca Antonio Torrini. The first convent for the order opened that 21 April. In 1945 the order moved its headquarters to Naples – with other companions, she made her profession as a professed religious as “Mary Crucified of Divine Love” “Maria Crocifissa del Divino Amore”.
From 1946 until her retirement she taught in Naples. On 21 July 1951 she met the zealous priest Antonio Fanucci who became their spiritual director. Her order later received diocesan approval from Cardinal Marcello Mimmi on 2 June 1956 and she made her perpetual profession a month later on 22 July. St Pope John XXIII granted her order full pontifical approval on 12 March 1963 and the sisters continue their good work today in many centres and countries.
Blessed Maria died on the evening of 23 December 1892 at Morra de Sanctis, Avellino, Italy, of natural causes. Her remains were later exhumed and relocated to the order’s motherhouse on 17 May 1992.
The cause for her beatification opened in 1988 and she became titled as a Servant of God. Pope Francis named her as Venerable in mid-2017 and later approved a miracle attributed to her in 2018. The Beatification took place in Naples in the metropolitan cathedral on 2 June 2018, by Cardinal Angelo Amato on behalf of Pope Francis.