Saint of the Day – 26 August – St Mary of Jesus Crucified OCD (1846-1878) Discalced Carmelite nun of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Virgin, Stigmatist, Mystic, apostle of charity. Born on 5 January 1846 at Galilee, Palestine as Mariam Baouardy and died on 26 August 1878, aged 32, at Bethlehem of gangrene following an injury received at the construction site of the Bethlehem monastery.
Mariam Baouardy was born on 5 January 1846 at Ibillin, a village in the Holy Land near Nazareth. Her parents were George Baouardy and Mariam Shashyn, they were Greek Catholics in a predominantly Muslin area. They were both persecuted for their faith and George spent some time in pri son. Their first 12 children, all boys, died in infancy so they decided to go on pilgrimage to Bethlehem, to beg Our Lady for a daughter and they promised to call her Mariam. Their prayers were answered when little Mariam was born, followed two years later by her only surviving brother, Paul. Mariam was baptised and confirmed when she was ten days old according to the Greek Catholic Rite. Sadly before she was three years old both her parents died from an infectious illness, within a few days of each other. When her father was dying he commended Mariam to the care of St Joseph, looking lovingly at a picture of him, he said ‘Great saint, here is my child, the Blessed Virgin is her mother, deign to look after her also, be her father’.
The siblings were then each taken in by relatives on different sides of her family living in different villages, she being taken in by a paternal uncle who lived in the same village and her brother went to live with a maternal aunt. The brother and sister would never see one another again. She was raised in a loving home in comfortable circumstances. As a child she had a marked spirit of religious fervour and at the age of five began to fast on Saturdays in honour of the Blessed Virgin.
When Mariam was eight, her uncle and his wife moved to Alexandria, Egypt, to improve their situation. Five years later, in 1858 when she was aged 13, in keeping with tradition, she was engaged by her uncle to his wife’s brother, who lived in Cairo. The night before the wedding, she had a religious experience in which she felt called not to marry but to offer her life to God. Upon being told this the following morning, her uncle flew into a rage and beat her severely. Despite this and the subsequent ill treatment she began to experience from her uncle, she stayed firm in her decision.
Mariam felt depressed and alone. She wrote her brother, then living in Nazareth, asking him to visit her. The young male servant she asked to deliver the letter drew out of her the cause for her sadness. Upon learning of this, he attempted to woo her for himself, inviting her to convert to Islam. She rejected his proposal, which caused the young man to fly into a rage, in which he drew a knife and cut her throat. He then dumped her body in a nearby alley. And then a miracle saved her. As she related later, a “nun dressed in blue” brought her to a grotto, which she could never identify, stitched her wounds and took care of her. Her voice was affected for the rest of her life as a result of the cut, which a French doctor later measured as being 10 cm wide. After being cared for by this mysterious figure for a month, she recovered enough to leave and find work as a domestic servant in the home of an Arab Christian family in the city.
In May 1863 a generous patron made it possible for Baouardy to move to Marseille, France, where she became the cook for an Arab family. While there, she felt called to enter a religious order. Rejected by the first groups to which she sought admission, in May 1865 she was accepted as a postulant by the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, who had communities in the Holy Land and already had several Palestinian candidates. It was at this point, that she received the stigmata of Christ.
During the last month of this period of candidacy, the Mistress of novices, Mother Honorine who had drawn Baouardy’s life story from her, was replaced by Mother Veronica of the Passion. After two years as a postulant, Baouardy was up for a vote by the community regarding her admission to the congregation. To her dismay, she was rejected by the sisters charged with making the decision. But Divine Providence came to her aid for just then, Mother Veronica had just received permission to transfer to the Discalced Carmelite monastery at Pau to prepare for her forming a new congregation of Religious Sisters serving in India, the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel. She invited Baouardy to go with her, writing to the prioress of that community and recommending that they accept the young Arab woman. The prioress accepted Mother Veronica’s advice and, in June 1867, both women went together to Pau, where they received the Carmelite religious habit and Baourdy was given the religious name of Mary of Jesus Crucified.
In 1870, Baouardy went with the first group of Carmelite Apostolic Sisters to Mangalore, India. She served there for two years before returning to Pau. It was there she made her profession of solemn vows as a member of the Order in November 1871. In September 1875 she helped to found a new monastery in Bethlehem, the first of the Order in that region, where she lived until her death. During her whole life, she experienced periods of religious ecstasy frequently throughout the day.
St Pope John Paul II declared Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, Blessed on 13 November 1983 and she was Canonised on 15 May 2015 by Pope Francis. She became the second Greek Catholic to be Canonised, the first being St Josaphat Kuntsevych in 1867.