Saint of the Day – 28 December – Saint Caterina Volpicelli (1839-1894) Religious and Foundress of the Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of which Order she is the Patron., Apostle of the the Holy Eucharist and of Prayer, of the poor and need. Born on 21 January 1839 in Naples, Italy and died on 28 December 1894 in Naples, Italy of natural causes.
Caterina Volpicelli was born into an upper middle-class Neapolitan family on 21 January 1839 from which she received a sound human and religious formation. She was taught literature, languages and music at the Royal Educational Institute of St Marcellino by Margherita Salatino (the future foundress, with Bl Ludovico da Casoria OFM (1814-1885), of the Franciscan Grey Sisters of St Elizabeth). Both belong to that array of “apostles of the poor and marginalised” who in 19th-century Naples were a sign of the presence of Christ, the Good Samaritan, who comes close to all who are injured in body and spirit.
Caterina had been trying to outshine her sister in society, frequently going to the theatre and the ballet but prompted by the Lord’s Spirit, who revealed God’s plan to her through the voice of wise and holy spiritual directors, she soon gave up the transient pleasures of an elegant and carefree life, to adhere with generous decision to a vocation of perfection and holiness.
Her chance meeting with Bl Ludovico da Casoria on 19 September 1854 at La Palma, Naples, as she herself says, was “a rare stroke of preventive grace, charity and favour from the Sacred Heart, delighted by the poverty of his servant”. Bl Ludovico led her to join the Third Order Franciscans and indicated to her the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the one goal of her life, inviting her to remain in society to be a “fisher of souls.” Guided by her confessor, the Barnabite Fr Leonardo Matera, on 28 May 1859 Caterina entered the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament but she soon left, for serious health reasons. Caterina’s confessor showed her the monthly leaflet of the Apostleship of Prayer in France; from him she received detailed information about this new association with the diploma of Messenger, the first in Naples In July 1867, Fr Ramière visited the palace of Largo Petrone in Naples, where Caterina was considering establishing her apostolic activities “to revive love for Jesus Christ in hearts, in families and in society.” The Apostleship of Prayer would be the cornerstone of Caterina’s whole spiritual edifice and would permit her to cultivate her ardent love of the Eucharist and her outreach to others.
With the first messengers, on 1 July 1874, Caterina founded the new institute of “Servants of the Sacred Heart”, at first approved by the Cardinal Archbishop of Naples, the Servant of God Sisto Riario Sforza and later, on 13 June 1890, by Pope Leo XIII who granted the new religious family the “Decree of praise”.
Concerned about the lot of the young, she then opened the orphanage of the Margherites, founded a lending library and set up the Association of the Daughters of Mary, with the wise guidance of Venerable Mother Rosa Carafa Traetto (d. 1890).
She soon opened other houses, in Naples, in the Sansevero Palace and then at the La Sapienza Church in Ponticelli, where the Servants distinguished themselves in nursing cholera victims in 1884 and in Minturno, Meta di Sorrento and Rome. On 14 May 1884, the new Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Guglielmo Sanfelice, OSB, consecrated the Shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which she had had built, next to the Mother House of her institutions. She built it specifically for adoration in reparation, as requested by the Pope, to support the Church in difficult times for religious freedom and Gospel proclamation.
Caterina’s participation in the first National Eucharistic Congress celebrated in Naples in 1891 (19-22 November), crowned the Apostolate of the Foundress of the Servants of the Sacred Heart. Caterina Volpicelli died in Naples on 28 December 1894, offering her life for the Church and for the Holy Father.
She was Beatified on 29 April 2001 at Saint Peter’s Square by St Pope John Paul II and Canonised 26 April 2009 also in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI.
At her Canonisation, Pope Benedict said:
“St Caterina Volpicelli was also a witness of divine love. She strove “to belong to Christ in order to bring to Christ” those whom she met in Naples at the end of the 19th century, in a period of spiritual and social crisis. For her too the secret was the Eucharist. She recommended that her first collaborators cultivate an intense spiritual life in prayer and, especially, in vital contact with Jesus in the Eucharist. Today this is still the condition for continuing the work and mission which she began and which she bequeathed as a legacy to the “Servants of the Sacred Heart”. In order to be authentic teachers of faith, desirous of passing on to the new generations the values of Christian culture, it is indispensable, as she liked to repeat, to release God from the prisons in which human beings have confined Him. In fact, only in the Heart of Christ can humanity find its “permanent dwelling place.” St Caterina shows to her spiritual daughters and to all of us, the demanding journey of a conversion, that radically changes the heart and is expressed in actions consistent with the Gospel. It is thus possible to lay the foundations for building a society open to justice and solidarity, overcoming that economic and cultural imbalance which continues to exist in a large part of our planet.”
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