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Catholic Heroes . . . Blessed Anna Rosa Gattorno

May 3, 2016 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Near the western border of Italy lies Monaco. Driving northeast along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea for about 110 miles, the traveler arrives in the coastal city of Genoa, home of a truly remarkable woman who served the Kingdom of God as a wife, mother, widow, layperson, and religious. Although she suffered from hidden wounds, she accomplished much in the service of God and her neighbor.
A wealthy family, devout in the practice of their faith, raised a holy, serene yet gently outspoken young lady. Anna Rosa Gattorno was born to Francesco and Adelaide Campanella on October 14, 1831, during a time of rising anticlericalism. Anna was baptized either the same day or the next day at the parish of San Donato.
As was typical for wealthy families of that era, Anna was educated at home with her five siblings. She was known to be a determined and rather obstinate child fearlessly defending the Church against the attacks of secular persons — especially when the attacks affected the Gattorno family.
When Anna was 12 years old she received the Sacrament of Confirmation from Cardinal Archbishop Tadini at Santa Maria delle Vigne Church. At the age of 21, Anna married Gerolamo Custo on November 5, 1852.
Custo and his new wife moved to Marseilles, France, another town on the coast of the Mediterranean, nearly 300 miles from Genoa. Sadly, Custo’s attempt to make a living to support his growing family did not meet with success. Reduced to poverty, Custo, his wife, and three children returned to Genoa.
Here Anna settled in with the children as her husband left to make a living in a distant land. He fell ill and died on March 9, 1858, leaving Anna a widow. A few months later, her youngest son died and then her oldest child fell ill and was left permanently deaf and mute.
Thus at the young age of 27, Anna became a widow, lost one son, and had two children to rear — one of whom had severe disabilities. Nevertheless, Anna did not become bitter or feel sorry for herself.
Instead, she became ever more devout, praying more and becoming even closer to the suffering Savior. As her fervor deepened, her love increased for her neighbor as well, spilling over into works of charity. Because she suffered much, she wanted to help others who were also suffering come to know the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. She understood grieving and loss and thus spent time searching for those who also were grieving and struggling with day-to-day challenges.
While caring for the poor, sick, and suffering, Anna also made sure to take care of her own children. She relied entirely on the loving Providence of God who sustained her. Her tragedies had purified her heart and so she dedicated herself more deeply to showing her love for God by serving others.
Fr. Giuseppe Firpo became her spiritual director during this time of transition, guiding Anna as she clarified her new mission in life. In 1858 she took her vows of chastity and obedience — on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Three years later, Anna professed another vow — this one was a vow of poverty. “I dedicated myself with greater zeal to pious works and to visiting hospitals and the poor sick at home, helping them by meeting their needs as much as I could and serving them in all things.”
She attended Mass, receiving Holy Communion daily nearly 40 years before the decree of the Congregation of the Council, Sacra Tridentina Synodas, was issued, stating, “Frequent and daily communion should be open to all the faithful, of whatever rank and condition of life; so that no one who is in the state of grace and approaches the table with a right and devout intention, can be lawfully hindered therefrom.”
Frequenting the sacraments and daily intimate prayer brought Anna to the desire and the strength to put into action her zeal for the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Her great love for suffering souls was second only to her great love of God.
One year after taking the vows of the evangelical counsels, Anna received a special gift from our Lord, a gift few ever saw or even knew that she had — the wounds of Christ. She received the hidden stigmata which became especially painful on Fridays.
While Anna engaged in so many charitable works, attended daily Mass, and suffered the pains of the stigmata, she still took special care of her two remaining children. Their care remained her first priority in caring for the needy. It seems a common element among the saints that the more time they make for God, the more work they are able to get done.
Many began to notice the simple yet manifold works of Anna and many Catholic charities vied for her time. She was appointed president of the Pious Union of the New Ursuline Daughters of Holy Mary Immaculate that was founded by Frassinetti. When she was appointed president, the archbishop of Genoa entrusted the revision of their rule to Anna. Since she knew that the soul of their work comes from a well-founded spirituality, Anna increased their prayer life.
Fearful that with her increasing responsibilities she might be forced to abandon her children, Anna resigned her post as president. She redoubled her prayers and sought discernment with Fr. Francis of Camporosso, a Capuchin. She also met with the archbishop of Genoa.
Still deeply concerned about her children, she sought even more authoritative confirmation from Pope Pius IX.
She met with the Pope on January 3, 1866 who rather than lifting her of her burden, told her to start a new foundation immediately, telling her, “this institute will spread in all parts of the world swiftly as the flight of the dove. God will take of your children; you must think of God and His work.”
Obediently, Anna left Piacenza where she founded the Daughters of St. Anne, Mother of Mary Immaculate. On April 8, 1870, she and other sisters took their vows.
They dedicated themselves to serving the suffering whether they were suffering morally, materially, or spiritually. Their main purpose was to serve Jesus by serving others.
Their lives, by example, were to be above all a form of evangelization. The simplicity and sincerity of their mission quickly attracted many women to the new order. In 1873, Anna went back to Rome where she quickly established schools for the poor boys and girls. She also set up nursery schools to assist the newborn babies of workers in the tobacco factories, and homes were started to care for former prostitutes.
Soon the institute had homes throughout Italy, France, and Spain, as well as in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Eritrea (just north of Ethiopia).
Worn out from her work, the troubles faced by the institute typical of any work done for God, and her stigmata, Anna fell ill with influenza in February 1900 and finally died on May 6 — the day the Church celebrates her memorial.

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