Thursday 20th June 2019

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Catholic Heroes… St. Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello

March 21, 2019 saints No Comments


Mary and Joseph led a chaste life, as husband and wife for the greater glory of God. The parents of Therese of Lisieux, Marie-Azélie Guérin and Louis Martin, also hoped to live this way, but their spiritual director advised them not to do so. In obedience, they provided the Church with a wonderful example of holiness. Another couple, with the approval of their bishop, lived a chaste life: Giovanni Frassinello and Benedetta Cambiagio.
Genoa lies on the Mediterranean coast of northwest Italy. In the village of Langasco, the last of the six children born to Giuseppe Cambiagio and Francesca Ghiglione was born on October 2, 1791. Two days later, the child, Benedetta, was baptized.
The family provided a holy example for their children and ensured a solid Catholic education for them. Benedetta proved to be an obedient and devout child. Her piety intensified in 1811 when she had a beautiful spiritual experience, perhaps an interior locution. As a result, she yearned to consecrate her life to God, deepen her prayer life, and practice penance.
In 1804, when political unrest put the family at risk, Giuseppe and Francesca moved the family to Pavia, about 118 kilometers north of Langasco. There they settled in and continued to form their children in the faith.
Benedetta continued following her desires, and remained obedient to her parents. Although she wished to remain a virgin, she followed her parent’s plans when they wanted her to marry a young Ligurian. In 1816, Benedetta married Giovanni Frassinello and she moved to Vigevano, about 44 kilometers northwest of Pavia.
For two years the couple lived happily as man and wife and Giovanni became more deeply aware of the extraordinary holiness of his lovely wife. Inspired by her example and moved by his love for her, Giovanni made an unusual offer to Benedetta. For the rest of their lives they would live like brother and sister rather than husband and wife.
In addition, they would take Benedetta’s older sister, Maria, into their home. Maria, who had been married in 1812, was abandoned by her husband when she was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. For the next seven years they tended Maria until she died in July 1825.
After Maria’s death, Giovanni joined the Somaschi Fathers, founded by St. Jerome Emiliani (1486-1537). Benedetta tried to join the Capuchin Poor Clares in Genoa. However, this did not work out. Then she went to the Ursuline congregation at Capriolo, about 100 kilometers northeast of Pavia.
Unfortunately, after only one year, she was forced to leave because of ill health. She then went back to Pavia where she met St. Jerome Emiliani. After he miraculously cured her, Benedetta decided to direct her energy to helping destitute young girls.
Since her father refused to support her apostolate, Benedetta met with Bishop Luigi Tosi of Pavia, seeking and receiving permission to educate your girls. Bishop Tosi then met with the Somaschi Congregation and requested that Giovanni be released from his novitiate so that he could join Benedetta in her apostolic works.
Together, under Bishop Tosi, Giovanni and Benedetta renewed their mutual vows of chastity. Then they began working together to do God’s will. They developed programs of religious and academic formation for the impoverished and abandoned girls of Pavia.
In 1827 they opened a school with part of the formation, including education for the women. More and more people recognized the good work being done. Even the Austrian government awarded Benedetta the title, “Promoter of Public Education.”
Benedetta and Giovanni continued to find favor with both benefactors and women eager to volunteer in their efforts to help the downtrodden. Formation in catechesis became a priority as skills such as cooking and sewing were also taught. Their goal was to assist these young ladies in becoming exemplary Christian women and to promote the formation of healthy, happy families.
Benedetta continued to attend Mass regularly and was blessed with mystical experiences. Her love of Christ grew quickly as she contemplated the crucifix and yearned to belong entirely to Christ. She saw His love for her, dying for her salvation. Knowing this great love that He had for her, she understood that He was her only true support in troubled times.
As she attended the liturgy her love for both Christ and young women grew. She became even more determined to help young girls, and she was prepared to make any sacrifice necessary to preserve the apostolate.
Not surprisingly, such Godly endeavors brought opposition from both secular and Church authorities. As the servant of God, Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, once commented to a group of men: “We’re being persecuted. Isn’t this great?” As faithful Catholics understand, if you are not suffering, you are not doing God’s work.
Because she and her husband were living together, and because they were working with the lowliest women and girls in society, many citizens were scandalized by their work. Benedetta did not find this discouraging and persevered with great humility. She realized this was not her work, but God’s. In order to save it, they relinquished all of the apostolate to the bishop of Pavia.
Then Benedetta, Giovanni, and five associates moved to Ronco Scrivia in the region of Genoa. There Benedetta became a cloistered nun. However, not satisfied with seeming idleness when there was so much need, she began again in Pavia where she and Giovanni opened another school for disadvantaged girls at a distance from their previous house.
Now she and Giovanni lived separately and the work expanded, leading to the foundation of the Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of Providence. She wrote the constitution and rules for the new order.
Benedetta spent the remaining years of her life in prayer and service, opening another school in Voghera in 1847. She refined her original vision and described the charism of the new order as a spirit of full abandonment and complete trust in divine Providence, of unlimited love for God through poverty and charity.
In 1851 she opened another school in Pavia, and in 1857 she established one at Val Polcevera, San Quirico. This school was also a school for young girls aimed at preparing them to be faithful Christians and noble members of society.
Having predicted the exact time and cause of her death, Benedetta died on March 21, 1858 in Ronco Scrivia. Her remains were lost in the destruction of the Allied bombing of 1944.
Pope St. John Paul II celebrated the final three steps of Benedetta’s canonization process. Her cause began in 1927 with the gathering of information. On April 29, 1980, it was officially opened when she was declared servant of God. She was beatified on May 10, 1987 in St. Peter’s Square, and she was raised to sainthood on May 19, 2002 also at St. Peter’s Square. Her feast is celebrated on March 21.
In honor of St. Benedetta the sisters changed the name of the congregation to the Benedictine Nuns of Providence. In 2005, its members were present in Italy, Spain, and Burundi with 113 religious in 22 houses.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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