Above: St. Josephine Bakhita
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA (1869-1947)
Roman Catholic Nun
Slavery exists in various forms, all of which are abominations. St. Josephine Bakhita‘s life calls our attention to this institution, which continues to exist.
Above: A Map of Darfur Today
Image in the Public Domain
Born in Olgossa, Darfur, The Sudan, the saint became a slave at nine years of age. (Some sources say this happened at age seven or twelve, but the saints book I consulted says nine.) During her time in slavery, several masters owned her, and some abused her in various ways, including scarring her and tattooing her body extensively. And one master forced her to convert to Islam. The trauma of slavery caused the saint to forget her birth name, but slavers gave her the name Bakhita, which means “fortunate.”
Callisto Legnani, the Italian Consul to The Sudan, purchased Bakhita in 1882. Two years later, he gave her to Augusto Michieli, his friend, who took her to Italy in 1885. The saint functioned as nanny to Michieli’s daughter, Mimmina. During this time Bakhita decided to join the Roman Catholic Church, an institution she joined in 1890. This confirmation (under the baptismal name Josephine) resulted from the fact that the saint stayed at a Canossian convent when Augusto Michieli was away on business.
Afterward, when Michieli tried to take Josephine back to Africa, she refused. A court case ensued, and the verdict was that since there was no slavery in Italy, she had been free since 1885. The path was clear for the saint to become a nun, which she did in 1896.
A free woman and a Canossian nun, St. Josephine Bakhita was fortunate indeed. She dedicated most of her adult life to the simple yet vital ministry of hospitality. She engaged in many mundane tasks, such as cooking and sewing, and was kind to many children. She was beloved by many, especially her fellow nuns. “Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who love him. What a great grace it is to know God!”, she said.
The saint was ill at the end of her life. Her mind returned to the agony of slavery toward the end, but her last words (“Madonna! Madonna!”) were hopeful.
Pope John Paul II beatified St. Josephine Bakhita in 1992 and canonized her eight years later.
This is a dramatic story. Your story might not be so dramatic, and mine is not, either. Yet all of us can be kind and loving to others. May we do so.
God of liberation, we thank you for your graces extended to and expressed through the life of St. Josephine Bakhita. May we take courage from her example and show your love to those around us. In the name of the Father, who loves us; Jesus, who identifies with our suffering; and the Holy Spirit, who is ever with us. Amen.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
OCTOBER 15, 2010 COMMON ERA
THE FEASTS OF ST. TERESA OF AVILA, NUN, AND ROBERT HERRICK, POET
Revised on November 29, 2016