There is something about the way saints live that stands distinctly apart from the surrounding culture. Whether it’s barefoot St. Francis singing as he begged, or Mother Teresa lifting up the sick off the streets into her homes for the dying, the stories of holy men and women amaze us with their radical choices. Watch this video to learn about Alessandra Sabattini, a holy Italian woman whose life was both normal and countercultural, and whom the Church has declared venerable just 34 years after she died.
Alessandra, or “Sandra” as most people called her, was born in Riccione, Italy, in 1961. The oldest of two children, she grew up in a devout Catholic family—in fact, for most of her childhood, her family lived with her mother’s brother who was a parish priest. She kept a journal as a child that revealed her pious nature from a young age, once writing as reported in this article, “A life lived without God is just a way of passing time, whether it’s boring or fun, time to be filled in while waiting for death.”
A life-changing encounter
Sandra was a teenager when she first met a holy priest named Oreste Benzi, whom the Church declared a Servant of God in 2014, and benefited from his spiritual guidance through the youth group he organized. Soon after, she participated in a summer program for teenagers to care for people who have severe disabilities. The experience changed her life, giving her a sense of purpose in serving and caring for the vulnerable. She told her mother, “We worked till we dropped, but these are people I’ll never leave.”
After graduating from high school, Sandra began her studies at the University of Bologna, with the goal of eventually becoming a medical missionary in Africa. She spent her weekends and summer vacations volunteering to care for drug addicts in rehabilitation centers. Despite her packed schedule, she made it a point to spend time before the Eucharist early every morning—another example of her unusual and admirable choices.
Dreams for the future
While at the university, Sandra became friends with Guido Rossi, a fellow student who also attended Oreste Benzi’s youth group, the Community of Pope John XXIII. He shared her dream of becoming a medical missionary in Africa, and before long, the two had fallen in love and became engaged to be married. Their decision to live a chaste engagement, which they openly shared with their friends, stood out in the university and youth culture around them.
Sandra spoke of the need for holy men and women to strive not only to avoid evil but to aim for greatness: “Today there are too many merely good Christians, while the world needs saints.” Sadly, her own dreams of medical missionary work were not realized; in 1984, when she was only 23, she was killed in a car accident. Her legacy lives on, however, in her example of holiness, which continues to inspire and encourage many people today.
On October 2, 2019, Pope Francis approved a miracle through the intercession of Sandra, paving the way for her future beatification. One more miracle is required before she can be declared a “saint.”