Sister Mary of the Cross was a pioneer in ministering to the hearing impaired.
Paula Frances Di Rosa came into this world on November 6, 1813, in Brescia, in northern Italy on the Swiss border. She was one of nine children of the wealthy industrialist Clemente Di Rosa, and Countess Camilla Albani. Her dad owned a large spinning mill that manufactured cloth from cotton, and he employed many people.
Paula and her siblings grew up as members of a pious and happy family. Paula, like the others, was sent to the Vistandine Sisters for her education. Sadly, her mom died when she was just a teenager, and Paula had to leave school to help manage her father’s estate. The sisters inspired Paula and she wanted to enter the religious life, but her mom’s passing altered her plans.
Paula’s father wanted her to marry and kept lining up suitors for her. She kept rejecting them and had to go to the local priest to ask for help. The priest, Father Faustino Pinzoni, went to Paula’s dad and explained that Paula had a different calling than marriage in mind. He told him that she wanted to enter religious life. Her father was not pleased but settled for his daughter not marrying and remaining at home. Along with some of her sisters, Paula became a housekeeper at home and also took on more and more responsibility at the factory.
Paula was always willing to lend a helping hand where she could, and developed a bond with many of the young women who worked at the mill. She even became a confidant and spiritual guide for some of them. Word spread about this young woman at the factory. People from the neighboring area began seeking her out for advice and guidance. Her father, watching his daughter develop into a strong, capable, and compassionate woman, began to have a deep respect for her.
In 1836, a cholera epidemic broke out in Brescia, and Paula immediately began to help treat those infected. She was so good at nursing care that she basically transformed herself into a nurse dealing mainly with the women and children. Her reputation spread, and she became a well-known, well-loved figure at the hospital in Brescia. When the cholera epidemic subsided, Paula left her job at the mill and began caring for women as her full-time job.
Paula began specializing in caring for orphaned girls and deaf women. Soon she had founded a school for the hearing impaired and started developing programs to help women living in poverty. In 1840, she managed to gather a small group of caring women together to work with her. She called the group the Pious Union.
Paula had a deep love for Christ on the Cross and the order was modeled on the love of the crucified Christ. The new order would be dedicated to all the suffering members of His Mystical Body. It was at this time that she took the name Maria Crosifissa Di Rosa. In 1843 the local bishop, Carlo Ferrari of Brescia gave his approval to the order, which became known as the Handmaids of Charity. In 1850 Pope Pius IX gave papal consent to the order.
Today, more than 1,000 sisters serve in 102 communities, located in five countries; Italy, Rwanda, Croatia, Brazil, and Ecuador. The sisters care for the sick, lepers, the elderly, those with mental health problems, the homeless, and AIDS victims. Sister Maria’s example of devotion to the crucified Christ continues as the foundation of the order to this very day.
Saint Maria Crosifissa Di Rosa died in Brescia in 1855. She was only 42 years old. She was beatified in 1940 and canonized in 1954, both by Pope Pius XII.
Saint Maria Crocifissa Di Rosa, please pray for us.