Experiencing illness or amputation is certainly no impediment to holiness, and actually can become a boost along the pilgrim way.
Much like saints with mobility impairments, saints with limb differences are often depicted as non-disabled in sacred art. But their witness and intercession are great gifts to those who have similar experiences, whether for all their lives or following an amputation.
Saints with mobility impairments
St. Germaine Cousin (1579-1601) was born with scrofula (swelling and sores on her neck and face) and a limb difference, including partial paralysis of her right arm. Her mother died when Germaine was still an infant, after which her father married a cruel woman who treated Germaine as a servant, forcing her to sleep outside and throwing scraps out for her to eat—if she managed to wrest them away from the dog. Germaine chose to respond to this abuse by being tremendously kind, giving away what little she had to those who were worse off. When she died at 22, her stepmother was so thoroughly ashamed of herself that she was completely converted.
St. Albert Chmielowski (1845-1916) was an 18-year-old soldier in the Polish January Uprising when he was wounded and told by enemy soldiers that his leg would need to be amputated immediately. Since they had no access to anesthesia on the battlefield, he asked for a cigar to smoke “to pass the time.” During his recovery, he sneaked out of the hospital in a coffin and escaped the country, soon making his way to Paris, where he became a famous painter. He struggled with mental illness for many years, once spending time in a mental hospital for treatment. Eventually, he left behind his life as a famous artist to found a Franciscan community dedicated to serving the poor.
Ven. Antonietta Meo (1930-1937) was only 5 years old when she was diagnosed with sarcoma. When her mother broke the news that her leg would need to be amputated, Antonietta reassured her: “But Mama, if Jesus wants my leg, he can have it!” So grateful was she to have made this sacrifice for the Lord that on the first anniversary of her amputation, she invited her friends to a party to celebrate. Little Antonietta wrote many letters to Jesus and Mary (first dictated to her mother, then written in her own hand). In one of the most poignant, she wrote, “Dear Jesus, please give me back my little leg. But if you don’t want to, thy will be done.” Despite the doctors’ best efforts, Antonietta died at 6, eager to meet the God she had loved so well throughout her short life.
Bl. Rupert Mayer (1876-1945) was a German Jesuit priest. While serving as a chaplain during World War I, he was famous for his courage as he crawled along the front lines offering the Sacraments to his men. In 1916, he was injured by a grenade and his left leg amputated, after which he returned to parish ministry, particularly serving migrant workers and their families. Fr. Mayer spoke out boldly against Adolf Hitler from the beginning of his rise to power. He was arrested several times before finally being sent to a concentration camp; when his health deteriorated, he was placed in solitary confinement in an abbey, for fear that his death in the camp would make a martyr of him. He was finally liberated, but died six months later, after suffering a heart attack while preaching his All Saints Day homily.
St. Genoveva Torres Morales (1870-1956) was born into poverty in Spain. By the time she was 8, she had lost both parents and four of her five siblings. At 13, a tumor in her leg led to a crude amputation; Genoveva walked with crutches for the rest of her life. Illness compelled her to enter a Carmelite-run hospice at 15, where her spiritual life deepened during her 10-year stay. But while she longed to enter the Carmelites, she was refused because of her physical condition (likely her chronic illness as well as her limb difference). Instead, Genoveva founded her own order, the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Holy Angels, of which she was Mother Superior for nearly 45 years. Despite her health difficulties, she lived to be 86 years old.
Bl. Maria del Carmen Rendiles Martinez (1903-1977) was born in Venezuela with no left arm; she was soon fitted with a prosthesis and later became quite talented at painting and embroidery. Unfortunately, when she started discerning religious life she found herself put off by several communities because of her limb difference. She finally entered the Servants of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, a French community that had recently made a foundation in Venezuela. She was a model member of the order until the French Sisters decided to remove their habits and begin living as a secular institute rather than a religious order. Under Sr. Maria’s leadership, the Sisters in Colombia and Venezuela chose to found a new order more in line with the original rule. She served as superior general of the new community for the rest of her life.