These holy men and women found sanctity despite difficult childhoods.
The obligation to honor your father and mother can be complicated when your parents are absent or neglectful. If you have a difficult relationship with your parents, it may help to know that any number of saints similarly struggled with feeling abandoned, unloved, or ignored. Through their intercession, may we find healing and peace, even in relationships where reconciliation isn’t possible.
Blessed Margaret of Castello (1287-1320) was born with kyphosis (or a hunchback). That, combined with her legs of differing lengths, her small stature, and her blindness, was more than enough to make walking quite difficult for the little Italian noblewoman, who used a crutch all her life. But her disability was no tragedy; the tragedy lay in her noble parents’ rejection of their daughter, whom they saw as imperfect and undesirable. After hiding her away for years, they walled her into a cell built on the side of a chapel. Finally, they abandoned her in a town where she knew nobody. Margaret forgave her heartless parents. She forgave the nuns who welcomed her into their convent and then expelled her when her gentle holiness exposed their lazy sinfulness. She spent the rest of her life living on the generosity of others, all of whom understood that by her joy and her wisdom, Margaret gave them far more than they gave her.
St. Maddalena of Canossa (1774-1835) was the oldest of four noble Italian children. But when she was five, her father died, and two years later her mother abandoned the children in order to remarry. She left them with their uncle, who found a governess to raise them. Little Maddalena was devastated and turned to the Blessed Mother for comfort. “I wept … before Mary,” she later said, “invoking her in tears and calling her by the name of ‘mamma!’” Though Maddalena eventually took the title Marchioness and acted as hostess in a home so distinguished that it hosted Napoleon himself on several occasions, she longed to serve the poor and abandoned. Eventually, she left her title and her wealth behind to found the Canossian Sisters.
St. Laura Montoya (1874-1949) spent her childhood in Colombia feeling lonely, abandoned, and unloved. After the death of her father when she was two, Laura was sent to live with her grandmother, with whom she never bonded. Though her mother still lived, Laura felt orphaned—even more so when her grandmother sent her to live at an orphanage run by her aunt. Laura went on to found a religious order to serve the despised Native people who lived in the Colombian wilderness, despite much opposition from racists in the Church as well as those who thought women had no business working in mission fields.
Bl. Jarogniew Wojciechowski (1922-1942) lived with both parents until he was 11. Then his alcoholic father abandoned the family, leaving his wife a single mother. Jarogniew had recently begun attending the Salesian youth center, where the priests offered him fatherly love and wisdom. Before long, Jarogniew had to drop out of school and get a job at a pharmacy to help support his family. When the Nazis invaded Poland, the Salesian youth group was disbanded, but many of the young people continued to meet in secret—an act of resistance against the Nazis. Jarogniew was arrested with four friends and spent two years in prison before being martyred.
Bl. Marie-Clémentine Anuarite Nengapeta (1939-1964) was born to non-Christian parents in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was the fourth of six daughters; after the last, Anuarite’s father left her mother for another woman, hoping to have a son. Anuarite forgave her father, even as she worked to help her mother provide for the family. When she felt called to religious life, Anuarite met opposition from her mother Julienne, who insisted that she needed her daughter to stay home—not because she loved her but because she needed the income. Anuarite eventually sneaked onto a truck headed out of town and entered religious life. She was killed fighting back against a would-be rapist during the Congo Crisis.
Ven. Rutilio Grande (1928-1977) was born into poverty in El Salvador, the youngest of six children. His parents divorced when he was four and his father moved to Honduras looking for work. Accounts of his mother’s whereabouts vary, either claiming that she died or telling of another family that she began after abandoning her six children. Rutilio was raised by an older brother and grandmother in the absence of both parents. His later struggles with mental illness may have been caused or exacerbated by his childhood experiences of abandonment, but didn’t stop him from entering the Jesuit order. Rutilio’s experience of poverty as a child made him a powerful advocate for the poor once he was ordained a priest. He was so outspoken that the oppressive government had him killed; it was his murder that precipitated the conversion of heart of St. Oscar Romero (then already an archbishop) and led to his own activism and ultimate martyrdom.