Saint Magdalene of Canossa was born in 18th century Verona, Italy from an aristocratic family. She desired to pursue Christ rather than enjoying her life of wealthy privilege. However, she felt also that the cloistered life was not for her, since she felt called to charity to the poor and evangelism. She thus founded the order of Canossian daughters of charity, an order that exists and thrives today.
God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate Saint Magdalene of Canossa, founder of the Canossian Daughters of Charity.
Saint Magdalene was Italian, born in Verona in the 18th century from an aristocratic lineage. Nevertheless, she desired to serve God rather than enjoy her privileged lifestyle. She first considered becoming a nun, but felt that life in the cloister was not for her. She then founded an order of Canossian daughters of charity, an order of sisters dedicated to serving he poor, and in particular, poor children.
Here is a brief biography of hers from a brochure published by her Canossian Daughters of charity:
Magdalene of Canossa started her charitable works at the age of 34, after a long struggle and search for God’s will for her.
She was born in Verona, Italy, on March 1, 1774, to a rich and noble family. Through painful events, like the death of her father, the departure of her mother, sickness, and misunderstandings, the Lord guided her towards unexpected paths which Magdalene tried hard to understand.
At 17, she believed she was called to the life of the cloister and attempted to join the Carmelites twice, but the Spirit of God urged her interiorly to give herself to the service of the neediest persons whom the convent grills prevented her from reaching out to.
She returned home and, forced by the sorrowful family circumstances and tragic historical events of the 18th century, she concealed in her heart her dream of offering herself to God and neighbor. She lived in the Canossa Palace, accepting the administration of the huge family patrimony.
In the midst of her tireless activities and heavy family responsibilities, Magdalene found the time to intensify her prayer, the daily contemplation of the Love of Christ on the Cross and of the Mother of Sorrows.
Inflamed by the same fire of God’s love, she opened herself to the cry of the poor, hungering for bread, instruction and God.
Magdalene looked from her magnificent palace at the misery of the peripheral districts of Verona, where the impact of the French Revolution, the alternating domination of foreign emperors, and the Veronese Pasch, had left evident signs of devastation and human suffering.
In the face of so many needs, Magdalene felt unequal to the task. She sought and found her first companions who welcomed the invitation to share her life of poverty and unconditional charity.
In 1808, having overcome the final resistances from her family, she left the Canossa Palace to initiate, in Verona, what she interiorly felt was God’s will: to serve Christ in the poor.
Charity is like a fire that ever spreads out and Magdalene opened her heart to the urgent needs of other towns like Venice, Milan, Bergamo, and Trent, where in a few decades, she founded Houses and sent her Daughters who had grown in number. Magdalene obtained the approval of the Rules in 1828.
She died in Verona, assisted by her Daughters on Passion Friday, April 10, 1835.
On December 7, 1941, she was proclaimed Blessed by Pope Pius XII. She was declared a Saint by Pope John Paul II on October 2, 1988.
MOTHER OPEN TO THE WORLD
The spirit of the Daughters of Charity “is that of being detached from everything … and ready for the divine service and to go anywhere, even to the remotest Country.” St. Magdalene
In 1860, animated by the spirit of Magdalene, the Daughters of Charity sailed for the East to spread the “good news” among the people who had not yet heard the proclamation of the Gospel.
Today, the Institute of the Daughters of Charity are present in all five continents. The Sisters number about 2,300, constituting 18 provinces and work on spreading of the Kingdom of God.
SONS OF CHARITY
Magdalene of Canossa is Mother not only to her Daughters but also to her Sons.
While remaining one community of religious for almost a century and experiencing the uncertainty of survival, they succeeded through many difficulties to keep alive the ideal of Magdalene and to transmit, as precious heritage, a spirit of humble and generous service to the poor and little ones.
Today, the Sons of Charity are steadily increasing in numbers bringing the name and love of God to all in Italy and abroad.
CANOSSIAN LAY FAMILY
It is Magdalene’s apostolic invitation to all the lay people, who, in syntonic with her charism rooted in the Spirit of Jesus Crucified, wish to collaborate in their state in life and workplace to spread the Kingdom of God.
St Magdalene’s order merged both the contemplative and the active. Here is a blog entry written by Canossian sisters in the Phillipines, discussing the spiritual aspects of her life and work
Love Spirituality of St. Magdalene of Canossa
The story of Magdalene is the story of a love that is ever more intense for Jesus on the Cross, poor and stripped of all except the love that spurred him to such great sacrifice. The life of Magdalene can be our life too as we journey towards love, self-fulfilment, hope and faith, that her history of “spiritual action/contemplative in action” as our personal story too. The life of Magdalene can be our personal story in our time. And as we journey towards the path of self discovery and spiritual growth, one can understand the life of Magdalene in our personal daily journey in walking towards being “charity-oriented people” where there is sharing and love.
Contemplation in Action is the spiritual goal set forth by Magdalene. From her Memoirs we can define the Christian aspect of Magdalene’s spirituality. The Eucharistic piety, the centrality of the Crucified Jesus, Marian devotion (Mary under the foot of the Cross), community life, works of charity, and contemplation. Magdalene lives her apostolic ardor to its fullest, “imitating the virtues of Jesus Crucified” , especially in the exercise of her “works of charity’. With “God alone” as her aim, with the Crucified Christ as her luminous “Exemplar”, with the Sorrowful virgin as “Mother” and friend.
Moved by that love, Magdalene responded to the cry of the poor, hungry for food, instruction and understanding of the Word of God. It serves all the needs of anyone who feels and desire to journey with Magdalene in her calling and also a call for us to live the charismatic experience of Christ Crucified in a life of total dedication to contemplation and action but remaining open to the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit who gradually molded her heart and enabled her to share in the love of the Father for mankind revealed by Jesus’ complete and supreme offering of Himself on the Cross, and by the example of Mary, the Sorrowful Virgin Mother. Magdalene sought and found her first companions called to follow Christ, poor, chaste, obedient and who were to be sent out as witnesses of His unconditional Love towards all people. She knew in her heart the Will of God: to serve the neediest persons with the heart of Christ. Charity is like a blazing fire! Magdalene opened her heart to the Holy Spirit who guided her.
The zeal of Magdalene of Canossa to above all “make Jesus known so that He may be loved” is what identifies the Canossians in the Church. It carries out the mission of evangelization in communion of faith and life, inspired by Jesus Crucified in His burning Love for His Father and for men.
Because of this great inspiration, Canossians before and until now devote our energies to educate children, adolescents and youth, promoting the integral growth of their personality, extending with time, the loving attention of Magdalene towards the sick, the poor, the youth and the little ones. Canossians are involved in the various forms of evangelization, aware that there is no greater act of charity towards our neighbour than that of helping him know and love God.
Magdalene of Canossa defines the ministry of evangelization as the work which leads itself most towards reaching the charismatic goal of the Institute. She writes in fact in the Rules for the Christian Doctrines: “…there is no greater act of Charity than that of working together so that all may love God and one of the greatest means of making Him loved is that of making Him known…” The ideal in fact which burns in Magdalene of Canossa was “…to make Jesus known since he is not loved because he is not known.”
St Magdalene wrote an extensive series of memoirs, giving us the opportunity to hear from her own words. Let’s read some excerpts from these memoirs, which reveal the depths of the relationship she had with Jesus Christ
Later on I gradually lost the feeling of the Lord’s
presence and I found myself in a state of temptation,
weariness and distraction, until one day I recalled the
mercies the Lord had bestowed on me during my life.
41. A desire to abandon myself and all things totally to
Him was reawakened in me. This again brought great
peace and recollection.
During this time, with regard to the spirit, as I was not
able to pray, I went through a period of spiritual boredom,
weariness and temptation especially against faith. I could
not find relief in anything nor did anything interest me, be
it temporal or spiritual. In the midst of weariness and
boredom I knew that I could rise above it only when I
found the Lord.
After several days I began to find Him in Holy
Communion, after which, at times it did not seem as if I
could contain Him, not even in my bosom.
It was during one of these days after my monthly
retreat when, for obvious reasons, I had more time to
dedicate to prayer, that I felt disposed to unite myself to
God, not in spirit but rather in a deep sentiment of
45. My old feelings were re-awakened with a great desire
to unite myself to God if only for one hour, and even
though I suffered physical effort, it was not possible for
I feared it was because I had displeased the Lord by my
unfaithfulness and by my failure to do what He had so
often shown He expected of me: that is, to seek Him only
in humiliation and suffering.
47. It is true that He often put me in the dire necessity to
seek Him alone by depriving me of nearly everything but
this I had done out of necessity and not out of free choice.
48. Besides I am keenly aware of the faults I commit in
connection with my vocation, especially in my duty as
Superior. This however did not disturb me exceedingly and
I was left in peace with a determination to do better.
n the meantime, my spiritual life continued to change.
At times I felt closely united to God and at other times I
had the impression of never having known Him at all.
God allowed me to suffer a humiliation through which
He would be glorified. I experienced a most wonderful
delight, and because of it I did not know how to contain
my tears. I offered myself to the Lord for any kind of
humiliation provided it contributes to His glory.
51. In fact it seemed to me that He wanted to be glorified
in the various works of my vocation, through my
After some days I had to suffer a very heavy
humiliation which at first was very painful. It was not only
because of the humiliation but also because it was
becoming clearer to me that God wanted to be the only
One for me personally, as well as for the Work.
When the first blow had passed I sincerely thanked the
Lord. During prayer the next day it cost me no effort at all
to become closely united to Him.
54. Apart from the intimate joy, these last mentioned
experiences also left in me a very special desire to prevent
offence to the Lord. I also felt a deep sorrow for any fault
which I might have committed. There was a fear,
prompted by love, of offending Him again, and because of
all these, I felt an ardent desire for Heaven.
While continuing prayer and asking the Lord for
strength to overcome every difficulty, I went to seek
comfort, as I usually do, from a page of Thomas a Kempis
which I opened at random. The reading encouraged me to
undergo suffering and to expose even my life for God’s
service and provoked such a heartfelt sweetness that I
could not restrain my weeping, while I remembered the
text I had cited at other times: “Torcular calcavi solus”.
56. The old desires to spread the Glory of God and to save
souls were revived and I offered myself to the Lord also for
the salvation of the whole world if it were possible.
The life of St Magdalene of Canossa is centered on Christ. We will next read from a book,
by Marina Airoldi and Dorino Tuniz
Charity is a fire
that ever spreads out
which contemplates the Christ-centredness of St Magdalene’s life and work.
After her first attempts at living a cloistered life between 1791 and
1792, Magdalene had another certainty – she had a repugnance towards
the cloister, which seemed too easy a way to save herself, but would
prevent her from dedicating herself to others and to help to save their
souls. She wanted to find the best means for preventing sin. In order to
achieve this, she was ready to give up all that she possessed, even to the
extent of turning her blood into gold, accepting even death. She also had
very much at heart the reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
What concrete action could she take? She did not know yet and proceeded
by making various attempts. Meanwhile, due to family problems, she had
to wait patiently for a long time. What helped her to grow spiritually are a
secluded life, prayer and spiritual exercises, besides the gentle guidance of
Between 1795 and 1799, what affected her very deeply, were some
verses from the Bible, which struck her almost like flashes of light. For
example, when she heard some verses from the book of Tobit on the
practice of works of mercy (Tobit 12:12), she understood that her way
would be that of dedicating herself to works of charity which she could
already do, as she had “a natural inclination towards assisting the sick.” A
verse from the Miserere which pointed towards a commitment: “Docebo
iniquos…” (“I will teach sinners your ways and they will turn back to you.”
Psalm 51:13), spurred her to teach Christian doctrine, beginning from those
in her house, that is, the maidservants. Meanwhile she kept in her heart the
desire to follow, if possible, the invitation of Christ: “Go into the whole
world.” (Mark 16:15)
But it was above all, a verse from Exodus which became for her the
guide to all her future experiences: “Inspice et fac secundum exemplar”
(“Look and do like the model”, Exodus 25:40). In the biblical text, the
exhortation, directed to Moses, referred to the construction of the
lampstand with seven branches according to a model indicated by God, but
in the meditation on the Passion, made by Magdalene, the model to imitate
is Christ on the cross. From then on, Christ Crucified will become the first
object of her faith, the way to reach God and her brothers and sisters, the
only great model for her choices in life.
All that she will develop over time: the choice of the areas of
commitment, the sharing of a life of poverty, the attitude of service she
demands of herself and her companions, the basic points for the Rules, will
be from the Son of God who came to share the human condition to the
point of stripping himself of everything and of accepting an infamous death
so as to free humanity from sin. The suffering, the absolute poverty and
the experience of abandonment which Christ went through on the cross
and which he continues to renew by offering himself as a victim in the
Eucharist, are for Magdalene signs of the extraordinary and immense love
of God for all. Therefore, her mission and that of her companions, indeed of
all Christians, cannot but be the witnessing of this love, making it known,
teaching others to discover it even in sufferings and in trials, and to build
their personal and family life on the example of Jesus, even to the point of
accepting death and giving it its real meaning as a passing on to our true
However much we may suffer from physical or spiritual pain, from
poverty or violence, Magdalene tells us that by fixing our gaze on the
Crucified, we will realize that compared to the sufferings and poverty he
endured, ours are but “a game”. Jesus was stripped of everything except of
his love for us, so we Christians are called to love one another. Magdalene
and her companions who call themselves daughters of this love: “Daughters
of Charity”, must dedicate their lives to glorify him, reveal him to others
and serve him in their neighbours who are most in need, being thus
“Servants of the Poor”.
Having Christ Crucified as their model, they are led to “an apostolic life
in a way that is suitable for women”, as she herself wrote. This total
dedication to a life of witness brings them to have a direct and absolute
relationship with God, so as to leave behind all that seems useless and
superfluous, accepting instead even what makes them suffer, even “the
suffering” which frightened her for a long time in her spiritual journey.
Saint Magdalene of Canossa died in April 10 1835. She was canonizated in 1988 with feast day celebrated on April 10, but she is sometimes celebrated instead on May 8. The orders of Canossian daughters and sons of charity remains an active force for good today.
Currently there are around 2,600 Canossians working around the world.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Christian saints podcast. Look for the Christian Saints podcast page on Facebook or Instagram, or look for us on Twitter at podcast_saints. All music in this episode was composed by my good friend, James John Marks of Generative sounds. Please check out his music at https://generativesoundsjjm.bandcamp.com/
. I cannot recall in detail the spiritual experiences of that
day, but I do remember the very tender transports of love
that caught hold of me, and I spent the rest of the time in
close union with God repeating frequently loving
12. My love increased and gathered strength as I was
prompted to call Him “My dear Spouse.” Another time,
during prayer, I thought I heard Him call me “My dear
spouse” but I might have imagined it.
I was left with a consuming desire to work for the Lord
and to seek nothing else but Him alone. Because of my
weakness always commit some imperfections when
dealing with those with whom I live even though they are
holy. I begged the Lord to make me die on a deserted
beach alone, with Him alone.
14. Though physically exhausted, I felt disposed to go to
serve Him even at the North Pole if it were necessary.