Patron Saints of Our Schools
Feast day: 10 April
Vocation: Religious sister
Schools in Singapore
Magdalene was the third of six children born in Verona, Italy to the Marquis of Canossa and Teresa Szluha, a Hungarian countess. Her father died in an accident when she was five and her mother remarried, abandoning her children to the care of a governess and the guardianship of their uncle Girolamo.
At the age of 15, Magdalene announced she wanted to become a nun and tried joining the Carmelites when she was 17, but concluded after ten months that it was not her vocation. She returned home and managed her father’s estate until she was 33, receiving Napoleon as a guest at their palace thrice. During her 20s, she began to offer accommodation to poor girls in her own home.
Magdalene observed the suffering in her town from the unrest caused by the French invasions and conflict with the Austrian Empire, which came to control Verona. Finally, at the age of 34, she discerned that God’s will was for her to dedicate her life to service of the sick and poor.
She spent her inheritance on charitable works, founding free schools for the poor at a time when only the nobility and middle class had access to education. Magdalene reasoned that educated Christian wives and mothers were the best way to form wholesome families, creating a virtuous society. For her, the aim of education was to lead people to experience God’s love.
Magdalene’s schools began when she was given an abandoned convent and took in two poor girls from a slum to educate and care for them. She moved out of her palace and invited other women to join her, forming the Canossian Daughters of Charity. Magdalene approached the pope to formally recognise her order, but lost her courage upon meeting him. He noticed her discomfort and told her to send the community’s Rule to Roman authorities for assessment.
In the Preface to her Rule, St Magdalene wrote: “Since God Himself is Charity, being His Children, we owe Him a reverent, tender, filial love.” She emphasised the need for the Sisters to spend time in prayer, receiving God’s grace to serve their students.
As the new congregation began to serve in hospitals and care for impoverished children, they were asked to establish communities in other cities. In 1828, Pope Leo XII approved the Rule of the Canossians.
Sister Magdalene wanted boys to benefit from a Christian education too, so she asked Fr Francesco Luzzi to open a small chapel beside the sisters’ convent in Venice, beginning the Institute of the Sons of Charity. Two years later, two laymen joined the priest, carrying on his work when he left to join the Carmelites.
The cause for Sr Magdalene’s canonisation was opened under Pope Pius IX in 1877 and she was finally recognised as a saint for the Universal Church by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Today, there are Canossians serving on five continents, numbering about 2,300 in 18 provinces. St Magdalene wrote that the Daughters of Charity are to be “detached from everything… and ready for the divine service and to go anywhere, even to the remotest Country.”