St. Caterina Volpicelli: At the Intersection of Holiness

I’ve done a lot of reading and writing about saints and other holy people.  And one of the details I’m often pleased to find in the stories of figures who have been beatified or canonized by the Church is a connection with another saint or blessed.  Very often, in other words, saints attract saints to themselves.  They inspire, teach, encourage, and learn from one another.  This is evident in the story of St. Caterina Volpicelli (1839-1894), whose life intersects with not one but two other people already beatified by the Church.

Caterina was raised in Naples, Italy.  As a young teen being raised in an upper-middle class family, she through herself int200px-beata_caterina_volpicellio the pursuit of social refinement.  Her greatest thrill was attending plays, ballets, and dances, more for their social than their artistic value.   Her encounter at age 15 with another figure whose holiness has been recognizedby the Church, Blessed Ludovico of Casoria, made a huge impression on her and changed the course of her life. 

He taught her about the love of Christ expressed through the image of his Sacred Heart, and she begun to practive devotion to the Sacred Heart intensely.  Under Fr. Ludovico’s influence, she also became a third order Franciscan (someone who lives the spirit of St. Francis as a layperson).  During this time, Caterina often spent many hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Five years later, Caterina joined a religious order, the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament.  When she had to leave the convent not long after because of her poor health, her spiritual director got her involved in the Apostleship of Prayer, an apostolate for laypeople based in France.  She gathered other laypeople in her home with her to pray, and also to raise money to help with the financial needs of poor parishes.  One of those who came to her house was Blessed Bartolo Longo, upon whom she had a profound affect. (Blessed Bartolo was featured by Pope John Paul II in his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.)

In 1874, she founded a new religious community, the Servant of the Sacred Heart.  She said their purpose was “to revive love for Jesus Christ in hearts, in families, and in society.” The order took on the care of orphans and cholera victims.  She also was responsible for the building of a major shrine to the Sacred Heart in Naples. 

I should note that the Italian Wikipedia page for her makes some reference to the distrust and even hostility with which she was regarded by some in the Church hierarchy because of “the originality, the novelty of the form her institute took,” but it doesn’t seem to specify, and I could find any more about it elsewhere — though it is hinted at in the quotation from Pope John Paul II from his homily at her beatification Mass, posted here, which says she developed “new forms of consecrated life.” 

Today, “the Volpicelli Sisters” continue their ministry in Naples, and also live and minister in Brazil, Panama, and Indonesia.  Their website is here.

St. Caterina Volpicelli’s feast day is December 28.


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