273 Years after the Canonisation of St. Camillus: the First Camillian Woman Saint – Giuseppina Vannini!

Dearest Religious Brothers and Sisters of the great family of St. Camillus,

The celebration of the liturgical feast day of our saint, Father Camillus, leads us, in addition to giving praise to God for the gift of such a great saint, to reclaim our charism in order to make it increasingly alive and relevant today, so that it may continue to produce fruits in us and through us in all those who need our help.

To illuminate our journey on this pathway of life and giving we have, in addition to our father St. Camillus, our Blesseds, our Venerables and our Servants of God, as well as an array of religious brothers and sisters who through the example of their lives, more than by words, knew how to express the Gospel of the Good Samaritan in the different contexts and circumstances in which they implemented it.

Amongst the very many personalities who have stood out in the exercise of the charism of charity, one in particular attracts our attention today – the Blessed Giuseppina Vannini, the Founder of our Congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus, who on 13 October next will be proclaimed a SAINT by Pope Francis.

It is with immense joy that I want to share with you this great grace that the Lord has deigned to grant to our religious family. A daughter faithful to St. Camillus who equals the Father of our Congregation 272 years after his canonisation!

This event is also a sign of the fertility and further authenticity of an ancient but always new charism that continues to mark the history of holiness of the Church in general and our religious family in particular. And we hope that soon other very fine examples of men and women Camillians can also shine before the people of God.

There are 309 years between the birth of St. Camillus and the birth of the Blessed Giuseppina Vannini and yet in their lives we find various points of convergence. The first thing that catches the eye is the situation of being orphans which both of them experienced. Camillus became an orphan on the death of his mother when he was thirteen years old, and after the death of his father he was alone in the world. Giuseppina Vannini lost her father when she was four years old and her mother when she was seven, and thus she was taken to an orphanage. The search for their vocations, albeit in various forms; having the doors of the religious houses where they wanted to remain shut to them – St. Camillus with the Capuchin friars and Giuseppina Vannini with the Daughters of Charity; and then the opening up of a horizon to a certain extent expected but never imagined: creating a new reality that was to change things then and later, taking care of suffering man in his totality of soul and body, and also changing the history of health care!

The ‘new school’ of charity begun by St. Camillus still conserves all of its evangelical newness: you did it to me; as well as its special features expressed in how service is given: like a loving mother who cares for her sick only child! And this leads to seeing the person of a sick man or woman as unique and never to be repeated, as Pope Francis exhorts us: ‘People are never the same, they should be understood and cared for one by one, as God does: God does this!’ And would we not say: as a mother does, so should every son and daughter of St. Camillus do?

But who was Giuseppina Vannini? We may sum up her story in a few lines and it was one that lasted just 52 years. Giuditta (this was the name she received at baptism) was born in Rome on 7 July 1859, 160 years ago! At the tender age of seven she was had already been orphaned by the death of both her mother and her father and she was entrusted to the Torlonia Orphanage which was run by the Daughters of Charity. Contact with the sisters helped to develop her religious vocation in the young Giuditta and this led her to ask to become one of them. She was received into the novitiate but after a period in that state she was discharged from the Institute. At the age of 32 a providential encounter with Fr. Luigi Tezza, who was a member of the Order of Camillians, helped her to understand that the will of God was the foundation of a new religious Congregation: the Daughters of St. Camillus. As a woman religious she took the name of Giuseppina and rather than a ‘daughter of charity she became a mother of charity’, to use the happy phrase of Gaetano Meaolo.

 The Blessed Vannini had a life that was marked by suffering and yet she did not allow herself to be overwhelmed by the bitterness of life. She entrusted herself to the Lord and she always placed hope in him. She sought his will with perseverance and humble trust even when everything seemed lost, and her hopes were not disappointed. The Lord was preparing, shaping and enabling her to express the Camillian charism in a female way.

Her life teaches us, or at least would like to teach us, to trust the Lord, to believe in the irrevocable character of his call, and to respond generously to our own vocations. Only in this way can our lives become a gift of love to those whom we meet in our daily ministry.

Here in a few words is the marvellous story of our Founders who were saints and who outlined a pathway for us, their followers. And the Church confirms for us that we can reach holiness if we follow this pathway with generosity and love.

May the examples of humility and great charity of our saints, as well as their powerful intercession, help us on our journey of daily faithfulness to the call of the Lord!

I greet you fraternally with the words of the Blessed Giuseppina Vannini: ‘We pray for each other and although we are far from each other we help each other to achieve holiness, not by altars but by facts, and having as our only witness the Lord’.

Happy celebrations to everyone!

Mother Zélia Andrighetti
and the members of the General Council:
Sr. Rosanna Priore
Sr. Lancy Ezhupara
Sr. Flor Barreda
Sr. Sabine Zida