Saint Mary di Rosa

15th December

Saint Mary di Rosa was born in 1813, in Brescia, Italy. At first glance, one would expect that this girl had a promising life ahead of her. Her father was a wealthy industrialist, her mother a countess. With her other sisters she was educated by the nuns in the same town.

But when she was only eleven years old, she lost her mother due to a terminal illness. Then as a young teenager she had to leave the pursuit of further education to help her father with the running of his business in the spinning industry.

From the beginning, her main focus was the welfare of the workers, especially the women and those suffering from poverty and disease.

Her young life was surrounded by turmoil. In 1836, when she was 23 years old, a cholera epidemic broke out. Cholera is a serious disease spread through contaminated water with people dying just within hours of having it.

Then in 1848 Brescia went through a time of war known in history as the “Ten Days of Brescia. Troops sacked the city and massacred many of the inhabitants.

In both situations Mary di Rosa did not hesitate to leave her ‘comfort zone’ to be able to assist and give support, both moral and spiritual to those dying of cholera and on the battlefield.

Eventually, she started a Congregation, known as the Handmaids of Charity, to serve the ill, the suffering, the destitute. Mary di Rosa was a pioneer in social work.

Today, social work is recognised as a profession. The aim of the social worker is to help people by understanding their difficulties and to help them in various ways to resolve their difficulties. Nowadays young people study at University to become social workers.

Discuss with the children (especially the older ones) what they think should be qualities of a social worker.

Ask their opinion if social workers are needed today. Would they consider becoming a social worker?

This young woman felt the need to act voluntarily, when Brescia was surrounded by the heavy turmoils of disease and war. In those days voluntary organisations to deal with these extreme situations were non-existent.

Encourage the older children to research the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders,  organisations to respond to emergencies caused by war, natural disasters, epidemics, Caritas another organisation to respond to people in poverty and difficult social situations. Many generous people work voluntarily within these organisations, giving their time and energy to help people in need.

Find out what kind of voluntary work takes place in your parish.

The children may be led to experience voluntary work within the family when they offer to help out without expecting an addition to their pocket money! 

It is recorded that during the Ten Days of Brescia, troops of the enemy surrounded the military hospital where Mary di Rosa and other nuns were tending the wounded and dying soldiers. With great faith and fervent prayer, she took a large Crucifix in her hand, opened the hospital door and lifted the Crucifix to face the soldiers. God heard her plea. The soldiers retreated and the door was closed. Mary believed that Jesus would help them

  • Help the children identify situations when they feel fear, disappointment and other negative feelings. What do they do? (They would probably include ‘prayer.’ If they don’t, suggest it!)
  • Let them express how they feel when they think that Jesus did not answer their prayers.

Children need to know how special they are to Jesus and how He wants them to talk to Him.

Explain to them that sometimes He lets us wait, so that we learn to be patient and to trust in Him. (Use examples from daily life when you do not always say ‘yes’ to all their requests.)

Mary di Rosa was a frontliner. Frontliners are always with us. They include doctors and nurses, policemen and soldiers. They ensure our safety and security. During epidemics, pandemics and natural disasters other frontliners come forward. Can they name more? The frontliners during the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic are the heroes and heroines of these times.

Consider organising a longer Prayer Time one evening, making it a special time during Advent.

Let the children voice personal prayers for frontliners, for the sick, for those who are alone during this pandemic.

Do not let the children feel depressed and overly concerned!

End with a prayer of trust in the Lord and a hymn of hope eg. Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, or an Advent hymn like O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

This wealthy lady helped and served the poor, the needy and the sick and the ill even when the cholera epidemic devasted Brescia in 1836.  She was a great front liner, wasn’t she?!!

We are living in a pandemic and we must be grateful for our front liners! Create a small card or a poster to thank these front liners. Give these to a front liner you know, else send them to hospital nurses, police officers, teachers, fire fighters etc… You may wish to share it on your parents’ social media and tag us as well. However, don’t forget to share this with us so we can share it on our web page!

How to use this space

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Saints of the Church. Here you will find useful background and activities to better understand the holy life, helping you to connect the saints to daily life in a meaningful way.