By Larry Peterson
Her simple life shows how holiness can shine brighter than special gifts or talents
Magdalen Panattieri was born in the tiny town of Trino, Italy, in 1443. Her parents were pious and prayerful people, and their example helped set their daughter on a saintly course. While still a child, Magdalen made a vow of virginity and developed a great devotion to St. Catherine of Siena. Before she was twenty, she joined the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) as a layperson rather than religious. It was an unusual thing to do because most members were primarily widows and older women.
Magdalen, living at home, performed the apostolic works of charity that were part of the Dominican apostolate. The young woman brought a new spirit of penance and sacrifice to her chapter and always remained cheerful and resourceful. She often spent her morning hours at Eucharistic Adoration. During the afternoons, she would care for the sick and the poor. The people took notice of her austere and straightforward manner. She always wore a rough, woolen shirt when she would go on one of her frequent long fasts.
Her brother kept getting into trouble, and when he did, she would fall to her knees before the Crucifix begging God to help him. Her efforts were so powerful that the Order decided that they must pay stricter attention to this facet of the apostolate. They were so determined to promote this that, in 1490, Sebastian Maggi was dispatched from Milan to set it all in motion.
During this time, Dominican friars were involved in a lawsuit with a Milanese nobleman who had used his power so outrageously, that he was excommunicated from the church. The man was so filled with hatred toward the Dominicans and the church that when he saw Magdalen, he slapped her across the face so hard that she was knocked down. She looked up at him and said, “Brother, here is the other cheek. I give it to you for love of Christ.” That made him angrier, and he hit her again. Before the year was out he died a violent death from an incurable disease.
In the meantime, Magdalen had begun teaching catechism to the local children, and this attracted adults to her teaching. She was an excellent speaker and was given the task of conducting conferences to women and children in the Dominican church. She became such an eloquent homilist that men, priests, and religious began to come to hear her speak. Within a short time, she was drawing crowds all over northern Italy.
Magdalen’s life of prayer and penance also included other mystical gifts. She not only received the stigmata, she also possessed the gifts of prophecy, visions, and ecstasy. She predicted Italy’s future political troubles and the impending French invasion of the country. She prayed God would spare her people, and although she did not live to see it, during the time of bloodshed, Trino was spared while all the surrounding towns were destroyed.
The people loved Sister Magdalen. The Marquis of Monferrato held her in such high regard he called her “his mother.” She predicted her death and said it would occur on October 13, 1503. When that day arrived Magdalen called her tertiary sisters to her bedside. She promised to pray for them and told them , “I could not be happy in heaven if you were mot there too.”
As her companions stood by her bedside, Magdalen began to softly sing. In a sweet voice, the lyrics from Jesu nostra Redemptio followed by Ave Maris Stella came from within her. When she finished singing, she passed on. She was 60 years old.
Pope Leo XII beatified Magdalen Panattieri on September 26, 1827. At that time, he confirmed that a “cultus” (popular devotion) had existed since her death. Her remains, which had been lost, were found in 1964. In 1970, with the authorization of the Vatican, she was solemnly relocated to the Church of St. Peter the Martyr in Trino. Her feast day is October 13.
Blessed Magdalen Panattieri, please pray for us.