“This praiseworthy daughter of the region of Verona, a disciple of Bl. Giuseppe Nascimbeni, was inspired by the Holy Family of Nazareth to make herself ‘all things to all people’, ever attentive to the needs of the ‘poor people’. She was extraordinarily faithful, in all circumstances and to her last breath, to the will of God, by whom she felt loved and called. What a fine example of holiness for every believer!” — Pope Saint John Paul II in a homily during her beatification
Growing up with a love for prayer and the Immaculate Mother
On November 12, 1862, in a small town in Italy, Maria Domenica Mantovani was born. She was drawn to prayer and piety even at a young age and served others by teaching catechism and visiting the sick.
The Blessed Virgin Mary played an integral role in Maria’s life, and she was inspired to emulate Our Lady’s maternal heart for all people. On December 8, 1886, Maria prayed before a statue of the Immaculate Mary and privately vowed to dedicate her life to God as a consecrated virgin.
Her spiritual director, Father Giuseppe Nascimbeni, noticed her passion for service and life of prayer. In 1892, when he founded the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family, Maria Domenica became the co-foundress and Superior General and was thus given the name “Mother Maria of the Immaculate”.
A mother to the very end
“The Holy Family, for the great and mysterious project [that God is calling it to], has chosen me as its Cofoundress..., knowing that the Lord uses the least qualified, little, unknown instruments to do great works.... I am tranquil and convinced that the Institute, the work of God, will be provided for and guided by Him.” — Mother Maria
The sisters under her care and many others who knew Maria would often simply call her “Mother”. As was the charism of her order, she spent her life serving the poor, sick, and elderly, and other people in need. Even though she held a big role in the Congregation, she always led with her “littleness”, kindness, and peace.
She passed away on February 2, 1934. Today, the legacy of her maternal love and care is carried on by some 1,200 sisters in 150 houses around the world.
Miracles between mothers and daughters
There are two miracles attributed to Blessed Maria Domenica Mantovani, which, oddly enough, happened in the same place: in Bahía Blanca, Argentina.
The first miracle happened in 1999 when newborn baby Lara Pascal was accidentally let go by her tired and sleeping mother, and she fell on the floor and cracked her skull. She suffered from severe cerebral hemorrhage, and the doctors were doubtful about what to do. Sister Lisantonia Perin took a relic of her foundress (a small piece of her habit) and prayed over the baby with her parents. Three days later, Baby Lara fully recovered from her injuries, and four years later, she stood in Rome to see the beatification of her patron saint.
The second miracle happened over a decade later in 2011 to Maria Candela Calabrese Salgado. Born with severe spinal malformations, she grew up needing to be in a wheelchair. One morning, her legs bruised and blackened due to a lack of blood circulation, and she was rushed to the hospital. Maria Candela suffered cerebral hemorrhage, fell into a coma, and was almost at risk of amputation. It was then that Rosana Margarita, the mother impacted by the first miracle in 1999, came with a relic of the blessed who had saved her daughter Lara. They took the relic and put it under Maria Candela’s pillow. Three days later, Maria Candela was completely healed of her neurological condition.
Without a doubt, Blessed Maria Domenica Mantovani led her life with a mother’s heart, so it would make sense if she could become the patron saint of mother figures: biological mothers, spiritual mothers, and other women with a desire to mother in different capacities. Yet, like any selfless mother, I would think she would turn the attention away from herself and give it back to the people she loved to care for, those who were in most need of a mother’s warmth and love: the poor, sick, elderly, disabled. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were also the patron saint of those suffering from cerebral hemorrhages, as the two children who were miraculously cured by her intercession suffered similar neurological injuries.