On 26 Jul 2012 was the anniversary of death of St Bartolomea Capitanio, (a.k.a. Bartholomea Capitanio / Capitanjo), who lived in the early part of 19th century Italy and who used the brief years of her life responding to God’s call to bring Christian education to the young.
This reflection on St Bartholomea’s life is out of sequence because St Anne, the mother of Our Lady, took precedence on 26 July. However, because St Bartolomea was named after the apostle who is my patron for 2012, it was important to learn more about her.
St Bartolomea Capitanio was born in Lovere, Lombardy, Italy in 1807. Challenges came swiftly into her life from her father, who was a manual labourer and alcoholic. Joys came from the virtuous life of her mother and from the education she received with the Clarist Sisters. Growing up Bartolomea day-dreamed about founding a religious order with a very hands-on approach to serving those in need.
Schooling finished for her at the age of sixteen, and at that time she entered into a period of learning and discernment. Within her parish there were many charitable and religious associations, and over a period of time she took part in them all. Listening and observing she was able to work out where the greatest needs were. The first thing she did was to use her talents in writing about spiritual subjects. Sometimes this took the form of mini-treatises on devotional practices, codifying the rules of religious associations and writing about different vocational calls and states of life – but mostly it took the form of letters to various people. This time consuming ministry of letter writing, which drew from the wells of her deep prayer life, was something she continued throughout her life until her final illness prevented it. Thankfully many of these letters have been preserved and published.
While it was obvious to everyone that Bartolomea had a religious vocation, her parents were dead set against it and forbade her entering an order. So instead she was permitted to take a vow of perpetual chastity.
Probably as a result of her written efforts, the joy she found in imparting spiritual truths to others naturally led her to consider teaching. Accordingly she studied for, and obtained, a teaching diploma which would accredit her to teach in an elementary school.
At the same time Bartolomea’s desire to bring young people to Jesus led her to start guilds and societies under the patronage of St Aloysius Gonzaga. These were successful, and spread into other districts.
1823 was a major turning point in her life, for this was the year that she found a kindred soul in St Vincentia Gerosa, who at that time was old enough to be her mother. On Vincentia’s heart was a deep desire to provide nursing care for the sick poor. Together, united in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, they proved to be an unstoppable force for good and the nucleus of a new religious order, the Institute of the Sisters of Charity of Lovere.
This new order drew its inspiration from the Daughters of Charity founded by St Vincent de Paul. In November 1832 the two women made their initial consecration. Soon other women joined them in their apostolate of education of young people, involvement in the local parish, and in the care of the souls and bodies of the sick. Writing the provisional Constitution of the order was Bartolomea’s task.
Almost as soon as this important task was completed, Bartolomea fell seriously sick with tuberculosis, dying on 26 July 1833. It seems that the good Lord took her obedience to her parent’s seriously because her death occurred before she had been clothed in the habit and before she had pronounced any official vows.
Her heart was full of apostolic zeal and humble love. In 1950 Bartolomea was canonized by Pope Pius XII.
St Bartolomea Capitanio, pray for us.