Bl. Benvenuta

(d. 1292)

Here is a little saint whose very life has been called “a poem of praise.” There was a worthy couple named Bojani, who lived in Cividale, in Friuli, the extreme northeastern province of Italy. The Bojanis had six children, all girls. A seventh was on the way, and the father naturally hoped this child would be a boy. Still, when they announced to him, “It’s a girl!” he accepted the disappointment with good cheer. “Very well,” he said, “Since it is so, let her be welcome.” So they gave her the name “Benvenuta”. It means “the welcome one.”

The Bojani household was notable for its family piety. In this little sanctuary of devotion Benvenuta blossomed into a young woman of solid Christian virtue. When a teenager she asked permission to dedicate her chastity to God and to become a member of the lay Third Order of St. Dominic. Her father was pleased by her choice. It was to him a proof that he had been a good parent.

A century later, St. Catherine of Siena, another Dominican tertiary, would combine a life of prayer with a life of action, becoming a “home missionary,” an ambassador of peace and a counsellor of popes and other prelates. Benvenuta was more a Mary than a Martha. She chose the hidden life of prayer and mortification. Like most Christian ascetics she engaged in many practices of physical penance. When only twelve, for instance, she tied a rope about her waist so tight that her flesh eventually grew around it, causing her extraordinary pain. Finally, she prayed God to help her to solve the problem without an operation. Then she suddenly saw the waist-rope lying intact on the ground. When she told her confessor about this miracle, he learned of her practice for the first time. He admired her spirit of self-denial, but instructed Benvenuta henceforth to attempt no penance that might endanger her health. This advice marked a stage in her growth in common sense and obedience. After that, she never undertook a penitential practice that her confessor had not first approved.

Like most ascetics, Benvenuta Bojani was the subject of many trials. For instance, she was sick abed for five years, and thus unable, except on occasion, to go to church for Mass and the singing of the divine office. This was a great deprivation. Furthermore, although she was gifted with visions, raptures and other unusual graces, she was also beset with terrible temptations to disbelief and despair – even after she was miraculously cured of her ailments. The last great onslaught of temptation to despair and infidelity was while she was on her very deathbed. But the conquest of these frightful temptations made her seem to others as a solid rock of faith, hope and serenity. Because of her constant cheerfulness she was always a “welcome” presence to her friends.

Benvenuta had always felt close to Our Lady. In keeping with her Dominican tradition, she would recite the “Hail Mary” many times a day. (She used the original form, the first half of our prayer, ending with “Jesus”. The second part, beginning “Holy Mary, Mother of God” had not yet been added.)

A story comes down to us in this connection that bespeaks the charming simplicity of this little saint of Friuli. When she was still quite young, runs the tale, Benvenuta went to church one day shortly after the death of her mother. In the empty church she found a little boy who was unaccompanied. “Have you a mother?” the motherless girl asked him. “Yes, I have,” he replied. Benvenuta sighed, “I haven’t one now. But since you have one, perhaps you can already say the `Hail Mary’?” “Oh, yes,” the boy answered. “Can you?” “Yes, I can.” “Very well, then,” he said, “Say it to me.” So the little girl started off the “Ave Maria” in Latin, up to the last word, “Jesus”. When she reached that name, the boy said, “I am He.” Then, at once, he disappeared from her sight.

Whether the tale is true or not, Our Lord must indeed be pleased whenever He hears us recite the “Hail Mary”. After all, it is a prayer addressed to Mary precisely as His mother and ours.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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