St. Veronica Giuliani

(1660-1727)

Mystics do not necessarily start that way. As a child, Ursula Giuliani was devout and charitable; but she was rather stuck-up about her devotions, and resented it when others would not share in them. She was also rather stuck-up about her father when he began to rise in politics.

These, however were faults that she outgrew. Following a vision of Our Lady, she vowed to become a nun. Her father strongly disapproved, but at length he relented, so in 1677 Ursula entered the Capuchin order of nuns at Citta di Castello, Umbria, Italy. Here she was given the name Veronica. Trials of various sorts, including those imposed by her wary superiors to test her, made her first months in the convent very difficult.

After she had professed her vows, her devotion to the Passion of Christ became ever more profound. In a series of visions, Jesus began to share with her some of His pains on the cross. In 1694, the imprint of the crown of thorns appeared on her head, and on Good Friday, 1697, she received His five wounds on her hands, feet and side.

The local bishop eventually decided to study these phenomena himself. In the presence of several nuns, he examined the stigmata and satisfied himself that they were genuine wounds. Thereupon he established a program of further study so as to be sure that no fraud was involved. He forbade the stigmatist to receive Communion, to associate with the other nuns, and to have any communications with the outside world. She was to be under constant observation for a period by a lay sister. Her wounds were to be dressed and bandaged, and her hands clothed in gloves sealed with the bishop’s seal.

It was a hard regime for Sister Veronica to bear, but she took it all with cheerful patience. The phenomena, meanwhile, continued unabated. At length the bishop was satisfied that no deceit was involved. When he reported her humble acceptance to Rome, the Holy See called a halt to the experiment. The dossier that the bishop had prepared on her stigmata and other mystical gifts would furnish a unique study of such graces, and constitute important evidence when the cause of her beatification was introduced.

One interesting prophecy by St. Veronica was verified after her death. She once told her confessor that the instruments of Jesus’ passion were in her heart, but moved about, and she drew a sketch of them. An official postmortem examination of her heart showed a number of minute objects in the right ventricle resembling those in her sketch.

But Veronica Giuliani did not spend her fifty years in the convent in mystical rapture. She was active in the management of her religious house. It is interesting to note that during her 34 years as mistress of novices, she discouraged the apprentice nuns from fancying that they were mystics. She knew only too well that there could be dangerous fantasies for the untutored. When elected abbess eleven years before her death, she showed herself also a common-sense and practical administrator. Embarking on an extensive building program, she enlarged the convent quarters and piped in a better water system.

Stricken finally with apoplexy, the “Spouse of the Lord” accepted this last trial with typical resignation and joy. She was canonized in 1839 as a woman who had scaled the heights of devotion, yet always kept two feet on the ground.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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