In this time of modern pandemic, meet a little-known saint who came from nobility, but led a life serving the sick and the poor.
Virginia Centurione was born into an aristocratic family on April 2, 1587 to Giorgio Centurione, the Doge of Genoa, and Lelia Spinola.
She grew up in luxury and privilege, but had deep faith and longed for the cloistered life. Her father, however, forced Virginia into an arranged marriage at age 15 to Gaspare Grimaldi Bracelli. He also came from a noble family, but was a drinker and gambler. They had two daughters, Lelia and Isabella, but after five years of marriage, her husband’s errant ways caught up with him. He died, leaving Virginia a widow at age 20.
She refused another marriage and took a vow of chastity. Her life became devoted to raising her daughters and doing what she could to aid the sick and the poor, particularly women and orphans. One of her joys was working with women to ensure they had job training and also knew their faith. Reports say that she shared half her income with the poor and charitable institutions.
Her work with the poor and sick led her to found a center, Cento Signore della Misericordia Protettrici dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo (Lord of Mercy Protectors of the Poor of Jesus Christ).
When a deadly wave of the plague came to Genoa in 1629-30, the center was overrun with more than 300 patients. Virginia expanded the space to include a convent, then two more buildings to accommodate all those in need.
Joined by other women in her work, Virginia instructed them in the faith as well. Soon, she became the founder of two religious orders. Virginia was also credited for having a church dedicated to Our Lady of Refuge built in Genoa.
Because of her connections in the aristocracy, in her later years Virginia worked as a peacemaker between feuding noble houses.
Virginia died at age 64, in Dec. 15, 1651 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on his apostolic visit to Genoa on Sept. 22, 1985.
She is the patron of the Sisters of Our Lady of Refuge in Mount Calvary, but also holds a special place in the hearts of Italian people of Genoa.
Read her Vatican biography here: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20030518_bracelli_en.html