St. Josephine bakhita
(1869 –1947)

Bakhita was not the name she received from her parents at birth. St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869. This African flower, who knew the anguish of kidnapping and slavery, bloomed marvelously in Italy, in response to God’s grace, with the Daughters of Charity, where everyone still calls her “Mother Moretta” (our Black Mother) . The experience she went through made her forget the name her parents gave her. Bakhita, which means “fortunate”, was the name given to her by her kidnappers.

Sold in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, she experienced the physical and moral humiliations and sufferings of slavery. In the Sudanese capital, Bakhita was bought by an Italian Consul, Callisto Legnani. For the first time since the day she was kidnapped, she realized with pleasant surprise that no one used the lash when giving her orders; instead, she was treated with love and cordiality. In the consul’s residence Bakhita experienced peace, warmth and moments of joy, even though veiled with nostalgia for her own family whom, perhaps, she had lost forever.

The political situation forced the consul to leave for Italy. Bakhita asked and obtained permission to go with him and a friend of his, a certain Mr. Augusto Michieli. On their arrival in Genoa, Mr. Legnani, at the request of Mr. Michieli’s wife, agreed to leave Bakhita with them. She followed the new “family”, which settled in Zianigo, near Mirano Veneto

When their daughter Mimmina was born, Bakhita became her babysitter and friend. The acquisition and management of a large hotel in Suakin on the Red Sea forced Mrs. Michieli to move to Suakin to help her husband. Meanwhile, on the advice of their administrator, Mimmina and Bakhita were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of Catechumens in Venice.

It was there that Bakhita came to know about God, whom “she had experienced in her heart without knowing who He was” since she was a child. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage…”.

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After a preparation of several months in the catechumenate, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian life  and was given a new name, Josephine. It was 9th January 1890. She did not know how to express her joy that day. Her big and expressive eyes sparkled, revealing deep emotions. From then on, she was often seen kissing the baptismal font and saying: “Here, I became a daughter of God!”.

When Mrs. Michieli returned from Africa to take her daughter and Bakhita, the latter, with unusual firmness and courage, expressed her desire to remain with the Canossian Sisters and to serve that God who had shown her so many proofs of His love. The young African, who by then had come of age, enjoyed the freedom of choice which Italian law guaranteed.

Bakhita remained in the catechumenate where she experienced the call to be a religious and to give herself to the Lord in the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa. On 8th December 1896 Josephine Bakhita was consecrated forever to God, whom she called by the sweet name of “the Master!”. For the next 50 years this humble Daughter of Charity, a true witness to the love of God, lived in the Schio community, involved in various services: cooking, sewing, embroidery and attending to the door.

Her assignments in household tasks, like the kitchen, the chapel, attending the parlour, supervising the kindergarten children, during the lunch break – she not only took them in her stride but carried them out with ‘delicacy’ personified, to the minutest details – thus witnessing to the love of Jesus, to those she served. Bakhita went out of her way to help those who approached her in any sort of pain or struggle – the young, middle aged and elderly, also the deaf-mutes. There was something very special about her.

When she was on duty at the door, she would gently lay her hands on the heads of the children who daily attended the Canossian schools and caress them. Her amicable voice, which had the infection and rhythm of music of her country, was pleasing to the little ones, comforting to the poor and suffering and encouraging to those who knocked at the institute’s door.

Her humility, simplicity and constant smile won the hearts of all the citizens. Her sisters in the community esteemed her for her constant sweet nature, exquisite goodness and deep desire to make the Lord known. “Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who not know him. What a great grace it is to know God!”, she said.

As she grew older she experienced long, painful years of sickness. Mother Bakhita continued to witness to faith, goodness and Christian hope. To those who visited her and asked how she was, she would respond with a smile: “As the Master desires”. During her agony, she relived the terrible days of her slavery and more than once begged the nurse who assisted her: “Please, loosen the chains…they are heavy!”.

Bakhita died at 8:10 PM on 8 February 1947. For three days her body lay on display while thousands of people arrived to pay their respects. Her remains were transferred to the Church of the Holy Family of the Canossian convent of Schio in 1969.

On 17 May 1992, she was declared Blessed and given February 8 as her feast day.  She is venerated as a modern African saint, and as a statement against the brutal history of slavery. 

Bakhita was raised to the height of sainthood on 01 October 2000 by Pope John Paul II.