18 Aug Venerable Maria Maddalena Bentivoglio
Died: August 18th, 1905, Evansville, Indiana
Known For: bringing the Poor Clare life to the United States
Fun Fact: As English was her second language and she never mastered it, she often accidentally misused words. Once, she seemed out of sorts and someone asked her what was wrong. She meant to say she was depressed, but instead sighed and said, “I am so handsome!”
Had Annetta Bentivoglio followed normal custom by marrying some Italian dignitary and dying in unremarkable comfort, no one would be talking about her today. But as a Poor Clare nun under the new name of Maria Maddalena (“Mary Magdalene” in Italian), she would shape history by making the first successful Poor Clare foundation in the U.S.
The daughter of a distinguished military man, Annetta had 15 siblings. She was educated in Rome and Turin by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, befriending their sainted foundress, Madeleine Sophie Barat. Five of the Bentivoglio girls became religious, and Annetta and Costanza entered the Poor Clare Monastery of San Lorenzo (so named because St. Lawrence was martyred nearby) in 1864.While the United States entered Reconstruction after the Civil War, political unrest in Italy led to religious persecution. In 1870, religious were suppressed in Italy and San Lorenzo was confiscated.
About this time, a lead for a foundation in Minnesota appeared. So as the community took refuge elsewhere, Annetta (Now Sr. Maddalena) and Sr. Costanza set out for America in 1875. Here they would be able to live the Holy Rule in its original purity (their former community had followed a less strict observance). Sr. Maddalena was appointed abbess for the new community, and the Franciscan Friars provided someone to accompany them.
Everything seemed in place until they arrived in New York. Those who were supposed to help them didn’t, and the Minnesota foundation fell through. They spent the next agonizing seven years trying to gain acceptance into another diocese. They were rejected several times on the faulty grounds that the Poor Clare life didn’t fit the American spirit. Once things seemed stable in New Orleans, their superiors told them to abandon everything and go to Cleveland. Shortly afterward, some German Colettines were sent to them. Giving Mother Maddalena less than 24 hours’ warning about these new additions, they ordered the Italians to conform to all the German ways. Their valiant efforts to do so failed because of language barriers, etc., so they and the German sisters parted ways amicably.
Finally, with the support of the Creighton family (whose name is familiar to anyone in Nebraska), the sisters settled in Omaha. Despite their monastery being destroyed twice while still under construction, enclosure was finally established in July 1882. Terrible accusations then arose against the Bentivoglio sisters, only proved false at the last moment.
The community ended up founding several monasteries, and Mother Maddalena went to start one in Evansville, Indiana. The joyful endurance of dire poverty in the young community further proved the sanctity of the 63-year-old abbess and her sisters. By the time of her death on August 18th, 1905, the community was flourishing, and many foundations have been made in the years since. Several, including Omaha, Evansville, and New Orleans, are still open to this day, surely with the heavenly intercession of Mother Maddalena, who endured a veritable martyrdom for this cause.
+ “When Rome speaks, God speaks!”
+ “All passes like a flash. For us, the thought is consoling that we shall for all eternity rejoice in Heaven, provided that we suffer now and are resigned to the Holy Will of God.”
Powers, Gabriel Francis. A Woman of the Bentivoglios. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, year of publication unknown.
Fiege, Marianus. The Princess of Poverty. Evansville: Monastery of St. Clare, 1909.
Unknown. The Servant of God Mother M. Maddalena Bentivoglio of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Place of publication, publisher, and year unknown.