Feast Day: February 8
Kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of seven by Arab slave traders, this Sudanese child (her original name is not known) received the name Bakhita, meaning “fortunate,” from her captors. Bakhita passed through five brutal owners, one of whom had her tattooed over her entire body, sparing only her face. After enduring years of cruelty and hardship as a slave in the human markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, Sudan, she was purchased by an Italian consul, Callisto Legnani, who emancipated her. He showed her for the first time in many years genuine compassion, warmth, and dignity. When Legnani departed Sudan, Bakhita asked permission to go with him, eventually entering into the care of a family as a nanny and then the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of Catechumens in Venice.
It was while with the Sisters that Bakhita first came to learn about God and had her first in-depth exposure to Catholicism. She had already experienced the Lord in her life, “without knowing who he was.” Under the care of the Canossian Sisters, she received a formal catechetical education and was baptized in January of 1890, receiving the new name of Josephine. She then requested permission to enter the Canossian Sisters, taking final vows in 1896. For the next fifty years she labored for the congregation and was especially beloved as the doorkeeper of the community, giving comfort and help to the many poor and sick who came to the institute for help.
In her final years she was often ill, but no one ever heard her complain. When asked how she was feeling she replied, “As the Master desires.” On her deathbed she became delirious and thought she was a slave again; she cried, “Please loosen the chains! They are heavy!” Bakhita never lost faith in Divine Providence. Even at the end of her life, she was asked if she was ready to go to heaven. She replied, “I neither wish to go nor to stay. God knows where to find me when he wants me.”
“Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!”—Saint Josephine Bakhita
“As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Craughwell, Thomas J. “Saints Preserved-An Encyclopedia of Relics.” New York, NY: Image Books, 2011.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.