By Dave Kopel
The word "Saint" sometimes conjures images of times and people that seem strange to us -- the 1st century and its martyrs or the medieval ages and their mystics. Yet sanctity is not something limited to extraordinary people in extraordinary times. One of the world's more recent saints was Bertilla Boscardin, who died in 1922.
Her background hardly foreshadowed a life of great transpersonal significance. Born into a poor family of Italian peasants near Verona in 1888, she was universally considered to be noticeably below average in intelligence, and was called "the goose" as a result. All her life, she suffered from poor health. Her father's drinking problems added to her woes.
Bertilla Boscardin chose to become a nurse. At age 19, she was assigned to the children's ward of the hospital in Treviso, where her dedication to her patients soon became known throughout the area.
After Italy entered World War I in 1915, the Treviso hospital was taken over by the Italian army. By 1917, Italian army defeats had put Treviso on the front line of one of the grimmest, bloodiest conflicts in history. Further Italian army reversals forced nurse Boscardin and the rest of Treviso hospital to be evacuated to Como. All the while, she served her wounded patients heroically.
Her service earned her respect and love of the soldiers, and the jealousy of a superior, who removed Bertilla from nursing duty and put her to work in the laundry. The mother-general of the congregation, hearing of Bertilla's demotion, put her back into nursing, and when the war ended, made her head of the children's ward back in Treviso.
In 1921, she underwent an operation from which she never recovered. On October 20, 1922, she died at the age of 39. The people of Treviso lauded her as an angel of mercy, and a hospital plaque remembered her as "a soul of heroic goodness."
Crowds flocked to her tomb, and her intercession was credited with procuring miracles of healing. Beatified in 1952, she was canonized in 1961. Her feast day is October 20.
For more: Big Network biography of Bertilla Boscardin.
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More by Kopel on Catholic Saints.