Jesus, Mary, and Joseph may be the first Holy Family in the history of the Church, but they are far from the last. Other married Catholics have also demonstrated that the daily difficulties, tedium, and messiness of ordinary family life are not absolute impediments to sanctity.
Saints Basil the Elder and Emmelia of Caesarea were a holy Catholic couple living in fourth century Caesarea (modern Turkey); they are considered saints of the Church, and so are five of their nine children. Saint Isidore of Seville and his wife Blessed Maria de la Cabeza, on the other hand, had no children but were farmers in twelfth century Spain and who impressed their neighbors with their holy way of life. Saints Louis and Zelie Martin lived a middle-class life in nineteenth century France, and their deep faith inspired their five daughters to become nuns, one of whom became Saint Therese of Lisieux.
When Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrochi and Blessed Maria Corsini were about to marry in Italy in 1905, someone took a photograph. That picture shows a twenty-five-year-old man and nineteen-year-old woman; both look well-dressed and serious as they face their new life together. Did they have any idea what joys and sorrows they would face in their many years of married life? Of course not.
Like every couple, they entered marriage after having had some unexpected childhood experiences. Luigi was born in Catania, Italy, into a large family. When an aunt and uncle discovered that they could not have children, Luigi was “adopted” by them. While Luigi clearly didn’t come up with this unusual arrangement, he moved in with his adopted parents, grew to love them deeply, and even took their last name (Quattrochi) as his own.
Maria was born in Florence, Italy. As the daughter of a soldier, she moved many times as a child, and her family was devout but also patriotic. When one of the nuns in the Catholic school she was attending made derogatory comments about the king of Italy, her parents acted swiftly. They transferred her to a state-run school.
Their loving families certainly helped them to have successful careers: Luigi became a lawyer, and Maria became a teacher. But Luigi was not simply a lawyer. He held increasingly important positions at banks and state offices during his life, including deputy attorney general of Italy. Maria was not simply a teacher. She became a professor in the field of education and a well-known lecturer in her field.
The successes they experienced in their careers were balanced by the all-too-common difficulties associated with parenthood. By the time the couple had been married for four years, they had three children. Three children under the age of four is a challenge for any couple, even a happily married one. Five years later, Maria was pregnant again, and this time, she was diagnosed with a placenta previa pregnancy. This condition can be life-threatening even today, and it was considered a death sentence one hundred years ago. Doctors told her to abort the child and cautioned Luigi with dire predictions about how difficult it would be for him to raise three children without their mother. Luigi and Maria prayed and trusted in God; amazingly, both mother and child survived.
Perhaps that example of faith inspired their three older children to trust so deeply in God that they grew up to become, respectively, a Benedictine priest, a Benedictine nun, and a Trappist monk. Their “miracle” baby, the fourth child, lived to be ninety-eight years old and is now a candidate for canonization due to her own piety and lifelong service as a laywoman.
Luigi and Maria were not the kind of Catholic parents who were too busy with their families and careers to do much more than donate a few cans of food for the poor on occasion. They were the kind of parents who start entire volunteer organizations. They brought scouting (which was new at the time) to Italy. They founded a group to transport those who were sick to pilgrimage sites, such as Lourdes. They helped establish an association for lay Catholics, particularly in response to the dangers of the heresies known as modernism, which were spreading throughout Italy. Both were third order Franciscans.
When Fascism came to Italy, they were initially supportive because it seemed to be focused on helping those who were poor. Luigi and Maria quickly realized that this was far from the truth and became strongly anti-Fascist. During World War I, they had personally cared for the wounded. During World War II, they did something far more dangerous. Their home was located across the street from the German headquarters, and they allowed fugitives—Jewish people, political refugees, families in danger—to hide in their home. Fugitives would be fed, allowed to rest, and then disguised, sometimes as Catholic religious, and sent to an abbey. It is said that they saved 150 human lives in their own home, under the very noses of their enemies.
But the centerpiece of their family life was not service: it was their Catholic faith. They prayed a family rosary, attended daily Mass, and were regulars at Adoration. Put simply, they did all the natural things that families do, but they poured the supernatural into those things. Or as Pope Saint John Paul II said in his October 2001 homily about the holy couple, “the blessed couple lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.”
Luigi died of a heart attack after forty-six years of marriage. Maria deeply grieved his death but died peacefully fourteen years later. It is fitting that the Church now calls them Blessed Luigi and Blessed Maria. It is even more fitting that they are remembered not on the different dates they died. Instead, they are commemorated together on November 25, their wedding anniversary.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!