HOST: On today’s program, we present the first of a two-part series on a remarkable inediate, Maria Domenica Lazzeri. Formally recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, Maria Domenica Lazzeri is also known as “Blessed Meneghina,” a Servant of God. Born in Capriana, Italy on March 16, 1815, Maria Domenica was the youngest of five children of Margaret and Bortolo Lazzeri. With her father earning a steady income as a miller and a harmonious home life, Maria enjoyed a peaceful childhood and received a good education at a local school. Maria was a very thoughtful young girl, with a strong desire to serve others. She devoted her time either to praying, assisting those in need, or working to help her family. When several epidemics spread throughout Italy, she supported neighbors and people in nearby communities, often by caring for their children when they were ill.
During her early teens, Maria Domenica became interested in learning about the lives of saints. She immersed herself in reading whatever she could find about them, particularly about the teachings of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. However, her favorite texts were about Lord Jesus, and she would read over and over again the scriptures about his last days on Earth. Just before her 14th birthday, Maria Domenica’s comfortable life and surroundings suddenly changed. Her father unexpectedly become ill with pneumonia and quickly passed away. Maria felt such a deep connection with her father that, upon his death, her own health declined and her physical body slowly weakened. Her symptoms were mysterious and the doctors were unable to diagnose the cause of her suffering. Maria Domenica discovered that her only comforts were her faith and her service to others, and, although very frail herself, she continued helping others whenever she could.
When Maria was 17, an influenza epidemic known as the grippe swept through the entire region where she lived. For the next two years, Maria cared tirelessly for the stricken families in her community. In 1833, when Maria was 18, her mother contracted influenza and was ill for one week. On on the feast day of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, Maria also fell critically ill. Enduring extreme pain, her hands and feet became paralyzed, making her incapable of getting out of bed. Initially, her physician, Dr. Leonardo Cloch of the Trento Military Civic Hospital, thought that Maria had contracted the flu like her mother, but her condition was different from a temporary illness. Throughout the following year, Maria Domenica’s inexplicable symptoms became worse until she became completely bedridden. During this time, Maria Domenica grew less attached to foods and liquids. Her hunger decreased and her dietary intake eventually declined until she no longer sought foods and liquids as a means to sustain her life.