Magdalene of Canossa was born in 1774, the second child of a noble family from Verona, the Marquis Octavius Canossa and Countess Maria Terese Szluha.
During her early childhood, Magdalene experienced deep suffering. At the age of five, her father died in a geological expedition and her mother remarried and left the Canossa Palace and her children behind to be raised by an uncle when Magdalen was just seven years old.
Magdalene was 15 years old when the French revolution broke out and shook the whole of Europe. In Verona the real consequences were felt about seven years later, when, on June 10, 1796, General Napoleon entered the city as a conqueror. The following year Napoleon was a guest at Canossa Palace and Magdalene, being the lady of the house, had to do the honors to the General.
At the age of seventeen, she planned to consecrate her life to God and twice entered Carmel. However, the Holy Spirit urged her to follow a new path. After the upheaval of the French Revolution, Magdalene of Canossa, among the most influential women of her time, experienced a spiritual rebirth. In addition to helping the wounded and the sick, she gave special attention to girls living in poverty and those who had been abandoned.
Magdalene’s growing years were marked by suffering and trials. She lived in a society of contrasts between the very rich and those living extreme poverty. The society she grew up in was forgetful of God and dominated by pride and privileges.
It was in this environment that Magdalene discovered deep within herself the desire to share the life of Christ in the salvation of many who had been abandoned in their poverty, exploited by the egoism of the rich and oppressed by the evils of her day. Magdalene began to give of herself without reserve to children, youth and women who had to reckon with economic as well as moral, spiritual, intellectual and family poverty.
In 1808, Magdalene left the Canossa Palace indefinitely and with some companions established herself in the poverty-stricken district of San Zeno. This small group of women would become the contemplatives not of the cloister but on the street. Magdalen called her companions “Daughters of Charity” because their task was to reveal God’s love to humanity.
Magdalene died in her native city on 10 April 1835, was beatified on 8 December 1941, and was canonised by Pope John Paul II on 2 October 1988.
Today the Daughters of Charity living the spirit of Magdalene are present in 35 countries around the world and the “Canossian family” includes priests and brothers and a Third Order for lay people.