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Saint Hyacintha Marescotti

The following story appeared in the January 27 Idaho Catholic Register.

By Emily Woodham

Staff Writer

Saint Hyacintha (in Italian, “Giacinta”) Marescotti (some spell this, “Mariscotti”) is among the Counter-Reformation saints, despite the fact that she was not a theologian or an academic. She was born 22 years after the final session of the Council of Trent, which implemented the reforms for the Church’s response to the heresies and challenges of the Protestant Reformation.

The devotion to Eucharistic Adoration made popular by St. Philip Neri and St. Francis de Sales became a hallmark of her ministry. Pope Benedict XVI said her encouragement of Eucharistic Adoration “gave life to institutions and projects for prisoners and social outcasts.”

She was born to a noble family on March 6, 1585 and baptized Clarice at a castle at Vignanello, Italy, near the city of Viterbo. She was the second of three daughters and the most free-spirited. Although she seemed to have a love for Jesus and the Church when she was a young child, as she grew older, she became more and more self-indulgent.

Her parents sent her and her sisters to a convent for their education. Clarice muddled through the convent training, obeying the rules outwardly, but her longing was go to go back to life at court. It was recorded that when she was 17 her life was miraculously spared in an accident. Despite this providential intervention, Clarice preferred to live life with nominal faith. How-ever, her older sister decided to become a nun.

When she was 20, she became infatuated with a handsome young nobleman. He had great wealth and influence; whoever married him would be guaranteed an opulent life. However, he did not want to marry Clarice. Instead, he fell in love with Clarice’s younger sister.

When her younger sister married the nobleman, Clarice was furious. She became petulant, moody, demanding and impossible to live with. Her parents decided to place her in a Franciscan convent, but as a Third Order layperson, not a Religious Sister. Clarice escaped back to her home, begging to stay. Seeing that she had no change of heart, her father took her back. However, he gave her a generous allowance and showered her with gifts to encourage her to stay at the convent.

For at least 10 years, Clarice (who, at her tertiary vows took the name “Hyacintha,” most likely after St. Hyacinth of Poland) lived as a noble-woman among the religious. Her quarters were two large rooms, comfortably furnished and suitable for entertaining guests. Without seeking permission, she visited friends. A servant brought her food to supplement the strict Franciscan diet so that she would not be hungry and could enjoy the delicacies made for nobility. Her only acts of obedience were to pray and eat with the community when she was at the convent.

When her Confessor, taking Communion to her on a day that she was mildly ill, saw the luxurious state of her quarters and all the food she kept stored, he told her she needed to repent and that her disobedient presence at the convent was helping only the devil. Clarice agreed to repent, but grudgingly.

Not keeping to her word to obey the Franciscan Rule, Sister Hyacintha soon became gravely ill. During her suffering, she had a true conversion of heart. She begged St. Catherine of Siena to help her be holy. After a thorough Confession, she professed her sins to the other Sisters.

After that, Sister Hyacintha committed herself to living a holy life of service. Her love of Jesus in the Eucharist fueled her passion to love others and help the sick, the incarcerated, the poor and the outcasts. Through her encouragement, devotion to Eucharistic Adoration spread, especially in the practice of “40 Hours Devotion,” which is perpetual Adoration for 40 hours, usually celebrated before the start of Ash Wednesday, but can be celebrated at any time as a part of spiritual revival.

During a plague outbreak, she courageously tended to the sick. She also created charitable groups (“confraternities”) for laity. Members of these groups were officially called, “Oblates of Mary,” but the townsfolk called them “Sacconi,” for the large sacks they used to collect funds and items for prisoners and the poor.

She died at 54, on Jan. 30, 1640. Locally, she was known as a saint, but she was not canonized until 1807. At her canonization, it was said that more souls were converted by her than many of the popular preachers of her time.

She has no official patronage.

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