Throughout the chaotic turmoil of the 1848 war in Brescia, Italy, the military hospital was a sanctuary of dread and hope. As soldiers pounded on the barricaded door, hearts throbbed with fear. Inside, the wounded and sick, along with their caregivers, anticipated the worst.

The aggressors outside were soldiers driven not by orders, but by a wild urge to ravage and loot. Defense seemed impossible. The hospital’s only protectors were the Handmaids of Charity, selfless nuns devoted to aiding the ailing.

The hospital’s staff, preferring secular and military medics, had initially opposed the nuns’ presence. Now, as danger loomed, they viewed them as even more powerless. Yet, in this dire moment, Paula di Rosa, known simply as Paula, courageously moved to open the door.

Confronted by Paula wielding a large crucifix and flanked by six sisters each holding candles, the soldiers’ destructive frenzy dissipated. Overwhelmed by this bold display of faith and bravery, they retreated into the night.

Paula di Rosa’s life was a testament to fearless service to God, embracing every challenge with uncertainty but unwavering faith. Her delicate appearance belied her immense courage, energy, intelligence, and an insatiable desire to serve.

Born in 1813, Paula embarked on ambitious endeavors from the age of seventeen, organizing retreats and forming a women’s guild. At twenty-four, she took charge of a workhouse for impoverished girls. Concerned about their safety at night, she left her position when the trustees denied her request for a boardinghouse. Unwavering in her principles, she established the boardinghouse independently while aiding her brother in running a school for the deaf.

At twenty-seven, Paula’s journey led her to lead the Handmaids of Charity, dedicated to serving the sick in hospitals. With Gabriela Bornati and Monsignor Pinzoni, she earned respect, transforming their perceived image from intruders to invaluable helpers.

However, 1848 brought personal loss and chaos. The deaths of Gabriela and Monsignor Pinzoni, coupled with the European war and invasion of her homeland, would have overwhelmed many. But Paula, ever resilient, saw an opportunity for compassion. She and her sisters provided spiritual and physical aid in military hospitals and on battlefields.

Paula di Rosa passed away in 1855, fearlessly embracing her final journey, rejoicing in her eternal union with God. Her legacy of bravery, service, and faith continues to inspire, exemplifying the power of unwavering commitment to helping others amidst adversity.

Photo credit: Moroder via Wikimedia Commons

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