On Easter Sunday, the 22nd of April 1590, being raised out of her senses, [Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi] understood it to be the will of God that she should undertake a new Lent of rigid penance, to last until the next Pentecost, when the combat would cease.
Besides many mortifications, spiritual exercises, and other penances which she ordinarily practiced, not a day of these fifty passed without her cruelly scourging her flesh with an iron discipline, keeping before her a human skull, a cross, and a clepsydra [water clock] indicating the half-hour, which she would very often overstep, and some times even double in scourging herself.
Having reached through such austerity, the 9th of June, the eve of Pentecost [… the prioress] called her during that time, ordering her to present herself to her. At the voice of the mother, quickly returning to her senses, with deep humility she knelt at her feet, and, in obedience, related all she had understood. […] Here her interview with the mother prioress ended.
When the evening came, she quickly hid herself in her little room, where, instead of taking rest, she passed the night in prayer till the sign of matin, at which, going to the choir, she recited there the divine office with the other sisters, till the Te Deum.
This being commenced, she was rapt in ecstasy, and the Lord, by means of St. Angelus the Carmelite, revealed to her that He would keep her in the state of grace and strengthen the powers of her soul and the senses of her body so that she might use them only in honor of God and in the service of her neighbor.
She then saw in her imagination, and even somewhat sensibly, that the above Saint first anointed her eyes, and then her ears, mouth, hands, and feet, and afterward purified and strengthened her soul with the blood of Jesus, for which she said: “Lavit animam meam in sanguine Sponsi mei” [“He has washed my soul in the blood of my Spouse”].
From this vision, she drew great strength and much knowledge. God granted her particularly this most remarkable grace—for which she so ardently wished—that in the future she would consider every person as just and holy; and never would she judge them otherwise, no matter what fault she might perceive in them.
If the sin were so manifest as to admit of no doubt, she would have the grace of excusing the intention; and if the very intention appeared evidently bad, she would blame the violence of the malign tempter for it, whose snares no mortal can wholly escape.
“If anyone,” she said during the same rapture, “shall come to tell me of any fault of my neighbor, I, my Lord, will not listen, but will tell her decidedly that she should pray for her neighbor and myself, that I may correct myself first; and of the faulty deeds witnessed by me, rather than speak to others, I will advise the delinquent herself; as, otherwise, instead of remedying the faults, many more are committed, and sometimes greater ones than those of which we speak.”
Her spirit of charity made her earnestly express the desire for the salvation of all souls, including those of heretics and infidels, and that all creatures would love one another.
The Rev. Father Placido Fabrini
Chapter XVIII, the grace of Easter 1590
Father Placido Fabrini was a Catholic publisher active in Florence, Italy in the mid-nineteenth century. He is best known for compiling a biography of St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, which he published in 1852. His biography appeared in two translations. Pélagaud published the French translation in Lyon in 1879 and Father Antonio Isoleri’s English translation was published in Philadelphia in 1900, although the publisher’s name cannot easily be identified.
Father Antonio Isoleri (1845–1932) has his own fascinating story linking him to Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi. Father Isoleri was an Apostolic Missionary from Italy who served as rector from 1870 to 1926 of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Catholic Church at 712 Montrose Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
St. John Neumann founded St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church in 1852 as the first national parish for Italian immigrants in the United States. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania indicates that the parish was a place where they could gather as a spiritual community to celebrate liturgies in Latin and Italian, thereby receiving pastoral care in Italian while integrating into Philadelphia’s culture, which was predominantly Irish-American.
At the time of Father Isoleri’s translation, however, Archbishop P. J. Ryan saw a need to provide for the growing Italian population of Philadelphia. He created a second national parish for Italian immigrants; Our Lady of Good Counsel Church was established in 1898 and was entrusted to the care of the Augustinian friars. Eventually, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would establish 23 Italian national parishes within its boundaries.
Today, despite the urban decline and changing neighborhoods, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church still stands. St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi merged with St. Paul parish in 2000 and became a worship site, offering one Mass on Sunday morning. The 170 years of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi records are kept at St. Paul parish and the archdiocese is committed to maintaining the historic church structure in South Philadelphia.
If you would like to read more about Father Antonio Isoleri, we recommend Priest, Parish, and People: Saving the Faith in Philadelphia’s “Little Italy” by Richard N. Juliani, the retired Villanova University professor who undoubtedly knows more about Father Isoleri than anyone else today. “In the early 1980s, Dr. Juliani received from Rev. Alfred M. Natali, O.S.A., a crate full of Isoleri’s personal papers, almost 30,000 pages, written in both Italian and English, which became a basic source for Dr. Juliani’s subsequent research,” writes David Burke of Villanova.
In his review of Dr. Juliani’s book, Joseph J. Casino wrote that Father Isoleri “could be ‘arbitrary, inconsistent, and imperious,’ to the extent that he stirred the anger of anticlerical Italian Socialists and Anarchists, who may have even plotted his assassination, but also drove nuns and fellow priests to contemplate doing him grievous harm.”
Google maps have interesting images of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi church as it appears today, and there are many historic images in various archives. One historic image is shared by Jim Capaldi from Philadelphia, who attended St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi parish and school as a child. As we recall the birth of the Saint on 2 April 1566, may she intercede for the generations of Italian immigrants and their descendants who called her little Philadelphia parish their home.
Fabrini, P. & De’ Pazzi, M.M. 1900, The life of St. Mary Magdalen De-Pazzi: Florentine noble, sacred Carmelite virgin, translated from the Italian by Isoleri A., [publisher not identified] Philadelphia.
Featured image: In 1994, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission erected a historical marker at 714 Montrose Street to recognize the historical significance of St. Mary Magdalen De Pazzi Parish. “Founded in 1852 as the first Italian national parish in the U.S. by St. John N. Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia. New churches were dedicated here, 1854 & 1891. The Delaware Valley’s largest Italian community became centered in this neighborhood.” Our image is a detail of the original, which you can view on Wikimedia Commons. Photo credit: Nick-philly / Wikimedia Commons (Some rights reserved)