Josephine was born in the Darfur region of southern Sudan. At age 7, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery and given the name Bakhita, which means fortunate. In truth, her life was anything but that.
Through a combination of branding and tattooing, Josephine suffered the traditional Sudanese practice where a pattern was cut into her skin with a razor. To ensure scarification, salt was poured into the open wounds. When it was finished, 140 intricate patterns were carved into her breast, torso and arm. She also faced countless beatings and lashings from a revolving door of owners as well as a forced conversion to Islam. She was resold several times, finally in 1883 to Callisto Legnani, Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan.
Two years later, he took Josephine to Italy and gave her to his friend Augusto Michieli. Bakhita became baby-sitter to Mimmina Michieli, whom she accompanied to Venice’s Institute of the Catechumens, run by the Canossian Sisters.
While Mimmina was being instructed, Josephine felt drawn to the Catholic Church. She was baptized and confirmed in 1890, taking the name Josephine.
When the Michielis returned from Africa and wanted to take Mimmina and Josephine back with them, the future saint refused to go. During the ensuing court case, the Canossian Sisters and the patriarch of Venice intervened on Josephine’s behalf. The judge concluded that since slavery was illegal in Italy, she had actually been free since 1885.
Josephine entered the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa in 1893 and made her profession three years later. In 1902, she was transferred to the city of Schio (northeast of Verona), where she assisted her religious community through cooking, sewing, embroidery, and welcoming visitors at the door. She soon became well loved by the children attending the sisters’ school and the local citizens. She once said, “Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!”
The first steps toward her beatification began in 1959. She was beatified in 1992 and canonized eight years later.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: St. Josephine Bakhita—A Model of Faith | Franciscan Media. (n.d.). Franciscan Media. Retrieved Feb. 3, 2021, from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/st-anthony-messenger/february-2018/st-josephine-bakhita-a-model-of-faith