Life could not have been more tragic for today’s saint.

Born in Pescara, Italy, to Domenico and Rosa Sulprizio, Nunzio lost his father in 1820, when the boy was 3 years old. His infant sister died just five months after their father. Faced with the prospect of abject poverty while trying to provide for Nunzio, Rosa Sulprizio was married again in 1822 to a significantly older man. He detested young Nunzio and treated him harshly and with contempt. Nunzio attended a school run by a local priest, and, along with learning the ordinary subjects of reading and writing, he developed a love for the Mass and stories about the lives of the saints.

A year later, his mother died and Nunzio was sent to live with his maternal grandmother, who, although uneducated, encouraged his developing Catholic faith and piety. She cared for him with great affection and continued bringing him to Mass. When his grandmother died in 1826. Nunzio was then taken in by his uncle Domenico, a blacksmith, who put the boy to work, often beating, berating, and sometimes starving the child. Because of his ill treatment, Nunzio was often sick but got no sympathy from his uncle.

One morning, Nunzio fell ill with a swollen leg and could no longer stand. He was hospitalized in L’Aquila for four months with gangrene in his leg. Biographers have noted that Nunzio suffered his affliction with incredible patience and acceptance. He saw his suffering as an opportunity to draw closer to Christ. When released, he would ease the pain in the seeping wounds of his leg by bathing it in a stream while reciting the Rosary.

Nunzio finally found some compassion in his paternal uncle Francesco, a soldier and his friend Colonel Felice Wochinger who was able to introduce the boy to St. Gaetano Enrico, the founder of the religious order Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Naples. He promised young Nunzio a place in the order.

Despite some signs of progress, Nunzio was admitted to Naples’ famous “Hospital for the Incurables” for therapy and care. Nunzio would visit other young patients, comforting and teaching them prayers and catechism. Barely 15, the required age for First Holy Communion, Nunzio prepared for and received his First Eucharist.

Signs of Nunzio’s recovery came and went until it was decided by doctors in 1835 that his left leg, now septic, had to be amputated. It is said that, despite his physical hardship, struggles and pain, Nunzio never lost his pleasant disposition and spiritual devotion.

Resigned to his steadily deteriorating condition, Nunzio developed regular fevers, and, in March 1836, he requested the last Sacraments of the Church. Less than two months later, on May 5, 1836, Nunzio requested a crucifix to hold and died at the age of 19 with prayer on his lips. During the five days of his funeral, it has been reported that “the smell of roses” surrounded his body. He was buried in the Church of San Domenico Soriano in Naples.

Seven years after his death, efforts to have him canonized began and Pope Pius IX initiated his cause for sainthood. He was declared “venerable” for a “life of heroic virtue” and a patron of workers and blacksmiths and the disabled by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Pope Paul VI beatified Nunzio at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Dec. 1, 1963, during the Second Vatican Council, the fifth such beatification over which he presided in his first year as pope.

St. Nunzio Sulprizio has been described by contemporary bloggers as “a poor kid who could never catch a break.” His fewer than two decades of a life of tragedy and suffering certainly bear witness to that reference. He died in faith and is a model of care for others, even when he was suffering terribly.

Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio: ‘A Poor Kid Who Couldn’t Catch a Break.’ (2018, September 20). Diocese of Trenton.