Agostina Livia Pietrantoni (1864-1894)
"Once there was, and there still is, but with a new face now, a village named Pozzaglia. In the Sabina hills... and there was a blessed house, a cosy little nest filled with childrens' voices, amongst which that of Olivia who was later called Livia and was to take the name of Agostina in the religious life."
The very short life of Sister Agostina, which inspired Paul VI, the Pope who beatified her, to relate it in extraordinarily poetical terms, began and unfolded itself: "simple, transparent, pure, loving...but ended sorrowfully and tragically... or rather symbolically."
27th March 1864. Livia was born and baptized in the little village of Pozzaglia Sabina, at an altitude of 800 meters in the beautiful area which is bordered geographically by Rieti, Orvinio, Tivoli. She was the second of 11 children! Her parents, Francesco Pietrantoni and Caterina Costantini, were farmers and worked their small plot of land along with a few added plots which they leased. Livia's childhood and youth were imbued with the values of an honest, hard-working and religious family, in the blessed house in which "all were careful to do good and where they often prayed". This period was marked especially by the wisdom of Uncle Domenico who was a real patriarch.
At the age of 4 Livia received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and around 1876 she received her first Holy Communion, certainly with an extraordinary awareness, judging by the life of prayer, generosity and sacrifice which followed it. Very early on, in the large family in which everyone seemed to be a beneficiary to her time and help, she learned from her mother Caterina the thoughtfulness and maternal gestures which she showed with such gentleness towards her many younger brothers and sisters. She worked in the fields and looked after the animals... Therefore, she barely experienced childrens' games... or school which she attended very irregularly, but from which she drew great benefit to the point of earning the title of "teacher" from her classmates.
Work and... pride
At the age of 7, along with other children, she began "to work", transporting by the thousand, sacks of stones and sand for constructing the road from Orvinio to Poggio Moiano. At the age of 12 she left with other young "seasonal workers" who were going to Tivoli during the winter months for the olive harvest. Precociously wise, Livia took on the moral and religious responsibility for her young companions. She supported them in this tough work far from their families, and proudly and courageously stood up to the arrogant and unscrupulous "bosses."
Vocation and detachment
Through her wisdom, her respect for others, her generosity, her beauty, Livia was a young attractive woman... and several young men in the village had their eyes on her. Their admiring looks did not escape mother Caterina's notice and she dreamed of marrying her daughter well. Yet what did Livia think? What was the secret of her heart? Why did she not make a choice? Why did she not make up her mind? "Malle daring by the voice which spoke to her inwardly, the voice of her vocation, she surrendered; it was Christ who would be her Beloved, Christ, her Spouse." To these in her family or in the village who attempted to dissuade her by saying she was running away from hard work, Livia replied: "I wish to choose a Congregation in which there is work both day and night." Everyone was certain that these words were genuine. A first trip to Rome in the company of her Uncle Fra Matteo ended in bitter disillusionment; they refused to accept her. However, a few months later, the Mother General of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne-Antide Thouret, let her know that she was expecting her at the Generalate. Livia understood that this time she was saying farewell for ever. With emotion she took leave of the village people, all the loved corners of her land, her favourite prayer places, the parish and the Virgin of Rifolta; she kissed her parents goodbye, received on her knees the blessing of Uncle Domenico, "kissed the door of her house, traced the sign of the cross on it and left hurriedly..."
Formation and mission
23rd March 1886. Livia was 22 when she arrived in Rome at Via S. Maria in Cosmedin. A few months as a postulant and novice were enough to prove that the young girl had the makings of a Sister of Charity, that is of a "servant of the poor", in the tradition of Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Jeanne-Antide. Indeed, Livia brought to the Convent a particularly solid human potential inherited from her family which guaranteed its success. When she received the religious habit and was given the name of Sister Agostina, she had the premonition that it fell to her to become the saint bearing this name. For Indeed she had not heard of any Saint Agostina!
Sister Agostina was sent to the Hospital of Santo Spirito where 700 years of glorious history had led it to be called "the school of Christian charity." In the wake of the saints who had preceded her, amongst whom were Charles Borromeo, Joseph Casalanz, John Bosco, Camillus de Lellis, Sister Agostina made her personal contribution and in this place of suffering gave expression to charity to the point of heroism.
Silence, prayer and goodness
The atmosphere in the hospital was hostile to religion. The Roman question poisoned peoples' minds. The Capuchin fathers were driven out, the Crucifix and all other religious signs were forbidden. The hospital even wanted to send the sisters away but was afraid of becoming unpopular. Instead their lives were made "impossible" and they were forbidden to speak of God.
But Sister Agostina did not need her mouth in order to "cry out for God" and no gag was able to prevent her life from proclaiming the Gospel! First in the childrens' ward and later in the tuberculosis ward, a place of despair and death, where she caught the mortal contagion of which she was miraculously healed, she showed a total dedication and an extraordinary concern for each sick person, above all for the most difficult, violent and obscene ones like "Romanelli."
In secret, in a small hidden corner she had found for herself to reside, in the hospital, Sister Agostina commended them all to the Virgin and promised her many more vigils and greater sacrifices in order to obtain the grace of the conversion of the most stubborn ones. How many times she offered Joseph Romanelli to Our Lady! He was the worst of them all, the most vulgar and insolent, especially towards Sister Agostina, who was more and more attentive towards him and welcomed his blind mother with great kindness when she carne to visit him. He was capable of anything and everyone had had enough of him. When, after the umpteenth provocation at the expense of the women working in the laundry, the Director expelled him, from the hospital, he sought a target for his fury and poor Agostina was the victim he picked. 'I will kill you with my own hands." "Sister Agostina, you only Nave a month to 1ive!," were the threats which he had sent to her several times in little notes.
Romanelli was not joking, in fact, and Sister Agostina put no limits either on
her generosity for the Lord... She was prepared to pay the price of love with
her own life, without fleeing or placing any blame. ...When Romanelli caught her
unawares and struck her before she could escape, that 13th November 1894, her
lips uttered nothing but invocations to the Virgin Mary and words of forgiveness.