Maria Cristina Brando (1856-1906)
Mother Maria Cristina Brando was born in Naples on May 1, 1856 of wealthy parents, Giovanni Giuseppe and Maria Concetta Marrazzo. Her mother died several days after the birth of the Servant of God.
Possessing a gentle and docile nature, she received a fruitful and sound religious education within her family and, early on, showed clear signs of an inclination toward prayer and celibacy.
Attracted by the things of God, she fled from worldly vanities, and in addition to a love for solitude, she frequently celebrated the sacrament of the Penance and was a daily communicant. She heeded the teaching of our Savior (cf. Mt 5, 48), and was accustomed to say repeatedly: “I must become holy; I want to be a saint.” Approximately at the age of twelve, before an image the Child Jesus, she professed a vow of perpetual chastity.
When she perceived that she had a vocation to religious life, she tried to enter the Monastery of the Sacramentine Nuns in Naples, but she prevented from doing so by her father. However she did obtain his consent to be received as a candidate for the Poor Clare Nuns at their Monastery of the Fiorentine. Nevertheless, because of illness she was prevented twice from entering and was forced to return her family for medical care. Following her recuperation, she received permission to enter the Monastery of the Sacramentine Nuns. In 1876 she was vested in the religious habit and took the name of Sister Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception. Here, too, she became ill and was forced to abandon the venture that she had undertaken with such great fervor.
At this point she understood that the moment had arrived for her to dedicate her life to an Institute to which she had always felt a calling. Therefore in 1878, while renting a room with the Teresiane Sisters of Torre del Greco, she laid the foundation for a new religious family that currently bears the name: the Congregation of the Sisters, Expiatory Victims of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The new congregation grew quickly despite economic constraints and other obstacles, as well as the unstable health of the foundress herself.
After residing in various places, the community, with the guidance of the Servant of God, Michelangelo of Marigliano and of Blessed Ludovico of Casoria, settled in Casoria, not far from Naples. The new Institute encountered numerous difficult situations, but in many ways it also experienced divine Providence and it enjoyed the help of many benefactors and clergy, most especially the priest, Domenico Maglione. The Institute grew with members and new houses and demonstrated great devotion to the Eucharist and diligent care for the education of young boys and girls.
In 1897 the Servant of God professed temporary vows, and on July 20, 1903 the Congregation received canonical approbation from the Holy See. On November 2 of the same year, the Foundress, together with many of her Sisters, professed perpetual vows.
She lived her consecration with generosity, with perseverance and with spiritual joy. She held the office of superior general with humility, prudence and amiability, giving her sisters continual examples of fidelity to God and to one's vocation and of zeal for the growth of the kingdom of God.
She walked the path of holiness with exactitude and generosity, and with the help of God's grace, she continually progressed in imitation of the Lord, in obedience to the Gospel and in Christian perfection.
The Servant of God entered eternal life on January 20, 1906, to which, even as a young child, she had always aspired, and for which she had prepared herself so diligently.
The life of Mother Maria Cristina was always characterized by a faith that was simple, consistent and lively, and which was nourished by listening to the word of God, by fruitful celebration of the sacraments, by assiduous contemplation of the eternal truths and by fervent prayer. She particularly cultivated devotion to the Incarnation, to the Passion and Death of Christ and to the Eucharist. In order to be nearer in spirit and in body to the tabernacle, she built a cell adjacent to the church, which she called the ‘grotticella' (the little grotto) recalling the crèche of the Nativity. It was a source of edification for everyone in Casoria. Here she spent every night of her life, seated in a chair, so as to accompany Jesus in the Eucharist, while awake and while resting.
Her spirituality of expiation was so strong, that it became the charism of the Institute. In fact, among the remaining fragments of her autobiography, written in obedience to her spiritual director, we read: “the principal purpose of this work is reparation for the offenses that are received by the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, especially so many acts of irreverence and carelessness, sacrilegious communions, and sacraments poorly celebrated, Holy Masses assisted at inattentively and, that which bitterly pierces that Sacred Heart, that so many of his ministers and so many souls that are consecrated to him, align themselves with these ignorant people and thus pierce his heart even more. (...) To the Perpetual Adorers the divine Heart of Jesus wants to entrust the sweet and sublime office of Victims of perpetual adoration and reparation to his Divine Heart, so horribly offended and affronted in the Blessed Sacrament of love. (...) To the Perpetual Adorers, in the active and contemplative lifestyle, (...) the Sacred Heart of Jesus entrusts the sweet office of Victims of Charity and of reparation; of charity because they are entrusted with the care of children.”
In light of this second dimension, various works would be established: collegiate schools for girls, secondary schools for girls, orphanages, boarding and day schools: all for reparation. In fact, bringing the knowledge of the love of God wherever it is not known, makes Him become loved, and in doing so, helps other to avoid those offenses that Mother Cristina lived to expiate.
This becomes very clear in the two elements which summarize the charism that Mother Brando imparted to her Sisters, Expiatory Victims: the love of God and the love of neighbor, which Blessed Maria Cristina defined as “two branches that originate from the same trunk.”