Marija of Jesus Crucified Petković (1892-1966)
Marija Petkovic was born on 10 December 1892 on the island of Korcula in Blato, Croatia. She was the sixth of 11 children born to Antun Petkovic-Kovac and Maria Marinovic. Her father, a very wealthy man and most generous towards the poor, was an example to Marija and all his children.
After elementary school, Marija was enrolled in 1904 in Blato's newly-opened municipal school run by the Servants of Charity, who had recently arrived from Italy. After successfully completing the three-year programme, she continued her studies at the School of Domestic Science, also directed by the Servants of Charity.
Marija's obedience and humility become evident at a young age
In 1905, when she was 13, Marija made her First Holy Communion. Before entering the church, she knelt down before her parents and asked their pardon for all her wrongdoings. Her father, moved to tears at this display of simplicity and faith, assured his daughter that she had never done anything to sadden her parents, but had always been obedient and loving. Her desire to be obedient, her love of prayer and solitude, her attention to the poor and abandoned, were all virtues that flowered in young Marija's soul and nourished her desire to give herself completely to God.
In 1906 she became involved with the "Daughters of Mary" Association, and it was at this time that she revealed to Bishop Josip Marcelic that she wanted to enter the convent. This marked the beginning of Marija's spiritual direction under the Bishop's care. On 21 November 1906, she made a private vow of chastity to the Lord, saying: "I choose You alone as my spouse, I will love only You". Marija renewed this vow every day.
From 1909 to 1919 Marija was president of the Daughters of Mary and its 300 members. She began as part of the group the "Good Shepherd" Association, composed of 20 young women who would visit the sick, prepare children for their First Communion and make spiritual reparation for sins.
In 1911 Marija's father died, leaving Marija with the responsibility of helping her mother to take care of the family and provide for the education of the other children. The outbreak of World War I a few years later also left its mark on the Croatian people, claiming many young lives, destroying the surrounding farmland, spreading disease and perpetuating social injustices. This period proved to be very influential in Marija's vocational discernment.
In 1915, under the guidance of Bishop Marcelic, she began the "Society of Catholic Mothers", and in 1917 she assumed the responsibility of guiding the Third Order Franciscans with its 200 members. That same year, she began helping the Servants of Charity in the "soup kitchen" that they directed. In 1918, in front of the citizens of Blato, Marija made the solemn promise to the Bishop to remain in Blato to help and live with the poor.
Marija enters the convent of the Servants of Charity
On 25 March 1919, Marija and her friend, Marija Telenta, entered the convent of the Servants of Charity. Two months later, however, the superior died and the other Sisters, for political reasons, returned to Italy. Marija and her companion were left to take care of the convent and direct the apostolate. Marija asked the two other Croatian Sisters that remained if they wished to stay with her in Blato or to move to another convent. Both wished to remain with Marija in Blato.
Bishop Marcelic took immediate watch over the Sisters, and wrote to them to be above all "obedient", and to "serve the children and the poor with care". He wrote to Marija that she was to be "the superior and the last among the Sisters, and if necessary, [she was to] go barefoot while the Sisters wore shoes, she hungry and the Sisters full, following the example of the Crucified Jesus". Marija also requested from him the Rule of the Third Order Franciscans.
In the winter of 1919, Marija opened three institutions in Blato: a day-recovery centre, a child-care facility and an orphanage. She understood with increasing clarity and humility that God was preparing her for still greater works.
The Congregation of the Daughters of Mercy is founded
On 25 August 1920, in Prizba-Korcula, she wrote the first Constitutions of the new order. The Bishop had decided that the community would officially be inaugurated on 4 October, Feast of St Francis. On that day, Marija took the name "Marija of the Crucified Jesus", and became foundress of the new Congregation of the Daughters of Mercy.
Notwithstanding the difficulties, including outside opposition against the Congregation, Mother Marija continued to put all of her trust in God, truly convinced that the new foundation was "His work". She was known to say: "If I had money, I would trust in money, but [without it] I trust only in God".
From 1920 to 1952, Mother Marija was elected five times as the Superior General of the Daughters of Mercy. She travelled all over Croatia, Latin America and Italy, opening 46 communities while she was alive. The growing number of Sisters served in various social ministries, such as in nursing homes, hospitals, nursery schools, parish work, and work in the seminaries.
Mother Marija died on 9 July 1956, after three years of partial paralysis caused by illness. In her spiritual testament, she left to her daughters a last recommendation: "Love infinitely the most sweet Lord Jesus Christ; do everything for Him alone and spend your life in works of mercy and of love".