Some months we have to scramble to find movies about the saints of the Church. April is not one of them, because there are numerous feast days in this spring month.
Bernadette of Lourdes is celebrated on April 16. Bernadette was the young French peasant girl who was privileged to see Our Lady eighteen times over the course of five months in 1858. Because she was poor and uneducated, she suffered much abuse at the hands of others who thought she was making up her stories of the visions. At the age of 22, eleven years after the first vision, she was allowed to enter a convent of sisters at Nevers who served the poor and homeless. She died at the young age of 35. She is the patroness of Lourdes, of sick people, shepherds and people ridiculed for their piety. Movies about Bernadette include Bernadette, Her Vision Became a Legend which was created by a noted French filmmaker and which is shown daily at Lourdes. The Passion of Bernadette takes up where the previous movie left off, after Bernadette entered a convent. It stars the same young actress, Sydney Penny, and shows how she lived a life of sanctity, even in very difficult circumstances.
The classic black-and-white film, the Song of Bernadette, starring Jennifer Jones, is still available and worth watching. For younger children Bernadette, the Princess of Lourdes is a good introduction to this ever popular saint.
St. Gianna Molla was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2004, and her feast is celebrated on April 28. Gianna Molla is truly a saint for our times. Born in 1922, she was a brilliant woman who was a faithful wife and loving mother, as well as a physician and a surgeon. She used her medical knowledge to take care of women and children, as well as the poor. She was athletic, being an enthusiastic skier. When she was pregnant with her fourth child, the doctors discovered a large cyst on her ovary and recommended an abortion to save her life. She refused the abortion and died a week of her delivery of a little girl. Though her life was short, just 40 years, she lived it to the fullest and her husband and children were present at her canonization. Her story is documented in Love is a Choice.
Another female saint celebrated this month is Catherine of Siena who lived in the 1300s and was the 23rd of 25 children born to her parents. Catherine was a mystic who at a very young age knew she would dedicate her life to God and forego marriage. While still a teenager she became a Dominican tertiary, and wore the Dominican habit and at 19 had a vision of mystical marriage with Christ. She tended the sick and poor in hospitals and then received a calling to work in the world. Though illiterate, Catherine was intellectually gifted and astute about the political and ecclesial controversies which abounded in her day. She dictated letters to powerful people in secular society and launched an effort to reform the clergy. She communicated with Pope Gregory XI whose papacy had moved to Avignon, begging him to return to Rome where he belonged. He finally moved back. She then served in the court of Pope Urban VI. Catherine died at the age of 33 and was canonized in 1461. She was named the first female Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. She is the patroness of firefighters, Italy and nurses, and against bodily injury and sexual temptation. EWTN has a 6 hour view of the life of St. Catherine in Catherine of Siena, Reforms of a Mystic.
A less well-known saint for April is the Italian Joseph Benedict Cottolengo who lived in the 1800s and whose feast day is April 30. Joseph was a priest who didn’t realize his true calling until passing the night at the bedside of a poor sick woman in labor who was refused medical help for lack of funds. He gave her the last rights and then baptized her infant, after which both of them died. That moment was pivotal in his vocation, and he opened a hospice for the sick and dying poor which was known as the Little House of Divine Providence. That house grew to include numerous facilities and still operates, serving 8000 people daily. The story of this unlikely saint is beautifully told in Cottolengo.