Just a block or so from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, there live an order of nuns affectionately known as the “Baby Mary Sisters.”
The actual name of their religious order is the Sisters of Charity or, more commonly, the Sisters of Maria Bambina; and they came to mind because on September 8, we celebrated the birthday of the Virgin Mary.
When I worked with Legatus, I once needed a conference room in which to hold a meeting. The priest working with our group suggested that I contact the Baby Mary Sisters. Our plans changed, and we didn’t need the accommodations they offered; but if you are ever traveling in the Eternal City, you may want to keep that resource in mind. They also have a small business, renting rooms to pilgrims; and this inexpensive way to stay near the Vatican includes simple accommodations and two ample home-cooked meals.
The Baby Mary Sisters got their name because since the 1700s they have been caretakers of a wax statue of the Holy Child Mary (Maria Bambina). The statue was carved in 1730 by a Franciscan nun and was transferred from one religious congregation to another until it eventually came into the care of the Sisters of Charity at Lovere, Italy. In 1866, the Sisters of Charity accepted responsibility for a hospital in Milan, and in 1867, they moved the waxen image to their Motherhouse there. The wax statue was exposed for veneration each year on September 8, the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, until 1884.
Sister Josephine Woinovich, a member of the congregation, was bedridden due to paralysis and was in unbearable pain. On September 7, 1884, Sister Josephine asked the Mother General to permit the statue to remain with her overnight. The following morning, the Mother General took the Image, which after so many years was gray and worn, to the other sick Sisters in the Infirmary so that they could kiss her. There in the Infirmary a bedridden novice, Giulia Macario, caressed the doll lovingly and prayed to Mary for her recovery. At once, Giulia was miraculously cured; at the same time the statue, which had become old and gray, was itself amazingly transformed from its former gray color to warm pink flesh tones. The bright colors have remained to the present day, and the statue can be viewed in the Sanctuary of the Motherhouse in Milan.
The Sisters of Charity kept the statue in their Motherhouse for safekeeping. Many, including Sister Josephine Woinovich, were healed through Mary’s intercession. For this reason, the Sisters of Charity came to be popularly known as the Baby Mary Sisters.