Virginia Centurione was born to a noble family of Genoa. Though she was attracted to religious life, her parents arranged for her marriage to Caspar Bracelli when she was fifteen. Bracelli matched her noble lineage, but he differed from his wife in every other way. Virginia tried in vain to curb his dissolute ways, but it was an unhappy marriage. When her husband died after five years, leaving her with two daughters, Virginia refused her family’s efforts to arrange a second marriage and took a vow of celibacy.
While raising her daughters, she began to engage in the charitable work that would increasingly occupy her. This began when she rescued an abandoned girl, whom she had found lying in the street, and brought her into her own home. Eventually Virginia founded a school for orphans. When her daughters married, she devoted all her time and resources to the school and founded an order of teachers to maintain it. During an outbreak of plague, she purchased a building to house the sick, which eventually numbered as many as three hundred.
Virginia died on December 15, 1651. She was canonized in 2003.
“St. Virginia Centurione Bracelli leaves the Church the witness of a simple and active saint. Her example of courageous fidelity to the Gospel also continues to exert a powerful influence on people in our time. She used to say: when God is one’s only goal, ‘all disagreements are smoothed out, all difficulties overcome.’” —Pope John Paul II