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February 26, Blessed Antonia of Florence

Blessed Antonia of Florence was born of a noble family at Florence, Italy, in 1401. She entered the married state at a very early age, in compliance with the wish of her parents. When her husband died in 1428, she allowed nothing to induce her to contract a second marriage, but resolved to withdraw from the world and live only for God and the salvation of her soul.

In the following year she entered the convent of Tertiaries which Blessed Angelina had recently founded at Florence. Here she so distinguished herself by virtue and wisdom, that after a few years the superiors called her to Foligno to preside as superior of the convent there.

Although in her humility she found it difficult to accept the advancement, she was happy to carry out the appointment under the guidance of Blessed Angelina, who, as superior general of the several convents she had founded, dwelt at Foligno. Antonia so availed herself of the opportunity to profit by the holy example and the good counsel of the foundress, that she could be held up as a model superior.

In consequence, after a few years, Blessed Antonia of Florence was sent to establish a convent in Aquila. There, under her maternal direction, a veritable sanctuary of holiness budded forth, the fame of which brought joy to that city and the entire vicinity.

Although the religious community zealously served God according to the rule of the Third Order, it did not satisfy Blessed Antonia in her yearning for personal perfection. She felt strongly drawn to a stricter life, to more perfect poverty, and to more complete renunciation of the world, as practiced in the Order of St Clare.

At a visitation she communicated her desire to her spiritual director, St John Capistran. He approved it, and at his suggestion and with the sanction of the Holy Father, a new convent of the Poor Clares was founded at Aquila, which Antonia with twelve consecrated virgins entered in 1447. She was appointed superior and abbess; but, while she occupied the highest place, she always strove to find the last. The lowliest tasks, worn clothes, the most disagreeable occupations she assigned to herself, while she shunned all honor and distinction. In all she did and said there shone forth the most sincere humility.

Just as pronounced was the patience with which she bore the burdens of her position, the weakness of all her subjects, the many importunities of her relatives, and finally the sufferings of a lingering illness.

While she was extraordinarily severe with herself, she possessed truly motherly concern for her sisters. They in turn clung to her with filial love, and when after seven years of administration she was relieved of the burden, she was still considered by the sisters as their mother and model.

God distinguished His faithful servant with special graces. Her prayer amounted to perfect contemplation of heavenly things, the ardor of her devotion sometimes causing her to be raised aloft bodily. Once a glowing sphere was seen suspended over her head.

Blessed Antonia of Florence reached the age of seventy-one years, and died on February 18, 1472, addressing words of comfort and holy exhortation to her sorrowing fellow sisters about her.

Numerous miracles occurred at her grave, and her body is a constant miracle, for, up to the present time it is preserved wholly incorrupt and is of an extraordinary freshness which is emphasized by the open eyes. The uninterrupted veneration which began with the day of her death received the sanction of Pope Pius IX.

The Franciscan Book of Saints, Marion Habig

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