Saint Josephine Bakhita: From Slave to Saint

By Monique Sammut | February 8, 2018
A Rough Start

Saint Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan, Africa around1869.  Her early childhood was a happy one.  However, when she was seven, she was kidnapped by slave traders!  From then on she was called Bakhita, meaning “lucky.”  She was sold many times during the next twelve years.  Some of her masters were nice but some were very cruel.

Free at Last

One of her mistresses had to travel to Sudan but she decided not to take Bakhita with her, leaving her with the Canossian Sisters in Venice.  During this time, the sisters taught her about God and decided she wanted to enter the Church.  When her mistress came back, Bakhita did not want to leave the sisters.  Eventually, the case was taken to the Italian court and it was discovered that the slave traders that had captured Bakhita were outlaws.  Slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before Bakhita was born.  Because of this, she was freed and was no longer a slave!

Bakhita decided to remain with the sisters and she was baptized on January 9, 1890, taking the name Josephine Margaret Fortunata (the Latin equivalent of Bakhita).  The Archbishop who baptized her, gave her First Communion, and confirmed her, was Cardinal Giusseppe Sarto, who eventually became Pope Pius X.

Life as a Sister

On December 7, 1893, Josephine Bakhita entered the Canossian Daughters of Charity and made her final vows on December 8, 1896.  During the following forty-two years, she served as a cook and a doorkeeper.  Sometimes, she traveled to other convents telling her story and preparing the sisters for mission work in Africa.

Josephine was known for her gentle voice, her smile, and her gentle character.  Children respectfully called her the “little brown sister” or “black mother.”  One time, a child was scared of her dark skin.  She is said to have told the child not to be afraid – her skin was dark because she was made out of chocolate!

The Power to Forgive

As she grew older she would be in a lot of pain and was confined to a wheelchair.  When people asked her how she was she would respond, “As the Master desires.”

Despite the terrible memories of her life as a slave, Josephine Bakhita still forgave those who were cruel to her.  She said:

“If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today….”

Becoming a Saint

Josephine Bakhita died on February 8, 1947.  Her last words were, “Our Lady, Our Lady!”  Pope Saint John Paul II beatified her on May 17, 1992 and canonized her on October 1, 2000.  Her feast day is February 8 and she is the patron Saint of Sudan.

There is a magnet of Saint Bakhita and she is also included in the Saint Stickers Multipack.

The life of Saint Josephine Bakhita should help us remember that every life is precious.  It is often hard to love and forgive those who have hurt us.  However, forgiving others out of love, will help us grow closer to Jesus!

“The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone; we must be compassionate!”

Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us!