GREENWOOD—Sainthood is a family affair for Karen Alex.
She is a great-great-niece of Blessed Sister Maria Serafina of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an Italian nun on the road to becoming a saint.
Alex, her husband Gary, and several other members of her family attended the nun’s beatification ceremony May 28 in Cerreto Sannita, Italy, north of Naples.
Alex is Italian and German on her mother’s side, and heard for years about an aunt who started an order of nuns in Italy and was in the process of being canonized.
A cousin stationed with the National Guard in Bamberg, Germany, did research on Sister Maria Serafina, and shared information about her life and legacy with other members of the family. They decided to attend the beatification.
Blessed Sister Maria Serafina was born Clotilde Micheli in Imer, Italy, in 1849, raised in a devout Catholic family, and, according to a published biography, experienced apparitions of angels during childhood.
At 17, she had a vision of Mary surrounded by angels. From that day, she believed her mission was to start a religious order dedicated to works of mercy and adoration of the Holy Trinity.
In 1891, she founded the Sisters of the Angels, Adorers of the Most Holy Trinity, and they focused on prayer and service to the poor, orphans and abandoned children. The nun became known as Sister Maria Serafina of the Sacred Heart.
Over the years, the order established many mission houses to help orphaned girls, and today the sisters serve in schools, hospitals, parishes and missions in Italy and other nations.
During her life, Sister Maria Serafina was known for devotion to prayer and the apostolic life, and according to her life story also performed an exorcism on a young seminarian tormented by demons. She died in 1911.
In Italy, Alex’s family visited and toured the order’s motherhouse in Faicchio. A highlight was a small museum exhibiting many of Blessed Maria Serafina’s possessions, including her bed, clothing, and personal possessions, such as dolls and rosaries.
They also saw the small chapel that surrounds her tomb.
Held on a soccer field, the beatification drew more than 8,000 people, including 200 priests, a dozen bishops and two cardinals.
“The people of Imer and Faicchio were so obviously proud of Mother Serafina that it really was humbling to realize that she was my blood relative,” Alex said. “You could just feel the excitement and anticipation and I can only describe it as pure joy in the air all around us. It really was an indescribable experience.”
Alex also learned about the miracle credited to her aunt. In 1999, a nun in the order was suffering from severe stomach problems and faced difficult surgery. She asked Mother Serafina to help her, and the next day was able to eat normally and resume daily life. Doctors said she had been cured. Pope Benedict XVI affirmed the miracle in 2010.
Alex, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Greenwood, has always been interested in lives of the saints. Having one as an ancestor, she said, makes them more real and important.
“It’s a real source of pride and humility to know you have someone like this in your family,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to connect to my family roots, and this not only connects to those roots but to my faith as well.
“You always read about all the saints from so long ago, but here was a woman of the 20th century who followed God. It really strengthens your faith and makes you feel a lot closer to God,” Alex said.