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St Mary of Jesus Crucified

St Mary of Jesus Crucified, affectionately known as the Little Arab, was born Mariam Baouardy at Ibellin near Nazareth in Galilee, into a Greek-Melkite Catholic family. Her parents lost twelve children in infancy and decided to make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to pray for a daughter.  Mariam was born on 5 January 1846, followed a year later by a brother, Boulos.  Their parents died within a few days of each other before Mariam reached her third birthday. Boulos was adopted by an aunt and Mariam by a rich uncle.


The family moved to Alexandria when Mariam was eight.  When she reached twelve, her uncle wished Mariam to marry. She already felt called to be a nun and refused. She tried to contact her brother, through one of the servants of the family.  The servant tried to persuade Mariam to convert to Islam. She refused and in anger, the servant cut her throat and left her for dead.  She woke up in a cave, where a young woman, dressed like a nun took care of Mariam, healed her wounds and led her to a church where she would be safe.  Mariam later said that the woman was the Virgin Mary.

After this, Mariam travelled widely, working as a servant.  In Marseille, she encountered the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition and entered the novitiate.  She began to have extraordinary mystical experiences, including reliving the Passion of Jesus Christ and she bore the stigmata.  Some of the sisters in her congregation were frightened by these experiences and would not admit her to profession, so she left the convent. Mariam then found her way to the Carmel of Pau in South West France.  She asked to become a lay sister, so that she could serve the other sisters through manual work, and also because she had difficulty reading the Divine Office.  She was given the name Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified.

Three years later, in 1870, she left to make a foundation at Mangalore in India, the first Indian Carmel. She made Profession there in 1871. But again, some of the sisters began to be uneasy about Sr Mary’s experiences and she was sent back to Pau.

Sr Mary now began to speak of a new Carmel in Bethlehem; this was her dream – a Carmel in the Holy Land, her beloved home land.  Permission was given in 1875 and Sr Mary was able to go on the foundation.  She was the only sister who spoke Arabic and therefore was very involved in overseeing the building works.  It was while carrying some water for the workers that she had a nasty fall, breaking her arm, which then developed gangrene. She died on 26 August 1878 at the age of 32.

Mary of Jesus Crucified was beatified by Pope St John Paul II on 13 November 1983 and canonised by Pope Francis on 17 May 2015.

We celebrate her feast day on 25 August.

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