Most saints are said to have been pious and good from childhood. Not Hyacintha. She got off to a bad start. She was born in 1585, into a noble family living near Viterbo in Italy. At her baptism, she was given the name Clarice. She was schooled at the convent of San Bernardino in Viterbo, where one of her older sisters was a nun, but this did little to curb her frivolity. She was not at all predisposed to piety.

At the age of 20, she decided that she wanted to marry Marquis Cassizucchi. She was quite bitter when he chose instead to marry her younger sister. She became so ill-tempered that her family sent her off to the convent where she had been schooled. She ran away from the convent, but eventually returned and took her vows. It was then that she was given the name Hyacintha.

In spite of having taken the veil, she had no intention of living up to its Franciscan ideals. She nagged her family into outfitting her cell with all the worldly comforts to which she had become accustomed at home. No hair shirts for Hyacintha. Her robes were made of the finest fabrics. She had her own kitchen, ignored the convent's rules about receiving guests, and left the convent whenever she pleased. This continued for ten years, much to the dismay of the other sisters of San Bernardino.

All this is not to say that she had no faith. She believed in God, went to Mass regularly, and purportedly remained a virgin. She just had no respect for the rules of the convent.

Her attitude changed when a serious illness caused her confessor to bring her Communion in her luxurious cell. It was the first time he had seen her room, and he was appalled. He urged her to live more humbly, exclaiming that she was in the convent merely to help the devil. The shock of his remark served to snap her out of her spiritual lethargy. She repented and took his advice, becoming much more humble in her dress and her behavior.

It didn't last, though. She soon fell back into her more worldly ways. Then another illness, this one even more serious, prompted her to renew her penitence. She made a public confession of her faults, devoted herself to the most menial work in the convent, replaced her comfortable bed with a few bare boards, and spent a lot of time fasting. This time she remained faithful to Franciscan rules. She became an inspiration to her sisters in the convent, and an exceptional mistress of novices, sensibly urging moderation against excesses of any kind.

This new Hyacintha nursed plague victims without regard for her own health, and founded two lay confraternities for the purpose of caring for the poor, the sick, and the aged. These confraternities were supported mostly by funds that Hyacintha herself begged from the community. One of their duties was to minister to people who had once been well-off but now were poor. Hyacintha's own upbringing made her especially sensistive to the unwillingness of such people to accept help from others.

When Sister Hyacintha was canonized in 1807, Pope Pius VII declared that she had, through her charity, converted more souls than many preachers of her time, and that the preservation of her life (in spite of the fasting, scourging and other mortifications that she practiced) was a continued miracle.

She died in 1640, and her feast is celebrated on January 30 (except in Rome, where they prefer to celebrate it on February 6.

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