Caterina Volpicelli was born on January 21, 1839 in Naples to Peter and Teresa de Micheroux. As a member of the upper middle class, she received a solid humanistic and religious education, and Volpicelli had a love of the arts. She was very involved in society life, and was trying to out do her older sister, when she had an epiphany. She felt a calling for the religious life.
One of her advisers from school, Blessed Ludovico da Casoria, helped her understand that she was called to live the evangelical counsels “remaining in the midst of society.” On da Casoria’s advice she joined the Third Order of the Franciscans in order to be a “fisher of souls”.
In 1859, Volpicelli attempted to join the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament, but had to leave due to poor health. Her confessor, Father Leonardo Matera, gave her the monthly leaflets of the Apostleship of Prayer in France. This organization became the cornerstone of Caterina’s vision to “to revive love for Jesus Christ in hearts, in families and in society”.
This French institution was aggregated to the new Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Jean Jules Chevalier. It was called the “Third Order of the Sacred Heart” and it was led by Louise-Thérèse de Montaignac. The archbishop of Naples, Sisto Riario Sforza, having understood that the Neapolitan foundation had its own personality, so there were two institutions established to be separate. One under de Montaignac and the other under Volpicelli. In 1874, Volpicelli’s foundation received the approval of the archbishop of Naples and was named the “Pia Unione delle Ancelle del Sacro Cuore” (Pious Union of the maids of the Sacred Heart).
However, she also wanted to receive approval also from the Holy See and in June 1890 the “Istituto delle Ancelle del Sacro Cuore di Gesù” (Institute of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) obtained the Decree of Praise by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars.
Wanting to help the young, she opened the orphanage of the Margherites, founded a lending library and set up the Association of the Daughters of Mary, with the guidance of Venerable Mother Rosa Carafa Traetto . She soon opened other houses: in Naples, in the Sansevero Palace and then at the La Sapienza Church in Ponticelli, where the Servants distinguished themselves in nursing cholera victims in 1884 and in Minturno, Meta di Sorrento and Rome.
Volpicelli would die on December 28, 1894. She was proclaimed Blessed by John Paul II in 2001 and Saint on April 26, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. Her feast day is December 28.