"How can anyone receive our Lord without dying of happiness!"--Bl. Imelda
Bologna, Italy, in 1322; died there on the Feast of the Ascension, May
13, 1333; cultus confirmed in
1826; named patroness of first communicants by Pope Pius X.
One of the
most charming legends in Dominican hagiography is that of little Imelda,
who died of love on her
first Communion day, and who is, by this happy circumstance, patroness of all first communicants.
says that Imelda was the daughter of Count Egano Lambertini of Bologna.
Her family was famous
for its many religious, including a Dominican preacher, a Franciscan mother foundress, and an aunt of Imelda's
who had founded a convent of strict observance in Bologna.
a delicate child, petted and favored by her family, and it was no surprise
that she should be religious
by nature. She learned to read from the Psalter, and early devoted herself to attending Mass and Compline at
the Dominican church. Her mother taught her to sew and cook for the poor, and went with her on errands of charity. When Imelda was nine, she asked to be allowed to go to the Dominicans at Val di Pietra. She was the
only child of a couple old enough not to hope for any more children; it was a wrench to let her go. However, they took her to the convent and gave her to God with willing, if sorrowing, hearts.
status in the convent is hard to discern. She wore the habit, followed
the exercises of the house as
much as she was allowed to, and longed for the day when she would be old enough to join them in the two things she envied most--the midnight Office and the reception of Holy Eucharist. Her age barred her from both. She picked up the Divine Office from hearing the sisters chant, and meditated as well as she could.
It was a
lonely life for the little girl of nine, and, like many another lonely
child, she imagined playmates for herself--with
this one difference--her playmates were saints. She was especially fond
of Saint Agnes, the martyr, who was little
older than Imelda herself. Often she read about her from the large illuminated
books in the
library, and one day Agnes came in a vision to see her. Imelda was delighted. Shut away from participation in
adult devotions, she had found a contemporary who could tell her about the things she most wanted to know.
Agnes came often after this, and they talked of heavenly things.
Christmas in the convent brought only sorrow to Imelda. She had been hoping
that the sisters would
relent and allow her to receive Communion with them, but on the great day, when everyone except her could
go receive Jesus in the Eucharist, Imelda remained in her place, gazing through tears at the waxen figure in the creche. Imelda began to pray even more earnestly that she might receive Communion.
prayer was answered, spring had come to Bologna, and the world was preparing
for the Feast of the Ascension. No one paid much attention to the little
girl as she knelt in prayer while the sisters prepared for the Mass. Even
when she asked to remain in the chapel in vigil on the eve of the feast,
it caused no comment; she
was a devout child. The sisters did not know how insistently she was knocking at heaven's gate, reciting to
herself, for assurance, the prayer that appeared in the Communion verse for the Rogation Days: "Ask and it
shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you."
was opened for Imelda on the morning of the Vigil of the Ascension. She
had asked once more for the great privilege of receiving Communion, and,
because of her persistence, the chaplain was called in on the case. He
refused flatly; Imelda must wait until she was older. She went to her place
in the chapel, giving no outward
sign that she intended to take heaven by storm, and watched quietly enough while the other sister went to Communion.
After Mass, Imelda remained in her place in the choir. The sacristan busied herself putting out candles and removing the Mass vestments. A sound caused her to turn and look into the choir, and she saw a brilliant light shining above Imelda's head, and a Host suspended in the light. The sacristan hurried to get the chaplain.
now had no choice; God had indicated that He wanted to be communicated
to Imelda. Reverently,
the chaplain took the Host and gave it to the rapt child, who knelt like a shining statue, unconscious of the nuns crowding into the chapel, or the lay people pushing against the chapel grille to see what might be happening
After an interval for thanksgiving, the prioress went to call the little novice for breakfast. She found her still kneeling. There was a smile on her face, but she was dead.
of Blessed Imelda is firmly entrenched in Dominican hearts, though it is
difficult now to find records
to substantiate it. She may have been eleven, rather than ten when she died. The convent where she lived has
been gone for centuries and its records with it.
miracles have been worked through her intercession, and her cause for canonization
has been under consideration for many years. As recently as 1928 a major
cure was reported of a Spanish sister who was dying
of meningitis. Other miracles are under consideration. The day may yet come when the lovable little patroness
of first communicants can be enrolled in the calendar of the saints (Benedictines, Dominicans, Dorcy).
Imelda is a very young Dominican novice, kneeling before the altar with
a sacred Host appearing above her. She is venerated at Bologna and Valdipietra