She was tortured by her various owners who branded her, beat and cut her, suffering especially during her adolescent years. Despite not knowing Christ or the redemptive nature of suffering, she bore her pain valiantly.
Bakhita recorded having a certain awe for the world and its creator: "Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: 'Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?' And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage," she wrote.
Eventually she was purchased by the Italian consul Calisto Legnani, who later gave her to a friend of the family, Augusto Michieli, who brought her to Italy as a nanny to his daughter. In the Italian families was the first time she was not mistreated.
While she was with the Michieli family she discovered the Crucified Christ through the gift of a small silver crucifix, given to her by the family's estate manager. Looking at it, she felt something she could not explain, she would later say.
This was her first introduction to Jesus, whom she called "The Good Master." In 1888, when she was almost 20 years old, she and the Michieli daughter were sent to be guests at the Institute of the Catechumens run by the Canossian Sisters in Venice. There she began her journey of faith.
Soon after she was baptized, taking the name Josephine Margaret. Desiring to dedicate her life to God, she won a legal battle to remain in Italy (though her master wanted her to return to Africa with him) and entered the Canossians in 1896.
She dedicated the rest of her life to assisting her community and teaching others to love God, and she died on Feb. 8, 1947.
St. Josephine was beatified in 1992 and canonized in 2000 by St. John Paul II. She is the first person to be canonized from Sudan and is the patron saint of the country.
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.