Blessed Magdalene was born into a noble and wealthy family in Como, Italy at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Given their fervent faith, financial means, and social position, her parents saw to it that she received a good Catholic education. At the age of twenty, ever disposed to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom she regarded as her spouse, she decided to enter religious life. While initially drawn to the Benedictines in Como, she experienced a sudden change of heart and chose instead the poorer and more remote convent of the Augustinian nuns at Saint Andrea in Brunate, outside the city.
Her clever wit and practical common sense, combined with her strong religious spirit and attraction, led to her eventual election as abbess, a position she held, except for brief intervals, until her death.
In 1455 Magdelene requested that her monastery be affiliated with the Observant Congregation (i.e. the strict observance Congregation) of the Augustinians of Lombardy, and that the friars of this congregation serve as chaplains to the nuns because of the spirit of observance which characterized both groups. Blessed Magdalene was largely responsible for the expansion of Augustinian religious life in and around Como and throughout Lombardy. Under her guidance many new convents were opened, and by the example of her fervor many other independent congregations of sisters were drawn to seek affiliation with her monastic community.
Blessed Magdalene was a sensible and practical woman who possessed a natural talent for domestic affairs. She was frequently sought out for spiritual guidance, and thus greatly influenced the religious spirit of her day, particularly through her promotion of the Augustinian Third Order or Secular Movement. She met with great success in promoting vocations to religious life by her zeal, example, and instruction, and was an inspiration for her selfless devotion to the sick and needy. Though the rules she devised for her sisters would seem harsh by today’s standards, they nevertheless succeeded in reviving the simplicity and austerity of the desert fathers, which had a particular appeal to her generation. A secret to her effectiveness was that she never asked others to do anything which she herself had not previously put into practice herself.
She possessed a particularly “catholic spirit” during a time of tumult within the Church. Her devotion to the Universal Church and her allegiance to the bishop of Rome as universal Pontiff during a period of upheaval and schism in the Church, together with a firm commitment to the renewal of religious life, are special marks of her life.
Blessed Magdalene died on either 13 or 15 May 1465, after suffering from a debilitating disease for several years which greatly limited her participation in her community’s activities. The number of faithful who came to venerate her body and seek her intercession was so great that her burial had to be delayed for eight days – May 20, 1465. Pope Saint Pius X confirmed her cult in 1907.
When the nuns of Saint Andrea left Brunate to join the monastery of Saint Julian near Como in 1593, Magdalene’s body was also transferred there and now lies buried in the cathedral of Como, where she is still venerated by the faithful. The Augustinian Family remembers Magdalene on 21st of May.