A Suggested Devotion: the Blessed Marija Petkovic, the Patron of Strength Athletes

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How this short, mousy, bespectacled nun should be the patron saint of strength athletes

A Suggested Devotion: the Blessed Marija Petkovic, the Patron of Strength Athletes

H.St.C


 

Anyone who does their research on the aforementioned person, the Blessed Marija Petkovic, albeit without context would be confused at the title. How could this short, mousy, bespectacled nun be the suggested patron of Strength Athletes? This distinction, which I have personally awarded her with, comes from a review and reflection of the saint herself, the submarine that sank, the lieutenant who prayed to her, and the resulting miracle that led to her beatification in 2003.

 

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The Saint Herself

 

There was nothing tremendously related to strength athletes or weight lifting in any of Blessed Marija’s life and biography. As said- she was a short, mousy, bespectacled nun who was born on the 10th of December, 1892, in the small town of Blato, Korcula (then part of Austria-Hungary) to Marija Marinovi? and Antun Petkovi?-Kova?. She was the sixth of eleven children. She then went to school and completed a degree in Domestic Science, which was directed by the Servants of Charity. She entered the association of Mary in 1906. On the 21st of November of the same year, though she was still a laywoman, she made a private vow of Chastity to the Lord, thus kickstarting her religious life. Her vow, "I choose You alone as my spouse, I will love only You", she repeated daily all her life. 

 

From 1909 to 1919, she served as the president of the Daughters of Mary and the Order’s 300 hundred active members in the area, but she was dogged by many illnesses and aches. Despite that, and the passing of her father in 1911, she was a devoted and diligent president to the Daughters of Mary, supporting her mother after her father's death, educating her younger brothers and sisters, taking care of responsibilities at home, and providing catechesis to the children and families of her father's workers at the same time. As part of her Good Shepherd Association, she and her team of 20 women would visit the sick and prepare children for their First Communion. If her strength was not so apparent in the physical aspect, it would instead be clearer and more apparent in that of her spiritual life and ministry. Her spirituality and close bond with Christ allowed her to do all this despite many illnesses and her generally frail health.

 

On top of all this, Croatia was still quite in shambles after the aftermath of World War I. This however, in an almost backwards sort of way, motivated and encouraged the tiny nun. Croatia’s devastated state had left the youth hopeless, farmland barren, society unjust, and disease widespread. In 1915, she founded the Society of Catholic Mothers under the guidance of Bishop Marcelic, and in 1918 she was given the responsibility of guiding the local chapter of the Third Order Franciscan, which  numbered at around 200 hundred members then, effectively putting her in the leadership of a combined 500 individuals. Naturally, her influence and reputation spread. 

 

1918 would be the year the Blessed Marija Petkovic’s metal would truly be tested. It was to be the year wherein this Blessed’s patronage over the strong would be a title rightfully earned. Around the same time, she helped with the Servants of Charity’s soup kitchen to help alleviate the suffering from the aftermath of World War I that had left most of Croatia broken and destitute. To give you a perspective of Croatia’s state during that time, it was around the same year in 1918 when Spanish Flu hit Croatia. By the second half of 1918, contemporary evaluations say that 90% of Croatia’s population was affected, a number of which were the locals of Blato, who naturally fell into the care of the religious in town, the Blessed Petkovic included. In the end, around 15,000 to 20,000 victims in Croatia would be taken as the lower limit of the number of victims of the epidemic. A Protest of 11,000 arsenal workers who were seeking truce, higher wages, and better nutrition, broke out in 1918, along with many cases of military dissertation resulting from similar protests, effectively weakening Croatia’s homeland defense. All this combined with the political, social, cultural, and security implications of the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire left the populace in constant fear and paranoia.  Earlier that year, in a move that proved she had more balls than the many men who deserted their posts at that time, the Blessed Petkovic made a solemn promise in front of the bishop and the citizens of Blato that she would remain in Blato to serve and help them all.

 

In 1919, she formally ended her presidential post with the Daughters of Mary to take the veil and vows in the convent of the Servants of Charity with her friend, Sr. Marija Telenta. The Blessed Petkovic, still holding on to her previous responsibilities and rightfully sore and tired from them, had more salt poured over her wounds when the superior died and the other Sisters, for political reasons, returned to Italy. She and her friend Marija, with two other sisters, were left behind to watch over their apostolate. Bishop Marcelic quickly put the order under his supervision and swiftly made Petkovic the new superior, writing to her and advising that she be "the superior and the last among the Sisters, and if necessary, [she was to] go barefoot while the Sisters wore shoes, she hungry and the Sisters full, following the example of the Crucified Jesus". In response, Petkovic requested a copy of the Rule of the Third Order Franciscans from Bishop Marcelic to get things started. In the dead of winter of the same year, she and her fearless sisters risked pneumonia and rebels in the freezing cold to found three institutions when the people and especially the children of Blato needed them the most: a day-recovery centre, a child-care facility, and an orphanage. All this while she was still basically running the town of Blato, her earlier responsibilities to her family and town not lightening up in the slightest.

 

In the 20th of August, 1920 Prizba-Korcula, she wrote the first draft of the constitution of her newly founded order, the “Daughters of Mercy”, The new Order was inaugurated on the 4th of October that year, on the Feast of Saint Francis, where she took the religious name “Marija of Jesus Christ Crucified”, reflecting on the letter she received from Bishop Marcelic the year before. For 32 years after and until her retirement as Mother Superior due to an onset of partial paralysis, she ran her Order to new heights. As Croatia began to stabilize in the coming years and Blato began to flourish once again, she travelled the rest of Croatia and beyond - to Latin America and Italy, leaving a trail of 46 religious communities in her wake. The new Order exploded with activity, with the growing number of professed members engaging in various social ministries, such as in nursing homes, hospitals, nursery schools, parish work, and work in the seminaries.

 

Mother Marija died on 9th July, 1956 in Rome after suffering from the partial paralysis that caused her retirement three years prior. She was 72 years old. 

 

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The Beatification Miracle

 

Arguably the most terrifying thing imaginable for anybody is to be trapped in a metal coffin that is rapidly sinking into the depths of an underwater abyss, with the only exit being a metal hatch door that has been sealed shut with thousands of pounds of pressure. To the normal saracen, their prayer would include hoping to be struck and killed by some kind of blunt force before the onset of the massive underwater pressure causes their heads to rupture. This was not so for the faithful and brave First Lieutenant Roger Cotrina Alvarado who saved both himself and 22 others in the disaster that would be known as the Sinking of the Pacocha.

 

Known formally as the BAP Pacocha (SS-48), it was a Balao-class submarine that the US had sold to Peru for their Navy. The fateful day fell on the 26th August 1988, in the Peruvian port of Callao, where around 18:50 in the evening, the Pacocha was struck and eventually sunk by a 412 ton Japanese trawler in her aft port quarter. The trawler was equipped with an icebreaker bow, which cut through that portion of the submarine, filling it with water as it slowly began to capsize. 4 men died and drowned, and 23 were able to make it out in time. As the submarine sank, however, a headcount of the survivors revealed that 22 men were still inside the submarine. The First Lieutenant Roger Cotrina Alvarado, who was present among the remaining 22, tried to act fast. He rushed onto the watertight forward torpedo room door and attempted to pressurize the compartment. He then tried to secure the forward torpedo room hatch. Instead, however, he had to force the hatch open to free a sailor whose leg was caught in the hatch due to the 40-degree up angle the Pacocha assumed before sinking. As the Pacocha began to capsize, water rushed into the compartment, washing lieutenant Cotrina down the ladder. Imagine yourself in this brave Lieutenant’s position: water falling from a hatch and flooding all  round you, a wounded friend by your side, and a metal death trap careening down into the sea. What do you do but pray? What can you do but pray?

As he held his fellow crewmate as he lay injured, Cotrina prayed for the intercession of the then Venerable Marija Petkovic. According to the man himself, “I saw a light and I experienced an ineffable power that allowed me to shut the hatch.” He accredited this ineffable power to the intercession of God through who would later be called, the Blessed Marija Petkovic. He seized himself by the nuts and with one primal push, shut the hatch door, allowing the torpedo chamber to pressurize and ensure their short-term safety for the time being. In five minutes, the Pacocha sank to the bottom of the sea at a depth of 140 feet (43 m) with a 9-degree up angle. For 4 hours, the crew fought off the deadly chlorine gas leaks and hypothermia, but they survived. 

 

~~~~~
 

Conclusion

 

I would not recommend Blessed Marija Petkovic as a patron of strength athletes purely because she caused a miracle of supernatural strength, but also because in life she was a textbook example of perseverance. A woman, despite the world and time that she lived in caving around her, pulled an entire community of townsfolk and religious through one of her country’s darkest times. Every strongman should pray to this saint, not only for the possible miracle of a burst of strength, but to emulate and make an example of her life of strength beyond that of bone and muscle 

 

And even after the skies of Croatia began to lighten once again, the ironclad Mother went above and beyond, proving that strength not only blossoms in peril and dies shortly afterward, but inspires others and persists throughout all your life - and in this specific case, even beyond it.

 

 

Refrences:
Hutinec, Goran; 2006., Odjeci epidemije "španjolske gripe" 1918. godine u hrvatskoj javnosti, Radovi Zavoda za hrvatsku povijest, Vol.38 No.1 Studeni 2006.; p. 227-242

Ugo Matuli?: "Mate Brni?evi? u pobuni mornara u Boki Kotorskoj: Po?etak sloma Austro-Ugarske Monarhije"

Bl. Marija Petkovi? Archived 2007-12-19 at the Wayback Machine M. Stanti?: Zauzimanje za siromahe - karizma danas

Burns, Paul (2001). Butler's Saints of the Third Millennium: Butler's Lives of the Saints: Supplementary Volume. Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 175. ISBN 0860123820

"The B.A.P. PACOCHA (SS-48) Collision: The Escape and Medical Recompression Treatment of Survivors," by Claude Harvey, M.D. and John Carson, M.D., published 30 March 1989 as Special Report SP89-1 by the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory, Naval Medical Research Center. Copy of report - http://www.dtic.mil/get-tr-doc/pdf?AD=ADB132723

https://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20030606_petkovic_en.html

 

Notes:

A Documentary on the Miracle of the Pacocha: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rll-MimzHBw

 


Submitted: May 14, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Hugo de Santa Catarina. All rights reserved.

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