Saint Agnes Cao Guiying (1821-1856 AD)
Feast Day: July 9 (Holy Martyrs of China)
St. Agnes Cao Guiying was born in the small village of Wujiazhai in Guizhou Province in 1821. Her family was a traditional Catholic family originally from Sichuan Province. Agnes later left her hometown to work in the city of Xingyi after her parents died. There she met a Catholic woman who let her live with her. Soon, Bishop Bai came to visit Xingyi and found out that she was without family so he took her to the local parish to learn more about Christianity. The bishop found her to be clever and a quick learner.
When Agnes became eighteen, she married a local farmer, but her brother-in-law and sister-in-law treated her as an outsider (for she was Christian) and did not consider her a part of the family. Therefore, Agnes was left with little to eat. Things became worse for Agnes when her husband died two years later and she was driven out of the house. In order to support herself, she took odd jobs as a helper. Then a pious Catholic widow invited Agnes to stay with her. She also had a good understanding of the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. Whenever a priest visited them, Agnes received the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
One day, when Fr. Ma (Auguste Chapdelaine) was in town, he discovered how well Agnes knew the faith and asked her to move to Guangxi Province for some missionary work, especially for teaching the Catholic faith to some 30-40 Catholic families living there (Catholics were quite few in those days). In 1852, she went out to the town of Baijiazhai in Xilan County and made it her preaching headquarters, teaching the Catholic faith throughout Guangxi. She also taught cooking and household management, and in her spare time helped babysit.
In 1856, when she was helping out in Yaoshan, Guangxi (near present-day Guilin, Guizhou), the local government decided to take some measures against the Christians living in that area. Agnes was taken into custody along with many other Catholics. Many of them were soon released, but Agnes and Father Ma were detained in prison. Father Ma later died in prison. The county magistrate tried to persuade Agnes to deny her faith under the promise that if she did, she would be released. However, Agnes was unmoved. Then the magistrate threatened torture, but she showed no fear. Finally, on January 22, the magistrate decided on her punishment. He had her locked in a cage so small that she could only stand up, but her spirit never failed. She prayed repeatedly, “God, have mercy on me; Jesus save me!” She died three days later.
Agnes Cao Guiying was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000 as one of the holy martyr Saints of China.