Born as Paola Francesca Di Rosa, Saint Maria was born on November 6, 1813 in the town of Brescia (then part of the Napoleonic Kingdom). She was one of 9 children from a very wealthy family - her father was Clemente Di Rosa an extremely successful industrialist and her mother Countess Camilla Albani who drew linage from the noble Albani line.
Saint Maria initially received her education from the Visitation Sisters in the Brescia convent but left school to work in her father's spinning mill when her mother passed away in 1824. She immediately noticed the extremely poor conditions the workers had to suffer in each day and looked after their spiritual and material needs in the mill. Her father started looking for suitors - something that frustrated her and she voiced this disappointment to her priest, Faustino Pinzoni. Father Faustino spoke to her father, explaining that Saint Maria had something entirely different in mind for her future - a religious calling rather than a marriage.
In 1836 a cholera epidemic ravaged the town of Brescia and Saint Maria immediately set herself out to take care of the ill and suffering at the local hospital. She began to direct a home for mute and deaf women in the town and started gathering like minded women to take care of the women in the town. This group became a Pious Union which eventually turned into the Ancelle della carita religious order; Saint Maria took her vows in 1852. The order itself received approval from Pope Pius IX in 1850. She would often tell her friends that:
"I suffer from seeing suffering"
Saint Maria died of a prolonged illness on December 15th, 1855 at the hospital in Brescia. Pope Pius X declared her a Servant of God on December 10th, 1913 and Pope Pius XI formally declared her Venerable on July 10th of 1932. With two confirmed miracles attributed to her, she was beatified on May 26, 1940 by Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius then canonized her a Saint in Saint Peter's Basilica on June 12th, 1954.