November 21, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible saints: Maria Luisa Josefa

John F. Fink(Twenty-sixth in a series of columns)

Venerable Maria Luisa Josefa was Mexican rather than American, but she spent five years in Los Angeles.

She and her Carmelite community fled there when Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles enforced anti-Catholic laws in 1924. Church properties were confiscated and priests and nuns exiled. Many Mexicans were martyred, and 25 of them were canonized in 2000.

Maria’s parents owned an extensive ranch near Atotonilco el Alto, 50 miles east of Guadalajara, Mexico, where she was born in 1866. They called her Luisita.

It was still the custom then for parents to choose a husband for their daughters and, when she was 15, they chose a physician, Pascual Rojas, who was 30. They opened the first hospital at Atotonilco, which flourished under Luisa’s leadership.

After 14 years of marriage, Pascual died. They had been unable to have children. After Pascual’s death, Luisa decided to fulfill a longtime desire and entered the convent of the Discalced Carmelites of St. Teresa at Guadalajara, taking the religious name Maria.

Without her leadership, the hospital floundered and the townspeople asked Archbishop Jose de Jesus Ortiz Rodriguez to urge her to return. He did and, after much prayer, she believed that it was God’s will for her to return to the hospital. She also opened a school for poor girls, and volunteers soon joined her in this work.

In 1904, Maria and seven of the volunteers dedicated themselves to caring for the poor. Three years later, there were 20 women. A new archbishop, Francisco Orozco y Jimenez, then told them that, if they were living like religious, they should become religious and he recommended the Sisters Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. So Maria again left the hospital, taking 19 women with her.

Without these women, the inevitable happened—the hospital was again nearly collapsing. Within months, the archbishop told Maria that she must return to her work of caring for the sick and educating the young. Once again, she obeyed the archbishop, but only five of the 19 women returned with her.

Just as before, as Maria restored the hospital and school, young women joined her. And, just as before, the archbishop accused the women of trying to live as nuns. This time he suggested that Maria should found a third-order Carmelite community, with the sisters wearing the Carmelite habit but spending time doing apostolic work. In 1920, the Vatican approved this community and Maria Luisa founded the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

Four years later, she and her sisters fled to Los Angeles. She returned to Mexico in 1929, after President Calles was overthrown, and worked there until her death in 1937.

Father Vincent O’Malley wrote in Saints of North America: “Her life evidences development in personality and flexibility in responding to the changing demands of times, archbishops and governments. Wife, widow, in and out of two religious communities, and foundress of a Carmelite community with two branches, she leaves a legacy of trying to discover and do God’s will.” †

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