Wednesday, March 19, 2014

St. Maria Josefa of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The saint of the day for March 20th is St. Maria Josefa of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

"Do not believe that caring for the sick consists only in giving them medicine and food; there is another kind of care which you should never forget, that of the heart which seeks to adapt to the suffering person, going to meet his needs.” These are the words of one whose mind and heart were fully seized of a mission, Saint Maria Josefa of the Heart of Jesus. The mission: to be a “neighbor” to the sick and the suffering in the world.

Canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1 in the Jubilee Year 2000, St Maria Josefa was the Foundress of the Institute of the Servants of Jesus of Charity. Conceived in the year 1871 in Bilbao, Spain, this Institute, totally dedicated to nursing the sick with a contemplative approach, has a presence of more than 1000 members in some 43 houses spread across the globe.

Maria Josefa was the oldest daughter of Bernabe Sancho and Petra de Guerra born on September 7,1842 in Vitoria, Spain. At the age of two, she had an accident that left her legs paralyzed. Her parents took her to the shrine of St. Michael the Archangel in Aralat, where she was miraculously healed. Consequently, she began a lifetime devotion to him.

At the age of 15, Maria Josefa lost her father. Very early in life, she nurtured a strong devotion to the Eucharist, the Sacred Heart and our Blessed Mother. She was deeply inclined towards solitude; however, a severe bout of typhus put an end to her plans to join the contemplative Conceptionists of Aranjuez in 1860. Feeling called, then, to an active religious life, she joined the Servants of Mary, an Institute newly founded in Madrid by St. Soledad Torres Acosta. She was sent to the poorest districts of Madrid, which opened her eyes and her heart to the needs of the sick and the poor. During the plague of 1861, she worked tirelessly, caring for the sick. Realizing now that her vocation lay in exclusively caring for the sick and the suffering in hospitals and at home, she left the Institute together with three other sisters who shared her vision and embarked on her hew venture.

 Maria Josefa founded a new order in Bilbao in the spring of 1871, when she was twenty nine years old. For the next forty-one years, she was superior of the new Institute of the Servants of Jesus.

As superior, Maria Josefa undertook long, grueling visits to the growing number of her communities until a protracted illness, obliging her to stay in bed or remain seated, confined her to the house at Bilbao, from where she maintained her contacts wholly by correspondence. Sharing intimately in the suffering of the crucified Lord, she passed away on  March 20, 1912.

Her holy death caused great impact to Bilbao and in other numerous localities where she was known through the houses of her Institute. In the same way, her funeral had an extraordinary resonance. She was buried in the municipal cemetery of Bilbao. In 1926, her fame of sanctity grew and her mortal remains were transferred to the Mother House of the Institute and have been buried in the chapel until now.

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