Maria del Refugio was born in San Miguel de Allende on September 21, 1866. The eldest of eight children, she stayed at home to learn to read and write and acquire the attributes befitting a housekeeper of the day. In November 1886 she married Angel Cancino, a tax collector and man of liberal ideas, whose friendship with a number of prominent politicians positioned him for a successful career in public service. They had a son Angel, and when they had been married for two years, they moved to Toluca, where they had a daughter, Refugio Teresa. Some weeks later, Cancino died from a severe bout of pneumonia. So, at the age of 22 Maria del Refugio was now a widow with the responsibility of raising two children.Since she had staked everything on her husband’s political career, Maria found herself destitute and moved back to her parents’ home. In March, 1891 she suffered even more sorrow when her son fell ill and eventually died.
Five years later, in March of 1896, Father Jose Sanchez Primo, superior of the Friars Minor in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, organized for the first time, a retreat for ladies according to the Spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Maria del Refugio Aguilar de Cancino who a few months earlier, had become a Third Order Franciscan also attended this retreat. On this spiritual retreat, she experiences a profound renewal deep within her person.
Some time after her conversion, and while praying there before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, she had the idea of founding a religious institute devoted to spreading love for the Blessed Sacrament and to making reparation for the sins of the world. It would be an institute which would set up educational establishments, centers of religious teaching and libraries for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, and inspiring and disseminating love for the Blessed Sacrament. She conveyed this idea to her priest, and on March 25, 1910, the Apostolate of the Blessed Sacrament was founded.
THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION
The foundation of the Institute coincided with the fall of President Porfirio Diaz’s government. He was a ruler who refused to loosen his grip on power and together with the state of oppression and poverty, in which the greater part of the population lived, combined to provide the trigger for a revolution. At this same time, the Church was subjected to cruel persecution, its ministers imprisoned or exiled, its property confiscated and its charitable establishments closed down, while the whole country was awash with the blood of martyrs. During the period of fighting Maria del Refugio set up an improvised first aid post from which, assisted by her companions and two doctor friends, she treated the wounded. She also organized collections of food and clothing to distribute among poor families. In 1917, a new Constitution was declared denying the Church a legal status and stripping priests of their civic rights, withdrawing recognition of religious communities and vows, outlawing denominational education and banning public worship outside churches, as well as decreeing that all ecclesiastical property should pass into the ownership of the state. At that time, the Colegio del Santisimo Sacramento moved to a very small neighborhood and the work began to extend and improve the building that would now become the school. The Sisters were destined to spend several years surrounded by bricklayers, plumbers and carpenters, while struggling with the recurring weekly problem of how to pay the wages, for there were days when they did not have a cent and had to trust in Providence alone to see them through.
UNDER THE PATRONAGE OF OUR LADY OF MERCY
In view of the number of houses and the well organized footing of the Order, the Archbishop put the Apostolate’s application for diocesan approval in the hands of Father Scotti, O.de.M, together with letters of recommendation from several bishops for him to take personally to Rome. On June 15, 1922 the Congregation of Religious, finding that all was in order, granted permission for the canonical foundation. The community was gradually taking on a Mercedarian character. Out of gratitude to Our Lady of Mercy, Maria del Refugio requested the latter’s aggregation to the Order of Mercy, this being granted on June 11, 1925, so that they would now be known as Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Government’s attacks on the Church became increasingly frequent. In February 1925 the President evoked discourse with the aim of establishing a religion which was answerable to the civil authorities. That same week most Catholic schools were closed down. The bishops ordered headmasters of Catholic schools to sign declarations in which they undertook to observe Article 3 of the Constitution which stipulated: “Religious corporations, ministers of religion, societies which exclusively or mainly carry out educational activities, and associations or societies concerned with the dissemination of any religious creed, will not involve themselves in any way in establishments which provide primary or secondary education, teacher training, or classes for workers or peasants”. They all signed except Father Carranza and the Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Maria del Refugio could not in all conscience comply with a law which constituted an attack on God and the freedom of man. A few weeks later two agents from the Ministry of the Interior turned up at the Colegio del Santisimo Sacramento with orders to search the premises. They found the Sisters wearing their habits. Pistols in hand they went over the whole house, even looking under the beds, saying that they had orders to shoot “any priests they found there”. In order to avoid any desecration, Maria del Refugio carried the Blessed Sacrament under her cloak as she accompanied them around the house talking to them forcefully and with considerable courage, and replying to their questions in the following vein: “I am not afraid of you closing my oratories, as you say you could, because you will never be able to close the oratory which I carry in my heart”.
TRANSFORMED BY THE EUCHARIST
One of the characteristic missions of the Franciscan tertiaries at that time was to teach the catechism in preparation for First Holy Communion. As a catechist, Maria del Refugio realized that, in order to be able to instill effectively in children the truths of the Catholic faith, particularly those relating to the Eucharist, she should make these teachings her own if she wished to find a means of capturing something of the grandeur of the Mystery.
If the sacrament of the Eucharist is the sacrament of love, symbolizing the union of Christ with the Church, it was natural for Maria del Refugio, who was a truly Eucharistic person, to feel the desire, impetus and need to love and serve others and devote herself to compassionate works. Her happiness was clouded by what she saw as the absence of God in society and as a result, she carried out an intense ministry on behalf of the most needy.
She eventually became director and mistress of novices in the Secular Franciscan Order, heralding a period which for some people marked the great flourishing of the Third Order.
A CALL TO HOLINESS…
Although a second marriage could have been an option for Maria del Refugio, once she made the commitment to a new life through the spiritual exercises, her overriding desire was to become a nun. Nevertheless, she did have a daughter and had to seek perfection of her maternal capacity. As a mother she was strict, demanding and ever watchful; however, she was able to respect her daughter’s vocation and to bring her up to respond freely to whatever destiny God intended for her.
After completing elementary studies in Mexico City, Refugio Teresa graduated college as schoolmistress in 1907. In her experience both as a mother and in carrying out her apostolate, Maria del Refugio felt that Our Lord had entrusted her with the salvation of children and young people and therefore it was her duty to work for this salvation through example and prayer.
Special Announcement from Pope Francis!
On July 16, 2015 the Holy Father authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree announcing the heroic virtue of our Foundress, María del Refugio. Please spread the word. And please ask for her intercession so that we can obtain a miracle that will move her towards beatification and canonization. Read the full article from the Vatican News website.
María del Refugio, intercede for us!
María del Refugio, ¡intercede por nosotros!
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Quite recently, the Lord gave me a great gift, which is to know that I am loved even unto death. This is not just to say that Jesus loved me so much that He died for me, but also that He loves me so much to let me die in a thousand little ways because only this will bring me my heart’s desire: Heaven.
Now here is the reality: we have to die before we get to Heaven. This is as true physically as it is spiritually; for every time we die to ourselves and allow the Lord to raise us up again, we are a little closer to Heaven. In realizing all of this, I have come to understand that I am loved even unto death. I am very resistant to this of course because dying is painful and not something I want to do, but my Beloved loves me so much that He allows me to die many times during the day, to the point that in frustration I wish I could have a break from what seems like an endless cycle. Oh but He loves me too much to allow me to miss a moment to be closer to Him.
There was a while when I thought that love was mostly service, and that in serving we show love best. Indeed I looked at my sweet Jesus washing the feet of His disciples and saw love, and this is not wrong, but there is something missing if this is the only love we show. There is something beyond choosing to do the dishes or bringing in the groceries.
I turn my attention to other ways that Jesus loved. “He turned around and looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do’.” This was a powerful act of love on Jesus’ part, because love is also suffering, it’s also dying. How it must have hurt Peter to be accused of being “Satan” by his best friend, all because he didn’t want his friend to suffer, he wanted him to be upheld and defended. But this was an act of love for Jesus because He didn’t want his friend to see only through human eyes, He wanted him to see with the eyes of Heaven. And when Jesus would allow himself to be nailed to a tree He would reveal love through the eyes of Heaven. It is the challenge to something greater that Jesus presents to Peter and so many others, because even though He knows it will mean many little deaths and suffering for them, He loves them so much that He wants them to embrace the opportunity to grow closer to the Father. The reward of the Resurrection is greater than the horror of the Passion and the grave.
There are so many little opportunities to spiritually die to oneself during the day, not getting the dessert you really want, passing up something you enjoy so that someone else can enjoy it instead, etc. All of these mortifications can seem like little deaths, but in my own life I find that the real deaths are the little things that I don’t choose and don’t expect. This might be a change of schedule, not being able to help with something as planned, playing the game you don’t like, or keeping from saying something the way you prefer to say it. And then there is always the case of apologizing when you find yourself in the wrong, which is in some ways a death, but actually is the first light of the resurrection, which hurts because you must go from darkness to light, but which soon proves to reveal a beauty that you couldn’t anticipate when in the grave.
“…true love does not let the beloved limit themself by the measure of men, but by the measure of Heaven itself.”
I have found that I am loved even unto death, as through my sisters the Lord pushes me to never stop running the race, and when I am tired He still uses them to push me harder. Oh, what a blessing to have my sisters who love me enough to not let me tire, and to call me beyond myself relentlessly! Indeed I thought I loved them because I embraced these deaths for them, but how much it means to know that they love me so much that they let me die and don’t let me miss an opportunity for it. They want Heaven for me, and I want it for them, so why would I let them settle for comfort even for a moment. Or take away a chance when they might grow in one way or another? Yes it hurts but I would love them less if I didn’t let them suffer and die, for only by suffering, dying, and rising with the Lord will we be closer to Heaven. And this is true for any relationship fueled by love, because true love does not let the beloved limit themself by the measure of men, but by the measure of Heaven itself.
Love. Yes Christ loved us to the cross, and we too are to love to the cross, but also, like Mary, we are meant to accompany those we love to the cross, not keeping them from it, but in true love challenging them to it. Thank you to my dear Sisters who love me too much to let me settle for anything less than the love of Heaven, I pray only that I may love you so much as to push you there as well.
Happy Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes!
God’s will be done.
With Mary in the Eucharist.
Praised be Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament now and for ever! Amen!
“He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.'” (Acts 9:4-5)
The Conversion of St. Paul: such a powerful feast day for the Church! St. Paul gives me hope for my own conversion and journey to heaven. The readings for this feast day bring me back to a Christology lecture last semester that really struck me. (We take classes at St. Mary Seminary & Graduate School of Theology.)
In this class, we discussed a section of a book called Knowing Jesus by James Alison. I remember vividly our professor passionately saying, “You know Jesus because He is the one you are trying to persecute!” There was a deep silence that filled the room after he said this. In that moment in class, I felt as if I had fallen to the ground and had to face the question, “Who are you persecuting?” Alison’s approach to knowing Jesus is indeed Pauline in that he says the way to know Jesus initially is by knowing Him in the one you are trying to persecute. More often I identify with being persecuted for being Christian, but I fail to recognize that, in my weakness, I persecute my own brothers and sisters, and this is hard to admit. Facing the question, “Who are you persecuting?” was and still is difficult for me because there is an answer that I do not want to confess. I bring this question to prayer quite often and ask for the grace of humility and honesty in order to answer this question. In the silence of God, the answer comes to my heart in such pain: “My Sisters.”
Those closest to me are the ones I persecute, and it is through them and in them that I will know Jesus. My Beloved dwells in each of my beautifully created Sisters, and in my weakness, I persecute Jesus in them, and thus, I also persecute them. Yet, there is a sweetness to this awareness – God’s Mercy. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I recognize that I am the persecutor of my own Sisters. I do not desire to be but many times I am, but this gives rise to moments of repentance and deeper acceptance of God’s Love for me. The Gospel calls us to love our persecutors as well. I am called to love the persecutors of my Sisters, and since that includes me, I must learn to love myself, to be merciful to self. Community life isn’t all roses, but it is always filled with grace and love. I am called to love my Sisters as Christ loves them, but sometimes it takes seeing how I am not loving them as I should in order to grow deeper in my love for each of my Sisters. The Way is not comfortable, but it promises us salvation…heaven!
This may not be our favorite way of knowing Jesus, but I do think it is necessary because we need to surrender these dark spots of our lives to the one who is Light – Jesus Christ. If we don’t, we will fool ourselves in thinking we are perfect Christians and no longer need God. Actually, we’d be quite the contrary.
My brothers and sisters, I desire that you may know and love Jesus. My prayer for us is to be open to the voice that calls out to us to face our shadows with Him who redeems us. Do not be afraid to listen to the voice of God and in turn, to respond to Him by totally giving your whole life. Remain in the Heart of the Trinity and never abandon His gaze. You have the capacity to love and to be loved. Trust in God always.
My Sisters and I commend you to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Please keep my Sisters and me in your prayers.
With Mary in the Eucharist,
Your little, poor sister,
Sr. Kathryne Lopez
“For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me.”
(1 Corinthians 15:9-10)