Modern Saint: Maria de las Maravillas de Jesus
Something true and wondrous
by Melanie Rigney
It was a long name for an infant: Maria de las Maravillas Pidal Chico de Guzman. But her mother had a special devotion to Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas (Our Lady of Wonders, or Marvels) … and there was, of course, that family pedigree. When the child they nicknamed Mavi was born, her father was serving as the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See.
Reading the works of St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross surely fueled Mavi’s interest in becoming a Carmelite. All those saints stories her beloved grandmother read to her had an impact, as well. But as Mavi’s certainty about her vocation solidified, her top priority was helping to care for her ailing father. He died a few weeks after Mavi’s 22nd birthday, and her grandmother died soon thereafter. The young woman’s spiritual director advised her to wait to enter religious life until her mother embraced the idea; that took nearly five more years.
Not long after entering the novitiate in 1920, Mavi felt called to open a monastery south of Madrid, not far from where the king had placed a Sacred Heart of Jesus monument. Everything fell into place, and she was named prioress of the Cerro de los Ángeles (Hill of the Angels) community in October 1926, a post she would hold the rest of her life.
For the next 10 or so years, Mother Maravillas’ work hummed along. She sent eight sisters to India to establish a Carmelite convent there. She was known for her personal self-discipline — including sleeping on the floor, dressed and sitting — and for the disciplines she imposed on the community. When some criticized the convent cells for their small size and lack of comfort and the effect they might have on attracting women, her response was: “It is not our concern to plant a seed, since the Discalced Carmelites have already been founded. Even if our convents collapse, nothing will happen.”
The Spanish Civil War changed everything — or at least, it appeared to. Mother Maravillas and her community were placed under house arrest and sent to a small apartment. Eventually they were allowed to relocate about 150 miles away and establish a new convent. When they returned in 1939, Cerro de los Ángeles had been destroyed and had to be rebuilt. Through it all, Mother Maravillas remained calm, reminding the sisters of the legacy of St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross and of the 1562 Carmelite reformation. Indeed, she was so dedicated to living their vision of the Discalced Carmelites that she was known to venerate St. Teresa’s relics, and she researched thoroughly the sandal style St. Teresa wore so that it could be replicated within her community.
With Vatican II, some religious communities sought to change the way they lived their vocations. Mother Maravillas strongly advocated for Discalced Carmelites who desired to live under the practices St. Teresa of Ávila had instituted, including almost complete enclosure, extremely simple habits and sandals, and nearly total silence. It wasn’t that Mother Maravillas objected to others embracing more relaxed conventions; she simply wanted women like her who desired to live as St. Teresa had directed to be able to do so. In 1972, she received Vatican approval to establish the Association of St. Teresa. (Today, those monasteries follow what are known as the 1990 Constitutions and number about 140 members around the world.)
Mother Maravillas died two years later, repeating over and over on her deathbed, “What happiness to die a Carmelite!” At her 2003 canonization, St. John Paul II said she was “motivated by a heroic faith that shaped her response to an austere vocation, in which she made God the center of her life.”
Keeping the Lord and the Discalced Carmelite principles as the focus of all she did shows us that her parents had chosen wisely at her birth in naming her Maravillas, a person of wonders.
Like Mother Maravillas, we often find our world in upheaval. People tell us things are different today, and that we need to embrace or accept social changes that are anathema to our Catholic teachings. May we gain strength from her example and speak up for what is real and true.
St. Maria de las Maravillas de Jesus, some family members, friends, and acquaintances tell me I need to “get with the times” and accept things I know are wrong. Please guide my words as I share the Church’s teachings with them. Please open their minds and souls to the truth.