By Larry Peterson
She was born in Seville, Spain, on January 30, 1846. Three days later, she was baptized at the Church of Santa Lucia and given the name Maria de Los Angeles, which means Mary of the Angels. But they called her Angela. The child received her First Holy Communion when she was eight years old and her Confirmation at the age of nine.
Angela came from a simple family of very modest means. Her dad was trained as a woodcarver, but after moving to Serville took a job as the cook at a Trinitarian monastery. His wife, Josefa, took the job as a seamstress and house cleaner. Together they had thirteen children, of which only six survived. Angela’s schooling was limited as it was for most girls of her social class. When she was twelve years old, she went to work in a shoe factory to help the family with more income. She would work there virtually full time for the next 17 years.
The supervisor at the shoe factory was a devout Catholic woman by the name of Antonia Maldonado. She always encouraged the employees to pray together, to recite the Rosary, and to learn about the many saints in the church. It was through Antonia that Angela, at the age of sixteen, would meet Father Jose Torres y Padilla, a priest from the Canary Islands. Father Jose would become Angela’s confessor and a powerful influence in her life;.
Angela had felt a calling to religious life, and when she turned nineteen, she decided it was time to answer that call. She applied to the Discalced Carmelites in Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, she was turned away because of poor health. She turned to Father Padilla, who advised her to keep praying and to begin working with the poor, especially those suffering from Cholera, which was quite prevalent at the time. Angela followed this advice and started her service to the poor.
In 1868 Angela again attempted to gain acceptance to convent life. This time she applied to the Daughters of Charity of Seville. Despite her frail health, she was accepted. The Sisters tried to nurse Angela back to full health but were unable to. They sent her to Cuenca and then to Valencia, but neither place helped. She had to leave the order and returned home, going back to work in the shoe factory.
Angela continued working in the shoe factory and held on to her dream to become a religious. She worked and served the poor. She prayed and prayed, and in1873, she received a vision. In it, she was shown that her calling was to help the poorest of the poor. She began her mission that very day and also started a journal recording what she believed was God’s message to her.
Quickly other women were drawn to her, but it was on August 2, 1875, that she chose three ladies who were to begin a new order with her. They were Josefa de la Pena, who was quite wealthy, and Juana Maria Castro and Jauna Magadan. They were both poor, just like Angela.
The order they founded was called the Congregation of the Cross. Its mission would be to work with the sick, the poor, orphans, and the homeless. They would provide food, medicine, clothing, housing, and whatever else they could to help those in their care. The money Josefa had was used to rent a small room and a working kitchen. Other funds were strictly from alms and donations. They opened a 24-hour support service for the poor, and, in 1877, a new site was opened in another Seville province.
The Archbishop of Seville, Luis de la Lastra y Cuesta, gave his official approval to the new order on April 5, 1876. Father Torres died in 1877 and was succeeded by his protege, Jose Maria Delgado. Angela was installed as the Mother Superior of the Congregation of the Cross and became known as Mother Angela of the Cross. She was lovingly known to the people as the “Mother of the Poor.” She died on March 2, 1932, in Seville. She was 86 years old.
At the time of her passing 23 convents had already opened. By the year 2008, there were over 1000 sisters in the order serving the poor all over the world.
Pope St. John Paul II canonized Mother Angela on May 4, 2003. Her feast day is March 2.
St. Angela of the Cross, please pray for us.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2020