By Larry Peterson
She was born on June 21, 1866, in Jalisco, Mexico. Her full name was Maria Luisa de la Pena y Navarro. As the years passed, it would shorten and become Maria Luisa Josefa. Maria was the third child born to her parents and the first to survive. The births of eleven more children followed her arrival. Maria, as the oldest, felt a responsibility to set an example for her younger siblings. She did so by exhibiting gentle behavior and kindness to all of them. Through it all, she always felt called to religious life. However, answering God’s calling would have to be delayed.
Maria’s parents had different plans for her. They wanted her to marry a prominent physician in the area by the name of Pascual Rojas. Always the obedient child, Maria agreed to do as her mother and father wished. At the age of fifteen, she put her calling to religious life on hold and married Pascual. He was twice her age. They were happily married for fourteen years. They even built a small hospital together to serve the poor and less fortunate. It was called the Hospital of the Sacred Heart.
Dr. Rojas died suddenly, and Maria became a widow. She was twenty-nine years old. She had no children and remained a single woman for the next eight years. Then she entered the Cloistered Carmelites and immersed herself in the deep spirituality of Carmel.
After only seven months, Archbishop Francisco Jiminez reached out to Sister Maria. He asked her to return to the hospital she and her husband had started. He wanted her to apply her administrative abilities as the operations were falling into chaos. Maria not only put the hospital operations back in order, but she also opened a school and an orphanage. The quiet display of holiness and the saintliness she always exhibited drew many more women seeking to join her ministry.
Archbishop Jiminez once again asked Sister Maria for her help. He wanted her to join another order called the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. Always obedient, Sister left her work behind and did as asked. She never asked why. She was with the Sister Servants for four years when the archbishop once again reached out to her. He needed her back at the hospital and the orphanage. The bishop let her settle in and then told her he wanted her to found a new congregation to identify with the work she and her followers were committed to. Sister Maria founded the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The date was February 2, 1921.
In 1926 the Cristero War began. Under the secularist religion hating president, Plutarco Calles, priests, nuns, and countless Catholics were persecuted, many being tortured and killed. On June 24, 1927, Sister Maria and two of her sister Carmelites, dressed in disguise as homeless women, escaped to Los Angeles, where they sought refuge.
Not knowing what to do or where to start, Sister Maria placed everything in God’s hands. On the Feast Day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus they are unexpectedly welcomed by the Archbishop of Los Angeles, John Cantwell, who had expected their arrival. He arranges shelter for them with the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They remain there until August 3, 1927, and then move to Long Beach to Holy Innocents Parish. The pastor, Father Francis Ott, warmly welcomes them. And so begins the foundation for establishing the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, a sister congregation to the order in Mexico.
After two years in the United States, Sister Maria Luisa Josefa returned to Guadalajara. She returned to work, giving help to the poor. She died on February 11, 1937. Before she lost consciousness, she blessed the congregation gathered around her bedside. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was conducted and finished moments before her final breath
On July 1, 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared Mother Maria Luisa Josefa, a woman of “Heroic Virtue.” He then bestowed the title of Venerable Maria Luisa Josefa upon her. Her feast day is February 11.
Venerable Maria Luisa, please pray for us.