By Larry Peterson
There are those people that are seemingly in-tune with the Holy Spirit from their earliest years. They sense His presence, understand His desires, and do their best to accommodate His requests. Such was the woman known as Maria Soledad Torres y Acosta. She indeed “heard the cry of the poor” and knew where that cry originated. She listened and followed and never looked back.
On December 2, 1826, Francisco Torres and Antonia Acosta welcomed their second of what eventually would be five children into the world. They gave her the name, Manuela, and she was baptized as “Antonia Bibiana Manuela.” Her mom and dad operated a small business selling goods to tourists on the Plaza de Espana, in central Madrid.
Manuela attended a school run by the Vincentian Sisters. Founded in 1633, members of the order were dedicated to serving the poor through their devotion to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Manuela spent as much time as she could after school, helping the poor that were being taken care of by the Sisters.
Manuela’s life as a child and teenager was a simple, uncomplicated existence no different than most of the girls she grew up with. There was one thing that Manuela did possess that most others did not; she had a deep love for the Blessed Mother, and it was so profound many people could sense it in her. Manuela was determined to find a way to serve Our Lady by serving the poor. She tried to join the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), but there was a waiting list, and she would have to wait.
Then, in 1851, she heard about a priest in another part of Madrid, who was starting a new group to help the poor. His purpose was to start an order that would take care of people in their homes. The priests’ name was Father Michael Martinez who was a Third Order Servite. When she asked him if she could join she was welcomed and became the seventh member of the founding group. From that point on she was known as Sister Maria Soledad. The new order began its work on August 15, 1851.
Sister Maria could feel the presence of Christ in everyone she cared for. She was able to empty herself for others and managed to understand the spiritual richness contained in the poorest of the poor. She embraced this and loved them as much as anyone ever could. In her humble eyes all of the patients were Christ himself, and there was nothing she would not do for them
In 1856, Father Micahel took six of the founding sisters and left to go to the mission in Bioko, on the African coast. Sister Maria Soledad took care of the remaining sisters and became the Foundress and Superior General of the Servants of Mary. From that point on, she was known as Mother Maria Soledad, and the new order was called the Servant’s of Mary.
Mother Maria and her followers were very poor and barely had enough to eat. There was jealousy and infighting among the clerics that were involved with overseeing the new order, and the politics became so intense that the bishop threatened to dissolve it. After meeting with Mother maria and talking to her he realized what a good and holy woman she was and re-appointed her as Mother Superior and officially sanctioned the name Servants of Mary.
Mother Maria Soledad lived long enough to see her congregation receive full papal approval in 1876. In 1887 she came down with pneumonia. She received Extreme Unction and passed away on October 11, 1887. She was buried at the local cemetery, where the sisters had a plot.
Sixteen years later, on January 18, 1893, her remains were exhumed for transfer to the mother-house. Her body was intact and emitted a sweet odor that everyone present could smell. It was as if a florist had opened its doors. After several years only the bones remained.
Mother Maria Soledad Torres y Acosta was beatified by Pope Pius XII in 1950 and canonized a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Saint Maria Soledad, please pray for us.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2019