The Childhood of Mother Luisita
For Don Epigmenio de la Peña, June 21st was a special day. It was the birthday of his beautiful wife, Maria Luisa. On that day in 1866 there was another significant occurrence. As the angelus bells were ringing, his little daughter, Maria Luisa, named after her mother, was born. Maria Luisa’s father, fearing that this frail child might be carried off to heaven, took her as soon as she was strong enough, to the parish church to receive the water’s of baptism. The strong and determined spirit that was to characterize her was already apparent, and contrary to predictions she clung to her fragile hold on life and began to grow and develop. Eleven more children would ultimately follow Maria Luisa into the family.
This devout couple realized the responsibility that had been entrusted to them to nurture their children both physically and spiritually. Virtue was strongly evident in the lives of these collaborators with God. Although they were wealthy, they knew that the gifts they had received were to be shared with those less fortunate than themselves. In an environment where virtue was so apparent, its lack was also quite noticeable. The parents were deeply concerned with the tendency to arrogance and self-centeredness that began to emerge in Maria Luisa. When she felt that her place in the family had been challenged by the birth of twin sisters, she packed her things and informed her parents that she was going to live with her grandmother! It was with delicacy and love that they helped her to understand that each member of the family was cherished and loved in a unique way.
Often for Maria Luisa, this love took a form that would leave her dissolved in tears. Those tears were not in vain however, and ultimately the arrogant child began to develop the self-forgetfulness, kindness and affability that would characterize her throughout her life. Due to her poor health, Maria Luisa was not able to attend school and a tutor was provided for her at home. Agapita, a relative was a holy woman and besides teaching her pupil the secular subjects, she helped her to discover the mystery of God in every creature and to converse familiarly with Him. Luisita developed a life-long love for nature and looked upon it as God’s special gift, a daily reminder of His goodness. She also learned to love music, dancing, bullfights, and horseback riding. One day Don Epigmenio commented to his wife, “Maria Luisa is not the same girl. There is something in her that commands my respect. I feel obliged to be different in her presence.” Once when she thought no one was listening, she was heard to utter the words, “My God, give me a holy heart with a pure intention to please you”. Ever so softly she was beginning to hear the gentle call of God drawing her to a life totally given to Him.
The name Luisa means “one famous in battle”. It was a name which held what was as yet an unknown significance. Throughout her life, Maria Luisa would wage a battle. At first it would be against her own character and the self-conquest involved in unconditional obedience. Later it would be against the forces of religious persecution in her beloved homeland. In all she would emerge triumphant and ultimately the fame of her virtues would inspire others to limitation. For now, as she began to leave childhood behind, the first battle had been won. Many struggles, challenges and opportunities to grow in virtue awaited her.