By Fred W. Williams
Editors Note: This is one in a series of word pictures on religious life and places by one of the best known newspaper feature writers in the West.
A ray of sunshine, filtering though a crack in the curtain penetrates the cool shadows of the improvised chapel of the Carmelites at old St. Mary’s College in Oakland and forms a halo above the figure of the Christ on the Crucifix above the altar.
On its way to the Cross, it lingers caressingly on a solitary figure in the brown habit of Carmel that kneels many hours in prayer.
This is Maria Luisa, the Mother General of the exiled nuns of the Little Flower from Mexico.
The Sisters at the door to the chapel tell you the Mother General is not well, that she has not been well for a long time, ever since in fact, the Holy Mother Church went under the iron heel of bitter persecution in Mexico.
Letters reach her every day. They are in Spanish and they come from faithful in the homeland. They tell of many things that sadden her heart, of the murder and torture of friends, of the striking down of good priests, so many of them, of the robbing of the Church and the scattering of her flocks.
Downstairs a little group of nuns place flowers at the feet of a statue of St. John Baptiste de la Salle, he who founded the Christian Brothers in the seventeenth century, who carried the light of education into the cellars and tenements of the poor.
They are so grateful to the Christian Brothers, these good nuns, for the Christian Brothers have been so good to them. When all the world, it seemed, had turned against them, when they were upon the streets and without homes, the Christian Brothers did a splendid, gracious thing. They offered a haven from the conflict; they are building them a convent with a cloistered garden at Moraga, site of the new St. Mary’s.
And so each day they place fresh flowers at the feet of the statue of St. John Baptiste de la Salle, whose sons came to their aid in the answer to their prayers.
They pray for their Church now in Mexico, these little nuns, and for their Catholic countrymen and for their beloved Mother General, whose heart is so heavy and who, hour upon hour, like a statue carved in stone, kneels before the Blessed Sacrament.
Maria Luisa comes slowly down the stairs. She has finished with her prayers. Her nuns put forth willing hands to help her. Though not old, she has become feeble.
A gracious lady. A Spanish aristocrat. A woman who must have been a great beauty in her youth. Her eyes are big and brown and alight with strange fires. Now and then a troubled shadow quenches them. When she smiles, which is seldom, her whole face brightens and the vista of years are swept away.
Her eyes look on and past you. You sense she sees something you do not. Those eyes, so wondrous in their penetration, have looked upon tragedy and yet much happiness. Reverently you touch the hand she extends.
The Mother General does not speak English, but through a nun who acts as interpreter, she tells you something of her sorrows and of her unhappy land in which the Church lies so sorely wounded.
Her heart bleeds for the priests in Mexico, the priests who remained behind, who are cut down in their acts of mercy by the ruthless gunmen of “The Butcher”, and who die with prayers of forgiveness for their murderers.
A bell tinkles softly against the coming night and summons the exiles of the Little Flower to Benediction. They gather their habits closely about them and silently, by twos leave for the chapel.
Later in the evening, when all is silent about the deserted college building, golden voices rise from the Chapel singing the Laudate Dominum.
Carmelite Priests' Remembrances
–Father Finian Monahan, Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites Rome, July 16, 1977
“I can affirm that I have always seen in Mother Luisita a great and extraordinary woman convinced of what she was doing, showing throughout her life a theological way of living in a truly heroic degree. It would be enough to see the work of her congregation and the profound spiritual value of so many of its elements to glimpse that Mother Luisita could act in no other way than under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
–Father Bernardo Chehaibar, OCD Provincial Council Member, Mexican Province March 26, 1978
“With regard to the holiness of Mother Luisita, I admired and was very much impressed by her profound life of faith which in my personal opinion meant that she was always faithful and lovingly opened to the voice of the Spirit using her highest strength to let God’s grace work in her. This mysterious strength impelled her to do simply what she ought to do, to such a degree that she became extraordinary in the ordinary. I also admire how, in spite of her strong character, she exercised such dominion that, on arriving at the fullness of a life perfected in heroic suffering through ordinary sweetness and simplicity, that the whole own could identify her with the significant name of “the sweet Mother Luisita. Furthermore, the fact that being a wealthy person of high social standing, she would detach herself from everything, to absolutely give her whole being to the Lord, and would adapt herself to all characters and all degrees of the culture (social strata) with a true and exquisite fraternal charity, reveals her intimate union with God in continuous prayer. Finally, the nearness of Mother Luisita to our own personal circumstances with her simple, virtuous and holy life, is an evident proof that God is not only close to us, but within us, and, at the same time that holiness is a gift within everyone’s reach.”
–Father Juan Manuel Vega, OCD, Mexican Province Guadalajara, March 11, 1978
“Indeed, Mother Luisita’s ‘fame of holiness’ among her (religious) daughters and the Christian people who knew her personally is sustained on a solid base. There are reliable testimonies of her profound and authentic experience of God, of her simple life, always joyful and generous to heroism in service to the poor.”
–Father Camilo Macisse, OCD Mexican Province, 1978
Sisters Who Knew Mother Luisita
–Sister Beatriz of Jesus, OCD Durango, Mexico 1978
“Each time I remember Mother Luisita, I think of her as a saint and I invoke her as such. In my greatest trials I have recourse to her and I always feel very much consoled. What an accumulation of virtues I observed in her. Her interior and constant recollection reflected in her the presence of God.”
–Sister Maria Del Socorro, Servants of Jesus
“The impression of kindness and affability that Mother Luisita left in my mind when I was only seven years old, has remained indelible in my soul, perhaps because I felt very much honored by her, as if I would have been a distinguished person. I remember how one day she told me: “You will be a Carmelite.” My impression of her at that age was that of a very virtuous and holy religious. Later, I understood that in her shone all virtues in a heroic way, particularly Charity, and this virtue is precisely what gives assurance of holiness.
–Sister Teresa of Jesus, OCD Monastery of Saint Teresa of Avila, Guadalajara, Mexico 1978
“I knew Mother Luisita when she joined our Discalced Carmelite monastery of Saint Teresa in the year 1904 and I had the opportunity of living with her. I observed many virtues in Mother Luisita. I was inspired by her great love of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Blessed Virgin. I felt edified at her outstanding charity, her observance of the Rule and her spirit of poverty. I believe that Mother Luisita is a great saint because of her great charity toward all classes of people, great and small, rich and poor.”
— Sister Jesus Teresa of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, OCD Monastery of Hoguera 1978
Lay People Who Knew Mother Luisita
–Agapita Cores Jimenez Ocotlan, Mexico, 1970
“In my opinion, Mother Luisita lived as a saint and is a saint.”
–Delfina Galvez Ceja Guadalajara, Mexico 1977
“Her charity was that of a true saint, simple and kind. People of all ages could see her holiness very clearly. She reflected God in her whole person by her modest and recollected bearing.”
–Ignacia Aceves de Miranda Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco, Mexcio 1977
“I always saw her smiling. She was a soul of great union with God, evidenced in her immense love of he poor and needy…Mother Luisita inspired within me both respect and veneration, especially during her moments of prayer and intimacy with God.” –Maria Luisa Jimenez de Ascencio Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico 1977
Bishops and Priests Who Knew Mother Luisita
–Leonardo Viera Contreras Bishop of Ciudad Guzman, Mexico 1977
“I knew Mother Luisita personally. She left this world leaving a great reputation of holiness. She practiced the Christian virtues with extraordinary fidelity, and especially her constant charity toward the poor and sick.”
–Francisco Javier, Nuno Archbishop de San Juan de Los Lagos, Mexico 1977
“What was Mother Luisita to her Carmelite Sisters? She was an angel who, through her example and virtues, modeled the sweet aspect of the religious sisters in her Congregation. She spent her whole soul, her whole fortune, and also her body in the Congregation she founded which has given so much glory to God, to the church and to society. She was a model religious, an unblemished superior, and a reservoir of tenderness and charity for the whole world. Her main virtues were: Modesty, abnegation, piety and constancy, but what was most outstanding about her is that she left in her magnificent work, her whole exquisite personality and all the sweetness of her incomparable charity.”
–Father Macario Velazquez Abarca, Canon of the Cathedral of Guadalajara 1959
“”There was no human or spiritual misery that would not find a compassionate echo in her Christian heart. The qualifying adjectives of good, holy, pious, charitable sprang spontaneously from all who knew and interacted with her. I remember how my family would comment upon an expression of Father Macario Velazquez Abarca who for many years was the pastor of Atotonilco el Alto and who knew and was well acquainted with Mother Luisita. When she died, he said with all simplicity: “Why are you praying to other saints? In your own family you have a great saint, Mother Luisita.”
–Salvador Angulo Navaro, Chancellor Secretary Diocese of Villahermosa, Tabasco 1977
“I have a very vivid and pleasant image of Mother Luisita in my mind. As a small child I served as an altar boy in the Chapel of El Calvario and I saw her many times. I remember her smile full of kindness, her words, her moderate conversation, and her edifying attitude which inspired holiness. I remember very well the expression on her face when, with great compassion, she would speak of the poor. From what I and all the persons of my time saw in Mother Luisita, I am convinced she was a holy woman.”
–Jose Ruiz Navarro, Canon of the Diocese of Jalapa, Mexico 1974
“In my opinion, Mother Luisita was an exceptional soul. Being already a priest, I visited her several times. I always felt, after leaving her convent, that I had been in the presence of a holy Religious.”
–Father Manuel Martinez, Ocotlan, Jalisco, Mexico 1957