From Servant to Saint
Written by Angela Blardony Ureta / Special to the BusinessMirror Saturday, 11 September 2010 11:49
SHE was an educator who never went to school; a teacher who never had the chance to be a student. Yet, because of her childlike faith, Blessed Candida Maria de Jesus made it possible for tens of thousands of women and children around the world to enjoy quality Christian education, especially in countries where opportunities are limited. Not only did she establish schools for higher learning, she also worked for the betterment of societies afflicted by many ills, such as poverty, ignorance, war and discrimination.
In the Philippines alone, where Blessed Candida’s congregation, the Hijas de Jesus, first arrived in 1932, over 10,000 students are currently studying in nine schools and almost 6,000 children and youth benefit from catechetical instruction outside the school. All over the world, innumerable individuals and communities, likewise, benefit from the congregation’s apostolic and pastoral work in 17 countries, mostly in Asia, Latin America and Africa, where the need is greatest.
“We dedicate ourselves to education in its multiple forms,” says Sis. Emelinda “Lynn” Falsis, FI, directress and principal of Manresa School in Parañaque. “Education is our means of proclaiming to all the Good News, moved by the desire to help people as Jesus did. Mother Foundress’s spirit can be felt in the instructional methods and activities that are always in light of the school’s vision-mission, which is seeing to it that the gospel values are integrated, deepened and lived by the students in their daily life experiences.”
Serving the poor and the powerless
One of the most shining examples of God’s astonishing work in her life is in how Blessed Candida was able to establish a congregation of Christian educators when she herself was practically illiterate!
She was first known to the world as Juana Josefa Cipitria y Bariola, born in the Basque province of Guipuzoa, Spain, on May 31, 1845. To help support her impoverished family, the young Juanita left home at the age of 17 to work as a domestic help for a wealthy family in Burgos. Despite her humble stature, Juanita displayed extraordinary piety and compassion for those even more destitute than herself.
On April 2, 1869, while praying at the chapel of Rosarillo, she received an inspired message from the Blessed Virgin to found a religious order of women to be known as the “Hijas de Jesus”. Her spiritual director, a Jesuit named Fr. Miguel Herranz, immediately confirmed her vision, having received a similar message himself. Through his patient mentoring, Juanita learned to read, write and speak Castilian at the age of 24, hurriedly preparing for her imminent role as foundress of a teaching congregation.
In the face of ongoing persecution against the Catholic Church at the time, Juanita—now Candida Maria de Jesus—established her congregation on December 8, 1871. Six young women joined her as the order’s pioneers. They opened their first school in 1874, accepting both paying students and indigent scholars, while offering free adult classes for domestic help on Sundays.
The Hijas de Jesus embodied Mother Candida’s vision of using education to uplift the poor and powerless. She was a pioneer of social justice and women’s rights in 19th-century Spain, opening schools for girls of all social backgrounds at a time when over 80 percent of the female population could barely read or write.
Witnessing the devastation that civil war brought upon the people of Spain, she designed her congregation to provide educational institutions, retreat houses, medical dispensaries and social-service centers—the same apostolate and pastoral missions that her daughters continue to serve today among the neediest in the world.
Mother Candida died in Salamanca, Spain, on August 9, 1912. At the moment of death, she declared: “In my 40 years of religious life, I could not recall a single moment that did not belong to God alone.”
A saint for the modern world
Beatified on May 12, 1996, Blessed Candida was described by no less than Pope John Paul II as a “visionary” who was “blessed with a prophetic view of the modern world.”
He added: “Her deep experience of God’s love for each of His creatures led her to respond with generosity and dedication. She concretely expressed her love of others by founding the congregation of the Daughters of Jesus, whose charism was the Christian education of children and adolescents.…A visible expression of her love for God, of the radical way she followed Jesus and her total commitment to the cause of His Kingdom.”
In July 2009 Pope Benedict XVI authorized the promulgation of the decree that authenticated a healing miracle attributed to her intercession. Finally, in February, the Holy Father announced the canonization of Blessed Candida Maria de Jesus on October 17, joining five others who will also be raised to the altar of saints.
“By becoming a saint, she now belongs to the Church and not just for the Hijas de Jesus,” says Sister Lynn, who echoes the jubilation felt by all the sisters, students and lay collaborators at this joyful news. She adds that while a delegation will be sent to witness the canonization rites in Rome on October 17, the Philippines will celebrate Thanksgiving Masses on October 18 at different times of the day: 8:30 a.m. at San Pedro Cathedral in Davao, with Archbishop Fernando Capalla; 2:30 p.m. at Jaro Cathedral with Archbishop Angel Lagdameo; 3 p.m. at Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, with Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales; and 5 p.m. at the Cebu Cathedral, with Cardinal Ricardo Vidal. On Camiguin Island the community and friends will hold their Thanksgiving Mass on October 31 at their parish.
“Filipinos can definitely identify with Mother Candida,” relates Sister Lynn. “Her simplicity, her struggles, her joys and pains are not alien to us. The challenges she encountered are still the same experiences we face at present. We also share a common gift with her: our faith and belief in God. It is this unique quality which helps us overcome the worst and appreciate the best life has to offer.”