“God never simply buries our dead and broken dreams because He’d be burying our hearts along with our dreams. One of two positive things will happen. Either the dream will become fertilizer for something even better, or the Lord will give me the gumption and oomph to bring my dream to fruition. I can’t lose either way!”
Pilar Maria and Leonor Lopez de Maturana were born twins. On July 25, 1884. Both had great dreams. They felt called to follow the stars! Leonor joined the Carmelites of Charity and found herself doing missionary and educational work in Argentina, Pilar joined the Sisters of Mercy in the unassuming convent at Berriz. She was 19.
Berriz is a town located in the province of Bizkaia, in the autonomous community of Basque country, northern Spain. Her mother steered her away from the advances of a naval officer who was showing too much interest in her. Pilar was beautiful.
The community of Vera Cruz was cloistered but they kept a boarding school on the side. Pilar, now Sister Margarita Maria was an excellent educator. She was very innovative also, introducing music, gym and drama in the curriculum of this school.
Missionaries on their way to India and China often stopped there and recounted their adventures in these far away places. The missionary fervor echoed strongly within the heart of this young teacher at the monastery school.
She longed to go the missions. She was a woman of deep feelings, very determined and above all open to the surprises of God. God can be so unconventional!
Inspired by their founder, Saint Peter Nolasco, who in 1218 established the Order specifically to ransom Christians who were captives of the Moors (Spain at the time was in the hand of the moors), the Sisters vow to lay down their lives for captives or people whose lives are in danger.
It is called the ‘blood vow’. The early Fathers were even ready to remain “hostage in the hands of the Saracens for the redemption of captive Christians.” Risks, blood, captivity, addictions are present even today. There are new forms of slavery and so we need new forms of redemption.
Sister Margarita Maria believed the best way to practice that vow was to transform the Vera Cruz monastery into a missionary congregation and “make Christ known to the ends of the earth.”
This was a jump in the unknown. A complete revolution. A metamorphosis. It is not easy to break centuries of traditions.
It was naked faith in God that kept her going. Many were against the idea. Mediocrity around her tried to kill her dream. Many believed she was crazy but her joyful enthusiasm dashed all resistances to the grounds. She believed what Henri Nouwen would say later, “Your life is not going to be easy, and it should not be easy. It ought to be hard. It ought to be radical; it ought to be restless; it ought to lead you to places you’d rather not go.”
“There are moments in the life,” she herself said, “that are of utmost importance where God outlines for us a clear way to follow. It is up to us to correspond or not.”
Everything happened rapidly. The General of the Order brought Sister Margarita Maria’s project to the attention of Pope Pius XI. With his blessing, the first experimental expedition of six nuns was sent to Wuhu, China in 1926. The second missionary group went to Saipan in 1927, and a third to Pohnpei in the Caroline Islands, in 1928.
A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.
When Sr. Margarita Maturana visited Fauchuen on her journey to Pohnpei to open the first school there, she picked up a stone and said, “May this stone be the cornerstone of the future convent for our sisters here.” Her words were prophetic because less than ten years later the school was built.
Thus, a soon-to-be beatified woman walked on our islands! The initial faltering steps of this enormous adventure developed here at the Marianas! God has His own way of doing things … and they are always exciting.
Margarita found herself engulfed in numerous tribulations. The ambiguity and the denigration of many around her troubled her. The fatigue of these long journeys weighed her down considerably. But her unshakeable confidence in God made the impossible happen. She felt driven by God.
In 1930, the Vera Cruz nuns voted unanimously to become missionaries. On the strength of their fourth vow, they shared the dream of Margarita to assume risks and face challenges even in far away countries. Slowly but surely she had transformed the hearts of ninety four nuns of papal cloister in this vision of universal brotherhood!
On May 23, Rome approved the new religious institute of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz. Mother Margarita Maria was elected their first superior general.
Four years later she died of cancer. She was only fifty years old. Her parting words were that to her sisters. “Do not worry. I will take care of you from heaven.” And I believe she has.
On October 22, she will be beatified in her hometown, Bilbao, Spain. Bishop Tomas Camacho and a delegation from the Marianas will be there. Interestingly enough, that Sunday is Mission Sunday!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.