Today, Venerable Maria Antonia de la Paz y Figueroa, also known as the “beata” Maria Antonia de San Jose, or “Mama Antula,” or even “Mama Tula,” just had a miracle approved by Pope Francis. That means that she’s now going to be beatified. She was just named a Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, so that is quick work!
This one is a clear case of favoritism! She worked in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for twenty years, and she was a buddy of Jesuits!! 🙂
She was born in 1730 in Villa Silipica near Santiago del Estero, Argentina, the original capital that was founded before Buenos Aires. In her teens, she went through the Spiritual Exercises with the local Jesuits, and was so impressed that she began to help them out with fundraising to put other people through the same kind of retreat. In 1760, at the age of thirty, she organized a lay religious community of women who lived in common, performed charitable works, and helped the local Jesuits run retreats for the Spiritual Exercises, invented by their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola. The laywomen were not called “sisters,” but rather “beatas,” “blesseds.” (This group of laywomen would eventually become known as the Sociedad Hijas del Divino Salvador, the Daughters of the Divine Savior Society. They became a religious order in 1878, and are still around today. There’s also another group with almost the same name, the Hijas del Divino Salvador, that is a bunch of Salesians founded in 1956 in El Salvador.)
And then, in 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from the entire Spanish empire.
She was not defeated. She found a Mercedarian priest and friar, Fray Diego Toro, and asked him to do the preaching and hear confessions, while she and her “beatas” did the rest of the work to offer the Spiritual Exercises. She stayed in touch with her Jesuit advisors by letter.
And then, she expanded the work. She began to travel the length and breadth of Argentina (always accompanied by two of her fellow beatas, for safety and propriety), walking in sandals to many towns and organizing thousands of Spiritual Exercises retreats. Whenever she was injured or broke something, she relied on prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and was quickly healed “by an invisible hand.” People started to call her the nickname “Mama Antula.”
Finally she traveled to Buenos Aires, where people thought she was nuts and maybe even a witch. The Bishop of Buenos Aires was very skeptical of her, and kept her waiting nine months for permission to run the Spiritual Exercises. Her patience won him over, and he became a great supporter and donor to her works. (And now, one of his successors is paying back those nine months big time! Ha!) Her other opponent was the Viceroy himself, who hated Jesuits and all Jesuit stuff. He denied her permission to run any retreats, so she ended up going to other cities and continuing her work, traveling over the river to what is now Uruguay. Eventually she got permission thanks to the bishop, and her beatas started to take on more of the trappings of a religious order.
By 1784, one contemporary observer estimated that Maria Antonia had arranged the Spiritual Exercises for over 15,000 people in Buenos Aires alone, and in 1788, another observer said that in the course of her work she’d given the Exercises to 70,000 people throughout the area. The Bishop of Buenos Aires decided that he would not ordain any seminarian without having one of the beatas certify that he’d gone through the Spiritual Exercises. It became a big Argentinian spiritual tradition. Meanwhile, her letters to her Jesuit friends overseas were widely circulated by Jesuits still in Europe, and were published and read in many languages.
Venerable Maria Antonia de la Paz y Figueroa died in 1799, on the 7th of March. She was a tough lady.
Venerable Mama Tula, pray for us!
Antula: a 45 minute video from the archdiocese. It’s a mixture of dramatized scenes and a documentary. You will see lots of Colonial Spanish artwork of Jesus, so if you don’t like it don’t watch it. There are some sad bits, like the part where one of the nuns traveling with Mama Antula is killed by a puma; and the one where a retreat guy goes crazy and tries to cut people up with a knife, and she has to save him from being killed by the police. (In Spanish.)
A video about her from Villa Silipica. It’s nice to see something pretty set up with such small resources. The little kid was blessed by the Pope on a visit to Rome.
Zenit says that the beatification miracle accepted was of Sister Rosa Vanina of the Hijas del Divino Salvador. (The miracle occurred in 1904 and was documented and submitted in 1905, which tells you something about the speed of the Vatican bureaucracy.) Sister had acute calculous cholecystitis which had gone bad to the point that she was suffering from septic shock. This was the days before antibiotics, so she was clearly dead woman walking (or more likely, lying there suffering). Only prayer and God’s favor saved the woman, as the doctors carefully documented.
To be fair, most of the processing time for the cause was having the Congregation of the Saints try to find and read all those letters and check them for bad attitude or heresy. A prolific literary saint takes a while!
The beatification will now take place in the Year of Mercy, 2016, which is also Argentina’s bicentennial as an independent country. It is scheduled for Santiago del Estero, where the saint’s remains lie.
A video tour of the retreat house founded by Mama Antula, La Santa Casa de Ejercicios. It’s a beautiful building.
MamaAntula.org, featuring a nice picture of the Venerable’s signature.