The Society’s Angel in Process of Sanctification
By Jesús Aguado
The childhood of María del Refugio Aguilar took place in San Miguel de Allende. María del Refugio’s life was simple, and she was generous and pure, regardless of her family’s buying power. She was always charitable and compassionate to others. Almost 150 years after her birth, María del Refugio, now a candidate for sainthood, keeps walking that path toward recognition of her sanctity.
On September 21, 1866, María del Refugio was born in the house on the corner of Mesones and Hidalgo. As a child, she always showed her love for Christ and the Virgin Mary; she did not know yet that God would give her many difficult challenges before she began her life as a nun. The house, where Aguilar lived until she was 20 years old, was purchased in 1960 by the congregation of (Congregation of Mercedarian Sisters of the Holy Sacrament) in order to celebrate the 1966 centennial of Aguilar’s birth.
Currently the building—which will be open in the future to the general public as a museum —shelters a wax statue of the nun as well as some of her original belongings, like her baby shoes, her bed, fans, combs, mirrors, her bridal bouquet, and some flogging items. The kitchen keeps its original structure although the furniture, silverware, and dishes have been substituted with replicas. On the wall in a big hall, there are paintings of villages, landscapes, trees, and flowers, but all of them show San Miguel de Allende with iconic images of the parish that represent the congregation’s founder, María del Refugio.
When she took her first communion (1888), she asked her mother to buy clothes, candles, rosaries, and bibles for twelve other girls who took catechism with her. When she was more mature, she became a catechist teaching the children the knowledge of God and preparing them for first communion. Aguilar’s adolescence “was glowing, attractive, and prosperous in charitable works,” commented nuns who were members of the congregation.
However, the first of God’s challenges for Aguilar was about to show up. Ángel Cancino Arce wanted to marry her. He was not that religious, which was one of the reasons why young Cuquita—Maria’s nickname—did not want to spend the rest of her life with him, regardless of her dad’s advice. She went before Father José Sánchez Primo, looking for spiritual guidance. Father Sánchez asked her to marry the man with the intention of converting him to Catholicism.
She was married in San Miguel, and a few weeks later she moved to Toluca, where Cancino had a very important position at the post office service. They had two children, Ángel and María del Refugio (born on December 28, 1888). The second child was 40 days old when Cancino died of pneumonia. Two years later, Angelito passed away at just three years old. María del Refugio found refuge with the Franciscan Order, helping those most in need. She used to go to the jail and to the hospitals to give spiritual guidance to the imprisoned and the sick. She also helped people who approached her searching for advice. She thought she could change the world by promoting Catholic values and educating people in the faith. She also knew that God had trusted her with the salvation of children and young people.
During the time of the Mexican Revolution, on March 25, 1910, María del Refugio founded a new religious order, Hermanas Mercedarias del Santísimo Sacramento (Congregation of Mercedarian Sisters of the Holy Sacrament). However, the order was not approved until a miracle occurred. In 1920 when a mass was taking place at the chapel of one of the Catholic schools founded to give students a firm foundation in the Catholic faith, the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus appeared reflected on the monstrance. After the miracle, the order was approved.
The happiness of the Mercedarian Sisters did not last that long because religious persecution by the president of the Republic, Plutarco Elías Calles, began. It brought the Cristera Revolution that lasted from 1926-1929. At that time, the Mercedarian sisters were adopted by Catholic families who allowed them to exercise their faith in dark, humid cellars. Meanwhile, the Calles law sought control of the church, which had lost power after most of their buildings were expropriated by the constitution of 1917. The Calles law stated that all the priests and nuns must be Mexicans and should have licenses issued by the congress. More than one priest for every one thousand inhabitants was prohibited. Nuns and priest were not allowed to wear religious garb, and all the public forms of worship were forbidden.
Before the imminent desecration of the chapel of the school founded by Aguilar, she commanded its destruction. At that time other orders invited the Mercedarian sisters to leave Mexico and share their faith in other countries. That is how the order came to have a presence in 12 countries, including Spain, Cuba, Guatemala, the United States of America, El Salvador, Venezuela, Chile, and Mexico. They founded Catholic schools in all of those countries. In San Miguel the Mercedarian sisters’ school is located in colonia Guadalupe, and it has the name of the founding mother.
In 1937, Aguilar passed away. Her remains were deposited in the cemetery of the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but in 1982, when the process of sanctification was publically opened, her remains were exhumed and placed in the order’s house in Mexico City.
María del Refugio has granted several favors. Because of this, the documents of her life and work were accepted by the Vatican in July of this year by Pope Francis. According to the sisters, now all that María del Refugio needs is to grant a miracle. “It could be the healing of a disease that not only medicine can heal,” they said. Her 149th anniversary was celebrated with a mass and several activities at the local school.
Anybody can ask for a miracle through this woman. If it is granted and can be proven, requesters can send information to the Congregation of Mercedarian Sisters of the Holy Sacrament after visiting the web page: http://hhmmss.org/mariadelrefugio.php.