22 January 2013

'The Miracle Girls' and 'A Poem of Purity: Blessed Laura Vicuña, patron of those who have been abused

Blessed Laura Vicuña (5 April 1891 – 22 January 1904)

Last evening I celebrated Mass  for the Feast of St Agnes (c.291 - c.304) with 'The Miracle Girls'. St Agnes, among other things, is the patron saint of victims of rape. My homily was mostly about the life of Blessed Laura Vicuña, whose life and dates of birth and death parallel those of the Roman martyr. Blessed Laura is the patron of abuse victims. Today is her feast day.

For some years now in Holy Family Home for Girls we have celebrated these two young girls who have been recognised by the Church for their holiness. Sometimes we have the Mass on the 21st, sometimes on the 22nd. Many, though not all, of 'The Miracle Girls' have been victims, some within their own families.

Some of 'The Miracle Girls' and friends.

I told the girls how the brutal treatment of her step-father led to Blessed Laura's death. her father had died when she was three and her mother, Mercedes, who was left with little means, then lived with a landowner but without marrying him. Before she died Laura told her mother that she had offered her life to God for her conversion. Mercedes began to live a life according to God's will.

Mercedes Pino, the mother of Blessed Laura

Both St Agnes and Blessed Laura made a choice to offer their lives on order to 'buy the field where the treasure was', to 'buy the pearl of great price', as Matthew 13:44-46, the gospel suggested for the feast of St Agnes, which we read, tells us. We can under-estimate the power of God's grace in young persons. yet there are many great examples in the history of the Church, especially among the martyrs.

St Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, the First Reading, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

Young Agnes and young Laura were prepared to accept death for the sake of Jesus Christ. Blessed Laura'a offering of her life for the conversion of her mother parallels the example of her older contemporary, St Thérèse of Lisieux who, when she was about 14, made her first mission the conversion of a notorious criminal named Pranzini who was due to be executed. God listened to her prayers too.

Though St Agnes and Blessed Laura were powerless at one level, in the depths of their being they were free, through God's grace, and able to make choices that astound us. Yet the same grace is available to all of us. These two young holy people bring hope, rooted in their awareness of God's love, to all of us who are struggling to follow Jesus faithfully. And, as a friend of mine keeps telling me, it's in the struggle that we become saint.

Fr John Murray, a parish priest in Belfast, told the story of Blessed Laura some years ago in The Sacred Heart Messenger, an excellent popular monthly that the Jesuits in Ireland have been publishing now for 125 years. We published it, with permission, in Misyon, the Columban magazine in the Philippines that I edit. Here is Father Murray's article.

Although she was only twelve when she died, Laura Vicuña had grown to a maturity of faith well beyond her years. Fr John Murray sees the life of this young girl whose feast is 22 January as an inspiration.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II endeavored to offer to the Church and the world at large, models for Christian living: people we can imitate and learn from, as we try to make our own way through the maze and pitfalls of life. In an age of sexual license, when often girls and young women can be at the mercy of sexual predators, the life of Laura Vicuña has something to say in our own day.

Painful experiences

Laura was born in Santiago, Chile, on 5 April 1891.Soon after her birth, her father had to flee the country because of political upheavals, and when she was only three he himself passed away. Bereft of support, her mother, Mercedes, sadly entered into a relationship with a local ranch owner, one Manuel Mora.

He offered to pay for the care and schooling of her children at a Salesian boarding school, if Mercedes became his mistress. Laura attended the Salesian mission school with her sister, Julia. With a maturity beyond her years, Laura often helped the younger children with their tasks, and acted almost like a mother to them, combing their hair and mending their clothing.

Even then, Mora would try to molest her, especially when he was drunk. She made her First Holy Communion when she was ten, but was always afraid of Mora, because of his lewd desires on her. When she fought off his first assault, the ranch owner refused to pay for her school tuition, but despite that the Sisters continued to educate her.

Offering up her life

Despite her young age, Laura was conscious that her mother was not living as God would want, and she had already decided to offer her life to God for her mother’s conversion.

At this stage, her own health was delicate, and in the winter of 1902 Mercedes left the Mora’s hacienda in order to care for her ailing daughter.

At this time, they were living in Argentina.However, in January 1904, Mora arrived on their doorstep to demand that Laura surrender to his lusts. When she refused him, he whipped and kicked her, and then threw her brutally across the saddle of his horse to carry her back to his ranch. Aware that the local people were watching him, he dumped her body in a ditch and left. Laura lingered on until 22 January, when she died of severe internal injuries.

Just before she died, she told her mother that she had given her life to bring about a conversion in her. ‘Mama,’ she said. ‘I am dying, but I’m happy to offer my life for you. I asked our Lord for this’. After Laura’s death, Mercedes made a good confession, left Mora, and became a devout Catholic again.


In September 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Laura, calling her a ‘Eucharistic flower . . . whose life was a poem of purity, sacrifice and filial love’. In many ways, her life parallels that of St Maria Goretti, whose life and death may be better known to many people. She too fought off the advances of a young man with lustful desires.

Maria died but was able eventually to achieve the conversion of her murderer, and when she was later canonized in 1950, he was present at the ceremony. (Note: I saw a TV documentary on St Maria Goretti on EWTN recently and it stated that he wasn't present, though he was still alive at the time and living in a Capuchin friary in Italy as a member of the Capuchin Third Order.)

Like Maria, Laura did not let the sordidness of Mora destroy her innocence, nor did she allow her heart to become embittered. Instead, she prayed for her mother and also for her lover. We can but hope that Mora too experienced the conversion which Laura prayed for her mother. Her life is a testimony to the words of St Paul: ‘However much sin increased, grace was always greater’ (Rom 5:20).

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