January 22 – Patroness of abuse victims

January 20, 2014

Blessed Laura Vicuña

Laura del Carmen Vicuña was born on April 5, 1891 in Santiago, Chile. She was the first daughter of the Vicuña Pino family. Her parents were José Domingo Vicuña, a soldier with aristocratic roots, and Mercedes Pino. Her father was in military service and her mother worked at home.

School photo of Bl. Laura del Carmen Vicuña Pino.

School photo of Bl. Laura del Carmen Vicuña Pino.

At the very end of the nineteenth century, civil war erupted in Chile. A key figure in one of the warring factions was a kinsman of José Domingo, Claudio Vicuña. Claudio Vicuña did not achieve his goal of becoming president; his enemies began pursuing the whole Vicuña family, which obliged them to flee their homeland. In 1894, after the birth of a second daughter, Julia Amanda, José Domingo died, leaving his wife and daughters penniless and in great peril. Mercedes decided to travel to Argentina to hide from those who wanted her family dead.

Mercedes Pino, the Mother of Bl. Laura

Mercedes Pino, the Mother of Bl. Laura

Mercedes and her daughters moved to the Argentine province of Neuquén. In search of a way to finance her daughters’ education, she took a job in the Quilquihué Hostel. The owner of the Hostel, Manuel Mora, propositioned Mercedes, promising to pay for Laura’s education in exchange. Laura soon entered the “Hijas of Maria Auxiliadora” (Daughters of Mary Help of Christians) School, where she was taught a love for religion. Following her father’s example, and with the care of the nuns, she began to take a deep interest in the Catholic faith.

Laura made her First Communion on June 2, 1901; at this time she expressed her vocation of love towards God, her desire to serve the poor and needy, and also to die sinless. Because of her deep religious interest, she was not well liked among her classmates. She spent most of her time praying in the school’s chapel. She had one good friend, Mercedes Vera, to whom she expressed her deepest feelings, such as her desire to become a nun. Even when very young, Laura was mature enough to understand her mother’s problems, which included, as she saw it, Mercedes’ distance from God. This motivated her to pray every day for her mother’s salvation, and to help her to leave Manuel.

During one of her school vacations, Laura was beaten twice by Manuel Mora, who wanted her to forget about becoming a nun. Even when he stopped paying for her education, she held to her desire to become a nun. When the nuns at her school learned of the conflict, they gave her a scholarship. Although she was grateful to her teachers, she still worried about her mother’s situation.

Laura Vicuña

One day, remembering the phrase of Jesus: “There is no one greater than the one that gives his life for his brothers,” Laura decided to give her life in exchange for her mother’s salvation. As time passed she became seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. Before she died, Laura told her mother: “Mama, I offer my life for you, I asked Our Lord for this. Before I die, Mother, would I have the joy of seeing you repent?” Mercedes tearfully answered: “I swear, I will do whatever you ask me! God is the witness of my promise!” Finally Laura smiled and said to her mother: “Thanks, Jesus! Thanks Mary! Goodbye, Mother! Now I die happy!” On January 22, 1904, Laura died of her disease, weakened by the physical abuse she previously received from Mora, having offered her life for the salvation of her mother. From 1937 to 1958, Laura’s remains lay in the Nequén graveyard, after which they were moved to Bahía Blanca.

The Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco started Laura’s canonization process in the 1950s. The congregation commended that duty to the nun Cecilia Genghini, who spent many years collecting information about Laura’s life. But she did not see the completion of her work; she died the same year the process began.

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One incentive for the congregation was the beatification of Saint Dominic Savio (March 5, 1950) and the canonization of Saint Maria Goretti (June 24, 1950). The progress began in the city of Viedma. But Laura could not be considered a martyr, and because of her young age, there was not much hope for her beatification. Nevertheless, in 1981, the application process was completed by the congregation, and on June 5, 1986, she was declared Venerable.

September 3, 1988 saw Laura’s beatification by Pope John Paul II. Her feastday is celebrated on January 22. She is a patroness of abuse victims.

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