Saint Maria Soledad Torres Acosta (1826-1887)
Feast Day: 11th October
Foundress of the Handmaids of Mary
Saint Maria Soledad Torres Acosta was a woman who was absolutely enamoured with God and surrendered her existence into His hands. Thus, God accomplished a great work in the Church through her: the founding of the congregation of the Handmaids of Mary. The Handmaids of Mary are entirely dedicated to the diligent and gratuitous care of the sick preferably in their own homes; the place of their affection, as it were. For Saint Maria Soledad, it was not that the sick should go out in search of the doctor or carer; rather it would be the ‘Angel of Charity’, the voluntary Handmaid of Mary who would go out in search of the sick in order to lavish on him or her the love of Christ. Thus would the interests of the patient always come first.
Saint Maria Soledad was born on the 2th December 1826 in Madrid, Spain of Francis Torres and Antonia Acosta; baptised with the name Bibiana Antonia Torres.
She grew up like any other child of her time, however, she had a particularly keen interest in spiritual matters. Father Michael Martinez, the pastor of the neighbourhood of Chamberí, had an inspiration to begin a congregation of women to care for the sick in their homes who could not afford hospitalisation. On hearing the news, Bibiana asked for admission and was accepted. On the 15th of August 1856, the women made their religious vows in the parish of Chamberí. However, shortly after the genesis of the congregation, Fr Michael departed for Missions to Africa. Sister Maria Soledad took charge of the congregation and thus became the Foundress, leading the sisters until her death.
What an inspirational figure Saint Maria Soledad is in the field of healthcare, even today! She possessed a prophetic vision of the congregation and of life in general. She used a triple dimension to achieve and provide holistic and patient centred care: diligently she cared for all the physical needs; provided for their spiritual requirements; and read medical books to gain and improve her knowledge of medicine. Her zeal to provide holistic but also high quality healthcare was transmitted to her daughters, who were the first in Spain to acquire official Nursing Diplomas.
Although Saint Maria Soledad suffered great opposition both within and outside of the congregation, she remained convinced of the great power of God. This conviction caused her not to fear such sufferings or opposition. She had the audacity to be the first to send women out at night in the streets of Madrid in search of the sick. What a courageous model she is to all Catholics in healthcare!
The ‘aroma’ of her sanctity is still spread by her spiritual daughters in hospitals, care homes and people’s homes. We follow the patient wherever he or she is to be found, and thus we contemplate the face of the suffering Christ and lavish on the patient the love of Christ through high quality, holistic care.
St Maria Soledad, pray for us!
– Written by a young Handmaid of Mary based at their convent in Clapham, within the parish of St Bede’s, Clapham Park.