Saint of the Day – 24 August – Saint María Micaela of the Blessed Sacrament (1809-1865) “Mother Sacramento” was a Spanish Roman Catholic professed Religious and the Founder of the Handmaids of the Blessed Sacrament, apostle and martyr of charity. However, despite all odds and opposition from family and friends, in 1850, she left her home to look after the unwanted of society, living with them. Born as Micaela Desmaisières López de Dicastillo on 1 January 1809 in Madrid, Spain and died on 24 August 1865 in Valencia, Spain of cholera.
Micaela Desmaisières Lopez de Dicastillo y Olmedo, Viscountess of Jorbalán, was born in Madrid on New Year’s day, 1809 during the War of Independence. Three days later she was baptised in the church of Saint Joseph in Madrid’s Alcala Street. Her father was a high ranking Officer in the Spanish Army and her mother was Lady-in-waiting of the then Spanish Queen, Maria Luisa de Parma. Micaela was the 5th of the 10 children born to the couple.
The War of Independence forced her mother to leave the Court in Madrid and to flee with her husband and family to France, where Micaela’s father and brother Luís died unexpectedly, Maria was then 3 yearsa old. Under the guidance of the Ursuline sisters of Pau, Micaela received an education consistent with her aristocratic status. Micaela’s sister Engracia suffered severe mental illness and her sister Manuela was forced to go into exile because of her husband’s political views.
From her childhood Maria Micaela was very fond of spending time before the Blessed Sacrament and of helping the poor and needy. She had the whole-hearted approval and support of her mother in this. In her Autobiography we read that, when her Ayah – Nanny, took her out for evening walks, she used to bribe her and spend that time in a church. Although she was very pious and kind-hearted, her life unfolded in the high circles of the Spanish and French Nobility. Her brother Diego was the Spanish Ambassador to France and Belgium. So young Micaela spent a lot of her time in the Royal Palaces of Spain, France and Belgium, attending Royal parties, dances and other gatherings. She had a very cordial relationship with the Monarchs of these countries. Dances, parties, Social gatherings, horse rides were the order of the day for her, although she did not neglect her charitable works. She wrote in the Autobiography that the mornings were spent for God, in prayer and charitable works and the evenings in worldly enjoyments.
Micaela was engaged to marry a young nobleman but the wedding was abruptly cancelled the night before over slanderous rumours emanating from Madrid about Micaela’s family. Micaela was profoundly humiliated. Struggling to pursue her spiritual and religious aspirations, while meeting the demands of her social position, Micaela sought the guidance of Fr.Carasa, a Jesuit. Rising early in the morning to pray, receive the Eucharist and to do works of charity, in the evening she frequented the theatre, lectures and balls.
Micaela’s life in Paris and Brussels was a life of outstanding care for the poor. No matter the need, the Viscountess was anxious to provide assistance. The defining moment in Micaela’s life occurred after she returned to Madrid and was invited to visit the hospital of St John of God, where she met prostitutes afflicted with venereal diseases. Micaela had known nothing of the existence of such women, let alone the scorn and abuse to which they were subjected. Profoundly affected by the experience, Micaela set about to establish a shelter for such women. Unfortunately, she met with misunderstanding and rejection at every turn, even from close friends. What was a woman related to the wealthiest and most famous families in Spain thinking? Imagine dedicating herself to caring for prostitutes.
In 1845, Micaela and several companions opened a school to train battered women for gainful employment, the Centre of Our Lady of the Forsaken. In 1850, she moved out of her elegant home and took up lodging in a miserable hovel with women she helped recover their dignity as persons and daughters of God. Accustomed to a luxurious life, this new experience was very painful, however, her love for Jesus whom she saw in those unfortunate victims of sexual exploitation, enabled her to go forward courageously. Love for Christ in the Eucharist was the soul of her work. Once again, Micaela endured severe economic difficulties and slander from every side. Her only comfort lay in the Eucharist and in 1856, with the help of St Anthony Mary Claret (1807-1870), she founded the Slave Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament and of Charity. Micaela became Mother Sacramento. On 6 January 1859, feast of the Epiphany, she and seven companions professed simple vows and on 15 June 1860, she made her perpetual profession.
Archbishop Claret who was Mother Sacramento’s confessor, helped her and the fledgling Institute both spiritually and materially. He played an important role in framing the Institute’s Constitutions and obtaining their approval. Both saints suffered unspeakable slander in the press.
Micaela’s heroic life of charity would have been impossible had she not been blessed with an exceptionally strong character. She was dogged by slander and suffered attempts on her life. Sometimes, she slept fully dressed, fearing that at any moment the house might be raided. More than once, Micaela stood alone and helpless in a public house to hide or protect a woman in fear of being held against her will.
Micaela ended up lonely, sad and despised by her friends. Writing to her fellow religious, she said: “Difficult to find another Founder of community that has been accused, maligned and scolded like me. My actions have been judged in the worst way possible. But I could also say like Saint Paul: “Little interest me in what people are saying about me. My judge is God.”
In 1865, Spain was hit by a cholera epidemic. Micaela went to Valencia to help and comfort people. In spite of useless pleas and warnings of danger, Micaela surrendered to her fate and died on 24 August 1865 at the age of 56., a martyr to charity, realising what the Eucharist had meant to her – communion with Christ, giving his life for the brothers, members of His Body, especially the neediest – the poor, the sick, the weak. At her death, Mother Sacramento’s institute numbered seven houses.
In 1922, Pope Pius XI, proclaimed Mother Sacramento’s heroic virtues. On 25 July 1925, he Beatified her and on 4 March 1934, he Canonised her. St Anthony Mary Claret would be named a patron of the institute she founded.
Oh! St Maria Micaela,
to your great heart of a Mother,
I confide this petition ……..
I trust that you will not leave me
disappointed in my hope.
When you were in this world,
you obtained from the Sacramental Jesus
and do you have less power in heaven?
I hope in your motherly protection
and I trust in your great heart
that you will obtain for me
this grace from Jesus.