Saint of the Day – 11 October – Saint Maria Soledad Torres Acosta (1826-1887) Religious Nun and Founder of Servants of Mary. Her apostolic actions – and those of her order – were dedicated towards the nursing of the sick and the poor. Patronage – the Servants of Mary.
St Maria Soledad was born and baptised with the name Bibiana Antonia Acosta, in Madrid, Spain, on 2 December 1826. She was the second of five children. Her parents ran a small business in Madrid. St Maria Soledad was educated by the Daughters of Charit, and often visited the sick in her neighbourhood. She performed small penances for the benefit of others.
Because of her poor health, she was unsuccessful in entering the Dominican community, as she desired to become a nun. In 1851, Fr Michael Martinez, a parish Priest and member of the Third Order of the Servites, asked her to minister to the sick and poor of his parish, in their homes. She accepted and with six companions she began this ministry taking the name Maria Soledad.
Five years into the ministry, Fr Michael took six of the Sisters with him to the missions, leaving only six behind. Maria Soledad was appointed as their Superior and the Sisters that remained with Maria immediately removed her from this office. The move so disorganised the community, that the Bishop threatened to dissolve it. The Bishop held an investigation and re-appointed Maria as Superior, with the help of the new Director, Fr Gabino Sanchez, an Augustinian. It was at this time, that the community took the name of “Handmaids of Mary Serving the Sick”. The Bishop formally approved their ministry and extended their work to care for the delinquents of Madrid. Their order received much publicity by their care for the sick when the cholera epidemic broke out.
St Maria Soledad faced several trials throughout her time of leadership in the congregation and was the victim of slander and was once again removed from her office as superior. Fr Gabino reinstalled her as the Superior for a second time, after an investigation. The Handmaids grew in number and in 1875, began a ministry in Havana, Cuba. The new institute received Papal approval in 1876. Maria governed the community for 35 years.
St Maria Soledad was working in Havana, Cuba when she contracted pneumonia. She died on 11 October 1887. At the time of her death there were 46 Houses in Europe and Latin America. She was buried in the Sisters cemetery in the Motherhouse in Madrid, Spain and in 1893 her body was exhumed and transferred to the Chapel. Her body was intact, exuding a bloody liquid, her body exuding a sweet odour.
She was Beatified in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, and Canonised by St Pope Paul VI in 1970. In the United States, the Congregations is known as the Sister Servants of Mary, Ministers to the sick. There are six communities in the US, still providing health care as of today.