Saint of the Day – 10 January – Blessed María Dolores Rodríguez Sopeña (1848-1918) Religious and Founder of the Sisters of the Catechetical Institute, apostle of the poor – born on 30 December 1848 in Velez Rubio, Almería, Spain and died on 10 January 1918 in Madrid, Spain of natural causes. Patronage – Sisters of the Catechetical Institute.
Dolores Rodríguez Sopeña was born in Velez Rubio, Almería, Spain, on 30 December 1848, the fourth of seven siblings. Her parents, Tomas Rodríguez Sopeña and Nicolasa Ortega Salomon, had moved from Madrid to Velez Rubio due to employment. Don Tomas had received his law degree at a very young age and because of this, could not work as a lawyer. He was able to find employment as an administrator of the Marqueses de Velez farms.
Dolores grew up in the Andalucía region where her father began to work as a magistrate and even though he was transferred often, she defined this time of her life as a “lake of tranquility.”
In 1866, her father was named Judge of Almería. Dolores was 17 and was formally introduced to society, though she did not enjoy the parties or the social life. Her interest was in doing good for others. In Almería, she had her first apostolic experiences – she attended, materially and spiritually, to two sisters who had typhoid fever and to a leper. She kept this hidden from her parents because she was afraid that they might forbid her from continuing her work. She also visited the poor of Saint Vincent de Paul with her mother. Three years later her father was sent to Puerto Rico. He travelled there with one of his sons while the rest of his family moved to Madrid. Dolores chose a spiritual adviser and began teaching the Catholic doctrine to women in prison, in the Princess Hospital and in the Sunday Schools.
In 1872, the family reunited in Puerto Rico. Dolores was 23 years old and would remain in the Americas’ until she was 28. She began her contact with the Jesuits and Father Goicoechea became her spiritual adviser. In Puerto Rico, she founded the Association of the Sodality of the Virgin Mary and the schools for the disadvantaged where she taught reading and writing, as well as Catechism.
In 1873, her father was named state attorney of Santiago de Cuba. These were difficult times, because a religious schism was raging on the island. Because of this, her work of visiting the sick was prohibited. She requested admission into the Sister of Charity community but was not admitted due to her poor eye sight. At the age of 8, Dolores had an eye operation and this disability remained with her the rest of her life.
At the conclusion of the schism, she began working in the poor neighbourhoods and founded the “Centres of Instruction.” There she taught Catechism, general instruction and provided medical assistance to those in need. For these efforts she was able to get much assistance and was able to establish the centres in three different neighbourhoods.
Her mother died in Cuba and her father applied for retirement. The family returned to Madrid in 1877. In Madrid she organised her life on three fronts – her home and the care of her father, her apostolic work (the same work she did before leaving Spain) and her spiritual life (she chose a spiritual adviser and annually participated in Saint Ignatius Spiritual Retreat). In 1883 her father died and once again she began to struggle with her vocation. At the advice of her spiritual advisor, Father López Soldado, S.I., she entered the convent of the Salesians, even though she had never thought of devoting her whole life to contemplation. After 10 days she left the convent, as she came to the realisation that this was not her vocation. She then began to give all of her attention to her apostolic work.
In 1885, Dolores opened a centre similar to modern social work centres. There, the poor and the needy were able to take their problems and their concerns were addressed and resolved. During this time she visited the neighbourhood of the Injurias. When she saw the moral, material and spiritual condition of the people, she began visiting this area every week and invited many of her friends to help her with her work. There she began the organisation “Works of the Doctrines,” later named “Centre for the Workers”.
In 1892, at the suggestion of the Bishop of Madrid, D. Ciríaco Sancha, she founded the Association of the Apostolic Laymen (which today is known as the Sopeña Lay Movement). The following year she received approval from the government which allowed her to expand her work to 8 neighbourhoods of Madrid.
In 1896 she began her activities outside Madrid. In 4 years she took 199 trips all over Spain to establish and consolidate the “Centre for the Workers.” At the same time, she accompanied Father Tarin to Andalucía to help in the missions.
In 1900, Dolores participated in a pilgrimage to Rome for the celebration of the Holy Year. There she took part in a retreat at the Saint Peter’s tomb and received approval to establish a Religious Institute that would provide continuation of her “Centre for the Workers” and help to sustain spiritually the Sopeña Lay Movement. Cardinal Sancha, then Archbishop of Toledo, proposed founding it there.
The “Sisters of Catechetical Institute” was founded on 24 September 1901. Dolores and 8 companions had just participated in the Spiritual Exercises, in Loyola, where St Ignatius was born and in the city of Toledo, on 31 October they started living as a religious community.
One of the greatest inspirations that Dolores had, was to establish at the same time, the Civil Association which today is known as OSCUS or Social & Cultural Work Sopeña. In 1902, the Association was officially recognised by the Spanish government.
In 1905, the Institute received from the Holy See the Degree of Praise. Two years later, on 21 November 1907, Dolores received the approval directly from Pope Pius X. Today the Institute is known as the “Sopeña Catechetical Institute”.
During these years, the anti clerical sentiment was an important facet in the decision for the religious community of this Institute not to wear a ‘habit’ and did not to wear any outward sign of religion. These changes were made with the end result in mind – to get close to the workers who were “alienated from the church,” that had been unable to receive any cultural, moral or religious instruction and to unite those who were socially outcast.
One of the main objectives of the centres was to bring people together to give them an opportunity to learn from each other. These encounters would result in mutual respect and a desire to help each other.
Her deep faith, rich in spirituality was the reason for her commitment to the service to others. Her commitment to the dignity of people was born through her experience that God the Father of all, who loves us with infinite tenderness and who wishes for us to live as sons and brothers and sisters, was the driving force behind all that she did. From there, she had a great desire to “Make of all, one family in Christ Jesus.” Her total immersion in Christ allowed her to see Him in everything and feel Him in everyone, especially in those that were in the most need of dignity and love.
Towards the end of the 19th century, it was inconceivable to find a woman, who would go out to work in the poor neighbourhood. The secret of her fearlessness was her deep faith, her confidence without limit. She recognised this as her greatest treasure and it made her feel that she had become the instrument of God’s work, the instrument of love, hope, dignity and justice.
In a few years, she was able to established communities and centres in industrialised cities. In 1910, the community celebrated the first General Chapter and Dolores was re-elected Superior General. In 1914 she founded a community in Rome and in 1917 opened their first house in the Americas.
The following year, on 10 January 1918, Dolores Sopeña died in Madrid. All were already speaking of her as being a saint.
On 11 July 1992, St John Paul II declared Dolores’ life work heroic and on 23 April 2002 he certified the miracle attributed to Dolores Sopeña which advanced her to Beatification status.
Currently the Sopeña Family which encompasses the three institutions founded by Dolores Sopeña are: the Sopeña Catechetical Institute, The Sopeña Lay Movement and the Sopeña Social and Cultural Work, can be found in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
Blessed Dolores’ life was a “constant doing” but a doing, with a clear understanding of being an instrument in God’s hands. This experience develops in her such a sense of complete trust, that it made her courageous, capable of overcoming obstacles. She developed such confidence in her trust in God, that she attempted all and everything, regardless of the fact that often, her endeavours were incredibly risky for a woman of her time…. Vatican.va