Saint of the Day – 19 September – St Maria de Cervellón OdeM (1230– 1290) Virgin, Catalan Superior of a Second Order of Mercedarians, known as “Maria of Help,” Mystic, graced with the gift of bilocation, apostle of the poor, the abandoned, the needy. She was the first woman to wear the Habit of the ‘ Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Ransom. She is considered the Founder of the Mercedary Nuns. Born in 1230 at Barcelona, Spain and died on 19 September 1290 at Barcelona, of natural causes. Patronages – Mercadarian Nuns and Sisters, Navigators, against shipwreck, Spanish sailors., of the abandoned. Also known as – Maria di Cervellon, Maria dell’Aiuto, Maria de Socos., Mary of Cerevellone. Her body is incorrupt.
Her entry in the Roman Martyrology states: “At Barcelona in Spain, blessed Maria de Cervellione, Virgin of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom. She is commonly called Maria of Help on account of the prompt assistance she renders to those who invoke her.“
María de Cervellón was born in Barcelona on 1 December 1230. At that time, the Mercedarian Friars had been redeeming captives from the power of the Saracens for several years,and in that seaport and commercial City, there was talk about the great work of charity and of the growing needs of the Friars in financing redemptions and the upkeep of the Hospital of St. Eulalia, where the ransomed were kept once they returned.
As with every young woman in her time, her family had made other plans for her future. They had tried several times to marry her off to various and prominent men so as to strategically improve their familial alliances and strengthen their position. However, Maria’s heart belonged to Another and she refused each offer her family made on her behalf. She had become the bride of Christ the Redeemer and would spend her life in service to her Spouse in the guise of the captive, the wounded, the sick and the needy. With the assistance of Fr. Bernardo de Corbera, she consecrated herself to God in the Order of Mercy on 25 May 1265, together with other young women from Barcelona.
Maria was not the first, for there is written evidence that the female branch of the Order of Mercy began earlier but she is the first one whose self-offering we know about. From then on, her life would be spent between her house and the Hospital of Saint Eulalia, on the sea, on the shore of Villanova, where it was built thanks to a donation by Raimundo de Plagamans. The Sisters were not originally formed as a contemplative family, but their life was centred on prayer. They were not founded as cloistered Nuns, but gathered in fellowship to be able to live out the Lord’s command – “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Maria took this call to heart and was able to convince others to follow the path that she had set out on. They formed a community of Sisters who were ready to share in the work of redemption, even to the end.
It is reported that Maria had the gift of bilocation. In Spanish, she was known by the surname de Socós or de Socorro (meaning helper), because she was seen coming to the aid of the ransom ships, walking in the midst of the waves of stormy and rough seas, in order to guide the sailors and their precious cargo to safety.
She died on 19 September 1290, and her remains are preserved in the Basilica of La Merced in Barcelona.
On 13 February1692, Pope Innocent XII gave a favourable judgement and confirmed her immemorial cult;and she was introduced into the Roman Martyrology as a Saint on 8 November 1729. Today, the Nuns and Sisters of the Order proclaim her as a strong woman who followed Jesus Christ, taking flesh in the realities of captivity, so as to be redeemers with Christ through prayer and various apostolates according to their respective constitutions.