Saint of the Day – 7 July – Blessed MARÍA ROMERO MENESES (1902-1977) “The Social Apostle of Costa Rica” and “The Female John Bosco” – a Salesian Religious, Apostle of Charity and Social Reform, Teacher, Catechist, establishing whole villages with work opportunities for the poor, Mystic and Apostle of the Holy Eucharist and of Mary, Mother of God – born on 13 January 1902 at Granada, Nicaragua and died on 7 July 1977 in Las Peñitas, León, Nicaragua of a heart attack.
In Costa Rica, Blessed María was a social apostle though a multiplicity of initiatives designed for the needs of the poor, starting with teaching catechism and vocational skills and finishing with a medical centre, a school for teaching the social doctrine of the Church and seven villages for poor families.
She was one of eight children of an upper class family of Nicaragua. She was beautifully educated by her aunts and her parents. Since she had artistic talent, her parents had María trained in drawing and painting as well as in piano and violin by outstanding teachers. She was also enrolled in the Salesian Sisters’ school. In 1914 when she was 12, she underwent a year of sickness whose miraculous cure led to her total confidence in Our Lady, Help of Christians and to the vision of her Salesian vocation.
María came down with a serious form of rheumatic fever that paralysed her for six months, a real source of trial and suffering because it made her miss a year at her beloved school. However, during this trial, María already showed a mature faith, character and will. She called her sufferings “gifts of God”. Even when a doctor informed her that her heart had been seriously damaged, she did not complain but put her confidence for a complete recovery in Our Lady, Help of Christians.
To a school friend who visited her, she said after receiving heavenly guidance, “I know that the Blessed Virgin will cure me”. A few days later, María returned to school in good health, no-one could believe she had ever been so sick.
On 8 December 1915, María joined the Marian Association “Daughters of Mary” offering herself with great confidence to the Mother of God. Her Salesian spiritual director Don Emilio Bottari helped her discern her vocation and her mystical experiences. In 1920, at age 18, María joined the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians. Her spiritual director gave her a prophetic recommendation: “Even though difficult moments will come and you will feel torn to pieces, be faithful and strong in your vocation”. For María, these words sustained her for the rest of her religious life.
On 6 January 1929 in Nicaragua, María made her final profession. Her interior life unfolded as each day she strived to live joyful union with God as his instrument, after the example of Don Bosco as is apparent from her spiritual writings.
In 1931 she was sent to San José, Costa Rica, which became her second country. In 1933 she was teaching music, drawing and typing to the rich girls in the school, while beginning in the barrios with catechetics and practical trades. In 1934 Sr María began to win over the young girls who were her students in the school (misioneritas) to join her in the work of evangelising, catechising and advancing materially the oppressed, isolated and abused. She found the shape of her life’s work: bringing about the revolution of charity by inspiring the have’s to help the have-not’s. In 1945 she began to set up recreational centres; in 1953 centres for the distribution of food. In 1961 she opened a casita as a school for poor girls. In 1966 a clinic where God’s Providence helped her with the volunteer services of fine doctors and donations of needed medicines. Soon she started to plan a village so poor families could have decent homes. On a piece of land outside the city, María began to build homes. In 1973, the first seven homes were built in the Centro San José. Then a farm and a market along with school space for religious formation, catechesis and job training.
There was also a church dedicated to Our Lady, Help of Christians. María always joined love and devotion to the Eucharist and Mary with her social apostolate. María was very “limited” in terms of available funding; but, with total confidence, she always left everything in the hands of Our Lady since it was God’s work. In her old age, she retired from full time teaching but never from catechesis of young and old. On 7 July 1977, in Leon, Nicaragua in the Salesian house where she had been sent for a good rest, María died of a fatal heart attack at age 75. Her mortal remains were sent back to San José Costa Rica, to be buried in the Salesian Chapel. She was Beatified by St Pope John Paul on 14 April 2002.