What is a Basque girl, 23 years of age, doing in a side altar in a secluded church, “San Felipe de la Penitencia” an April 2, 1869, in Valladolid?
She works in the family of Judge Sabater.
Today is Good Friday. Free from household chores, she approaches that lateral corner to be with her God Jesus. Facing the altar of the Holy Family, she ardently contemplates the love delivered on the Cross.
It is not the first time we find Juana Josefa here. The winter with its dense fogs from Pisuerga has already passed, when in the early mornings, before starting her chores, she would come for the daily encounter of prayer and Mass.
Next to that side altar is a confessional. In the pastoral dialogue of the sacrament of reconciliation, she has found the right person in whom to confide her concerns, desires, impulses and desires: the Jesuit Father Miguel. She has known him because the Sabaters are friends of Juan San Jose, brother of Father Miguel who, banished from Leon by revolutionary politics, has taken refuge at his brother’s home. He lives his priestly ministry in this church.
She already has her fundamental choice clear. It is resolved: “I am only for God, mother”. And in Tolosa, next to the statue of St. Ignatius, “My saint, I want to be what you are, I want to do what that book says”, but the way of “being” and “doing” is not at all clear.
She is a person on the way out; in search, as our Pope Francis would say today.
Years later she would write: “… to the uttermost parts of the world would I go in search of souls.”
Juana Josefa is at ease with social relationships. Also communicative. She is used to discussing things of the soul and seeking and discerning and deciding with Don Martin Barriola, the parish priest of her town, Andoain; later, in Burgos with the Jesuit priests Fr. Sureda and Fr. San Juan. The encounter with Father Miguel is providential. She is anchored in God’s hands … but in the natural way of things, she feels uncertainty: what to do with her life. And she is already 23 years old …
Father Miguel is also in the process of discerning his lights and motions. Lawyer, late vocation, a person of prayer, also going out in search of the greater glory of God and the good of his neighbor, like the Jesuit he is.
He is haunted by apostolic yearnings upon seeing the society of the Spain of the late nineteenth century, tangled politically and socially. The decisions by secularists who want to banish the Catechism from the schools. He himself is a victim of this harassment.
In his fifties he can already combine dreams and action. He has been cogitating how he could fight the forces of evil; what would be the greater glory of God and the good of his neighbor.
And he thinks of education as a force of resurrection; that education that captures the whole person. It would be nice if there were a female Congregation consisting of teachers who occupied the forefront of education of women, so downgraded by the culture. Insisting on the teaching of the Catechism to children. Through women he could reach the whole family, germ cell of society … In that direction ran the dreams of good Fr. Herranz.
2 April 1869. Good Friday. Juana Josefa fixes her gaze on the altar of the Holy Family of that side altar while contemplating lovingly the Passion of her God Jesus.
The Spirit of God is there. Stabat Mater, too. It is Good Friday.
And her God Jesus communicates with her in an amazing way. The presence of God is ineffable; difficult to verbalize. Father Herranz also receives gifts of revelation. Both share their experience. The way is gaining illumination.
Arduous is the mission: to found a Congregation: Daughters of Jesus, dedicated to education.
Later, the two, like Mary of Nazareth, would ask themselves:
“… How can this be?” If Juana Josefa can barely read the texts of her prayer book with comprehension…
No matter. Nothing is impossible with God. The Spirit will overshadow them …
Father Herranz would encourage later, in Salamanca, the group of five young women who began the Congregational trajectory: “You are few in number … no matter … the work is not yours, it is God’s and He knows and is familiar with the instruments He chooses … you will become a united Congregation, with a true and fruitful apostolate, always having Mary Immaculate as your guiding star.
The name of Daughters of Jesus … are the guarantee of your hopes, the consolation of your labors, the crown of your triumphs “
This was the wellspring experience of the Rosarillo. Father Herranz would call it “the Nazareth of the Institute.”
We have been left with an icon of that experience: the IHS of Mother Candida. So special, so different from many other anagrams of Jesus’ name.
In the name Daughters of Jesus, Mother Candida consolidates, designates and declares this vocation in the Church. The external expression is the IHS: the name of Jesus.
Faced with that side altarpiece, Juana Josefa must have spent a long time contemplating the mystery.
Even the design of the letters, the arrangement of the cross and the rays that frame the Spirit have been imprinted in her retina: a concentration of rays, a superposition of planes: that of the Spirit and that of the IHS … and perhaps there lies the iconic inspiration of the IHS of Mother Candida.
Historically we could not venture further; we only note the rational possibilities of inspiration.
Theologically, the symbolic design could express the fullness of salvation, the paschal mystery: Jesus dead: cross and nails.
But also exalted, glorified: the rays in all religious iconography have always been an evocation of the numinous, of divinity. In the Christian [iconography], of holiness, of glorification.
And glorification in John, is THE KYRIOS, THE LORD whom Paul proclaims in Philippians.
Then the IHS that Mother Candida bequeaths to her Congregation would be that name of JESUS that every tongue confesses: “JESUS CHRIST IS LORD TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER” Phil. 2,11.
We have followed closely the “Reseña histórica” of eyewitness Father García Alcalde S.J. who from the beginning accompanied the vicissitudes of the Congregation and lived communally for two years with Father Herranz at the “Colegio de La Guardia”.