105 years ago, Candida Maria de Jesus, FI passed away on August 9 at the age of 67, leaving behind 149 Daughters of Jesus in 13 communities in Spain and Brazil, and a life that shone with a singular love of God, for whose greater glory and in whose faithful service she had tried to spend her whole life and each instant of it.
The firstborn of 7 daughters, Juana Josefa Cipitria y Barriola was born to a humble and profoundly Christian family in Andoain, Gipuzkoa, Spain. While still young, Juana Josefa told her parents about her decision to consecrate herself to God in the religious life. Faced with the insistent proposals of marriage that her parents presented to her, she repeatedly answered: “I am for God alone.” Advised by her confessor, she moved to Burgos and entered a home as a domestic servant.
In 1869 she went to Valladolid with the family she was serving; and there, on April 2, 1869, in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary (better known as the Rosarillo), before the altar of the Holy Family, she understood clearly that she had to found a new congregation with the name “Daughters of Jesus,” dedicated to the spiritual welfare of souls and the Catholic education of peoples through prayer and other works of piety and charity, particularly the Christian education of children and youth.
Thus the Institute of the Daughters of Jesus was born in simplicity and poverty in Salamanca on Dec. 8, 1871, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, for whom Mother Candida had a truly filial love, calling her the real foundress of the institute and invoking her protection. As foundress, Mother Candida severely experienced her personal poverty (her scant intellectual preparation, the lack of economic means and of material aid at the beginning of the foundation and during her whole life). But she also had a profound experience and intimate knowledge of the great and infinite love of the Father, who never abandons us. This gave her a deep spirit of faith that enabled her to see persons, events and everything in the light of God, and a firm trust and hope in His promises – the kind of faith that she urged her own daughters to nurture:
“All those who belong to this Congregation are called to be authentic Daughters of Jesus. In fidelity to the vocation to which they have been called in the Church, and helped by the grace of the Holy Spirit, they must set before their eyes God as Father. They will place themselves in His hands with total trust, knowing that He cares for His children and loves them; they will always be ready to do His will in everything and find joy in it and work for the greater glory of God and the good of their fellowmen …” (CFI 136)
With Jesus, Mother Candida had a close and constant relationship which made her seek to be like Him as a child is like his father. She said, “In Jesus, we have everything.” Following in her footsteps, the Daughters of Jesus feel especially called to live in a filial attitude to God as Father, characterized by identification with Jesus, trust, security in His unconditional love, and praise. This face of God that we contemplate, particularly in Jesus, invites us to fraternity with everyone, to gratitude, to simplicity, to joy even when experiencing the cross.
Mother Candida had an exquisite charity for her neighbor, sensitivity to his authentic good. She wanted her daughters to seek the good of their neighbors more than their own well-being or temporal benefit. As one born to a humble family and who decided to leave her native land when she was still young, she had a human experience quite close to the needy. When she was a servant in a family home she said one day: “Where there is no room for the poor, neither is there room for me.” Undeniably, it was her experience of God as Father of all that opened her heart to the neediest, because we are all brothers and sisters. Given her profound union with God, how could she not feel what the Father would feel upon seeing His children suffer?
“God wills it,” was her motto. Today the Congregation she founded is present in Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Mozambique, Myanmar, the Philippines, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Today the Daughters of Jesus and our dedicated lay collaborators offer an evangelizing education that gives priority to the values of the Kingdom, such as universal love, solidarity, simplicity and closeness, liberty and responsibility, joy and serenity, respect, participation and acceptance. An education to learn and to exercise oneself in living as a child of God and brother of all. It is an education with a positive focus, giving priority to love, to motivation and to encouragement, following what Mother Candida said, “Always use the most joyful method…”
On October 17, 2010, Mother Candida was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. In July 2008, Mother General Maria Inez Furtado de Mendonça, in communicating to the Congregation the most significant steps of the process of the cause for canonization of Mother Candida, requested the collaboration of the sisters in the process, asking us to commit ourselves every day to Mother’s desire for us: our own sanctification and the pursuit of the good of our neighbor more than our own well-being or temporal benefit.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, in his book “I Santi: Ministri della Carità” [“The Saints: Ministers of Charity”], citing a letter written by St. Bernard between 1124 and 1125 which was later inserted in the treatise De diligendo Deo, writes,
“True and sincere charity is that which loves the good of others as if it were ours: ‘Some praise the Lord because He is powerful; there are those who praise Him because He is good with them; and there is finally he who simply praises Him because He is good. The first is the servant, and he fears for himself; the second is the mercenary, and thinks first of all of himself; the third is the son, and gives honor to his father […] Only the charity that is in the son does not seek its own interests’.
Apart from charity, everything else that is done is done out of selfishness; and where there is selfishness there are nooks and crannies, and where there are nooks and crannies there is garbage and filth. Charity, on the other hand, is immaculate, because it retains nothing of its own: ‘God’s law, which is called immaculate, is therefore charity. It does not seek what is useful to itself, but what is beneficial to many others’. Charity is the very essence of God because God is charity (cf. 1 Jn 4: 8).
The saints are the mirror of divine charity.” [Underlining and translation mine.]
Saint Candida Ma. de Jesus was canonized nearly seven years ago, yet I still feel invited to listen more attentively to the call to holiness of which that event reminds us. I still feel called strongly to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be more centered on His person as Mother Candida was, to be so like Jesus that we are recognized as “Daughters of Jesus.” Today we are some 800 Daughters of Jesus and numerous lay men and women in the great family of Mother Candida in 19 countries. May she help us with her constant intercession and prayers, and may our lives render tribute to her memory. Happy Feast Day of Mother Candida!
Anna-María Cinco FI