Laura Montoya Upegui (1874-1949)
Laura Montoya Upegui was born on 26 May 1874 in Jericó, Antioquia, Colombia, the second of three children to Juan de la Crux Montoya and Dolores Upegui.
When Laura was only 2 years old, her father was killed defending his Country, and the family was left in extreme poverty after all their goods were confiscated. At such a time of deep misery and loss, Laura's mother gave an example of Christian forgiveness and fortitude that would remain impressed in her young daughter's mind and heart forever.
Childhood suffering, divine help
Following her father's death, Laura was sent to live with her grandmother. She suffered greatly from misunderstandings and the lack of affection, feeling she had been left "orphaned".
As she grew older, she was especially sustained by meditation on Sacred Scripture and the strength she received from the Eucharist.
When Laura was 16, her mother decided that her daughter needed to help the family in its financial difficulties and told her to apply to become a teacher. Although Laura was culturally and academically "ignorant", having grown up without a formal education, she asked to enter the "Normale de Institutoras" of Medellín to receive training to become an elementary school teacher. She was accepted and stood out for her high marks among the students.
Called to "teach Christ'
Laura began teaching in different parts of Antioquia. She did not limit herself to educating the students simply in academic knowledge, but sought to diffuse Gospel teaching and values.
"An Indian with the Indians'
At one time during her teaching career, Laura felt decidedly drawn to helping the Indian population in South America and wished to insert herself into their culture, to "become an Indian with the Indians to win them all for Christ". Recognizing their dignity as human beings in an epoch when they were considered by many as "wild beasts", Laura wanted to destroy this racial discrimination and to personally sacrifice herself in order to bring them Christ's love and teaching.
On 14 May 1914, she left Medellín together with four other young women and headed to Dabeiba to live among the native Indians. This new religious family, assisted by the Bishop of Santa Fe de Antioquia and known as the "Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St Catherine of Siena", was thought by some to be nothing more than a family of "religious goats", who were heading off into the wilderness to give the "beasts" a living Gospel catechism.
Laura, however, cared little for public opinion, even if some of the comments made came right from within the Christian community itself.
Pedagogy of love
Mother Laura composed for her "daughters" a directory and other writings (her Autobiography among them) to help them understand better their call to serve God among the Indians, and to live a balance between apostolic and contemplative life. She taught by example the "pedagogy of love" as the only way to teach the Indians, the way which allowed access into their heart and culture to bring them Jesus Christ.
Mother Laura died on 21 October 1949 in Medellín, after a long and painful illness. The last nine years of her life were lived in a wheelchair, where she continued to teach by example, word and writing.
Today her Missionary Sisters work in 19 countries throughout America, Africa and Europe.