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Margarita María López de Maturana (1884-1934)


Religious, Foundress of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz

The life of Mother Margarita was a devout and generous response to God's call. From childhood she cultivated a deep love for God which developed throughout her lifetime. She is reported as once saying: "There are very important moments in life when God shows us the way to follow and then leaves it to our free will to respond". Her constant choice was always a generous "yes" to the God of love.

Pilar, as she was named at Baptism, was born with her twin sister Leonor, in Bilbao, Spain, on 25 July 1884. The twins were the youngest of five children born to Juana Ortiz de Zarate and Vicente López de Maturana.

According to early accounts the twins were inseparable. They grew up sharing everything, including their love for God. Both, in fact, decided to enter the convent. But it was Leonor's desire to make the sacrifice of detachment from her sister that prompted her to chose to enter a different Order from her beloved twin, the Carmelites of Charity.

Opening to a vocation

In 1901 Pilar's widowed mother enrolled her in the boarding school of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy (Mercedarians) in an effort to distance her from a suitor and resulting relationship that Doña Juana felt was premature for Pilar's 16 years of age.

Her initial difficult adjustment at the school was soothed by the simplicity and manner of educating of the Religious, which made her feel at home and comfortable in her new environment.

Shortly thereafter, she desired to enter the Order, and following her 19th birthday, the age established by her mother, she entered the novitiate in the Cloistered Mercedarian Monastery of Vera Cruz in Berriz on 10 August 1903, taking the name Margarita María.

In 1906 she began to work in the Order's boarding school, where she had also studied. She remained there for more than 20 years, distinguishing herself by fervent prayer and charity.

The Order of Our Lady of Mercy was founded by St Peter Nolasco in 1218 in order to ransom Christian captives. To the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, St Peter added a fourth vow, to act as hostages if necessary to free from the Moors the Christian captives whose faith was in danger. As centuries passed the need to offer oneself in ransom declined, but this missionary spirit remained in the hearts of those who lived the charism.

New fruits of the charism

Consonant with the Mercedarian charism, Sr Margarita María felt a strong desire to practice the fourth vow. She applied this vocation of the ransom of captives to the task of converting the pagan world.

After 17 years of faithful religious life, the Mercedarian spirit inspired Sr Margarita, in 1920, to form an association of Mercedarian Missionary Youth, encouraging them to be co-missionaries through prayer and various activities.

The missionary spirit pervaded not only the youth residing with them, but the whole monastery as well. By September 1924 the request was made to the Superior General of the Order of Mercy to petition Rome to redefine their religious status from a contemplative Order to an active missionary Order. On 23 January 1926 permission was granted ad experimentum to take up the missionary life. By 19 September 1926 the first group of six missionary Sisters departed for Wuhu, China, where they arrived safely on 5 November of the same year. The second missionary expedition that left Berriz on 30 October 1927 went to Saipan, in the Mariana Islands of the South Pacific, arriving four months later on 4 March 1928.

A third missionary expedition that set out for Ponape Island, Japan, in 1928 was conducted by Mother Margarita María, who had just been named Superior a year earlier on 16 April 1927.

In 1930 the final approval and blessing came from Rome for the official transformation of the Mercedarian Monastery of Berriz into a Missionary Institute. On 30 July 1931, during the First General Chapter of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz, Mother Margarita María was elected as the first Superior General.

Before her death in Spain due to cancer on 23 July 1934, she had travelled the world twice on missionary work.

Mother Margarita's missionary zeal sprang from her intense union with Christ, who offered himself in ransom for all. Her desire to live the fourth vow and save souls inspired her missionary spirit. Her writing defines the stimulus for the missionary spirit as a "desire to love Jesus Christ in a new and total way; to love him above all in those who do not love him".

Margarita María's Beatification cause was opened on 30 July 1943. Her writings were approved on 4 March 1954. On 16 March 1987 her heroic virtues were proclaimed, followed by recognition on 28 April 2006 of a miracle attributed to her.