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Bl. Candelaria of St Joseph (1863-1940)

Religious, Foundress of the Venezuelan Carmelite Sisters


Susana Paz Castillo Ramírez was born on 11 August 1863 in Altagracia de Orituco, in the State of Guarico, Venezuela. Her father died when she was 7 years old and the family gradually lost all they had. Her education consisted in rudimentary reading, writing and arithmetic skills.

When Susana was 24 her mother died. The young woman took charge of the family, which in addition to her siblings also included cousins and some of her mother's godchildren.

Venezuelan life at that time was marked by strife, war and civil unrest. Even Nature rebelled with the earthquakes of 1900 and 1929. Following the 1900 earthquake, Altagracia suffered the effects of the "Liberation Revolution", which resulted in devastation, misery and countless wounded, abandoned and injured people. Susana cared for them personally, tending their wounds and preparing them for death.

In 1903 two doctors at Altagracia founded St Anthony's Hospital, and the parish priest, Fr Sixto Sosa, encouraged Susana to assist in running it. Soon three other helpers arrived, a little later another two came, and thus a small community of women, living and working together, began. They dedicated themselves to the sick as an expression of their desire to serve the Lord. Fr Sosa instructed them in the basics of religious life.

"God is Love" was their motto. Each day two of them actually went out and begged for what they needed. When a nurse would tell Susana that there was neither bread nor medicine, she would simply take a basket and go out, returning later with what was needed.

On 31 December 1910 the small community was established as a diocesan Institute and known as "The Sisters of the Poor of Altagracia de Orituco". In 1914 Fr Sixto was named Apostolic Administrator and then Bishop of the Diocese of Guayana, now the Diocese of Bolivar City. In 1916 Mother Candelaria of St Joseph, as she was now called, began an 18 month financial campaign to assist her apostolic works. During this time she founded two hospitals: one at Porlamar, on Isla de Margarita, known as the Hospice for the Abandoned, and the other on the mainland at Upata.

During the first years of rapid development and hospital service, the important question of the Congregation's canonical status in accordance with the new Code was left aside.

In 1922, with the arrival of the Carmelite Fathers at Porlamar, Mother Candelaria hoped that they would bring Carmelite Sisters to the island with whom she could affiliate her community. Nothing materialized.

On 1 January 1925, Mother Candelaria made a formal petition to the Carmelite General for affiliation status, and on 25 March the aggregation was decreed. From then on the Sisters were known as Tertiary Carmelite Sisters. Today, they are known as the Venezuelan Carmelite Sisters. In 1927 Mother Candelaria made her perpetual vows and then received the profession of temporal vows of the other Sisters.

The earthquake of 1929 at Cumaná brought Mother Candelaria and two Sisters to that city. There she took charge of a hospital and when a smallpox epidemic broke out she tended those in the isolated zone personally.

On 11 April 1937 the first General Chapter was held. As the burden of responsibility passed from Mother Candelaria to the newly-elected Superior General she gave the example of humility and deference by kneeling before her and kissing her scapular.

With her constant prayer, physical suffering and good example, Mother Candelaria continued to sustain her Community until her death on 31 January 1940.

On 1 October 1974, her cause for Beatification was introduced at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On 19 April 2004, Pope John Paul II recognized the heroic virtues of the Servant of God.
Mother Candelaria's Beatification was celebrated on 27 April 2008 at Caracas, Venezuela, by the Papal Legate, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.