Mother Juana María Condesa Lluch (1862-1916)
Juana María Condesa Lluch (1862-1916), Foundress of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Immaculate Conception, Protectress of Workers. She was born in Valencia, Spain, on 30 March 1862, into a wealthy Christian family. She received a well-rounded human and Christian formation from her parents. She was deeply devoted to the Eucharist and to the Blessed Mother, opening her eyes and heart to the needs of those around her and nourishing a deep the desire to help the neediest. She had a deep prayer life and already as an adolescent, felt that God was calling her to live in deep communion with Him. Those who knew her saw that she "lived the ordinary in an extraordinary way". Her joy, self-giving and humility enabled her to touch a multitude of hearts.
She was especially sensitive to the plight of the exploited factory workers who, with the rapid growth of industrialization in the 19th century, were forced to leave the countryside to seek work in the cities. Their only option was work on the assembly-line; they were usually treated as mere "instruments" and stripped of their dignity. Juana wanted to help them materially, morally and spiritually. When she was only 18 years old, she felt called to consecrate herself totally to God and to found a religious order that would be committed to helping exploited workers and their families.
The Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Antolín Monescillo, considered her too young to begin a Congregation, but after struggling for several years, in 1884 she received permission to open a shelter to welcome and to offer spiritual formation and human dignity to the oppressed workers.
A few months later, Juana opened a school for the factory workers' children in the shelter. She was joined by other young women who also felt called to the religious life and to "live and give their all for the good of the workers". Convinced that this religious family was a fruit of the Spirit for the good of the Church in the 19th century, Juana continued her work to have it approved by the Church as a religious congregation. She followed Christ and, embracing the evangelical counsels, devoted her life to serving him in the workers.
In 1892, the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Immaculate Conception, Protectress of Workers, received diocesan approval. The number of its members rapidly increased and it spread in other industrial zones. In 1895, Juana and the first sisters made their first vows and in 1911 their perpetual profession.
A key to Sr Juana's spirituality is her desire to be known as the "the Handmaid of the Lord", living, like Mary, unconditional acceptance of God's will, conforming to God's will and seeing God's will in everyday events. As she said so often to her sisters, she longed "to be holy in heaven, without any ostentation on earth". She was known as a "Biblical woman, full of courage in her decisions and evangelical in her action". It was this "evangelical action" that she was anxious to pass on to her sisters, desiring that they live with total confidence in God and, through their lives, transmit to the workers around them "the Gospel Beatitudes".
Mother Juana died in Valencia, Spain, on 16 January 1916. On 14 April 1937, the Congregation received temporary pontifical approval from Pope Pius XI; on 27 January 1947 definitive approval from Pope Pius XII.