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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Vocation Story: A Life of Loving Service: Mother Margarita Maria, O.C.D.

A Life of Loving Service:  Mother Margarita Maria, O.C.D.

Strolling through the campuses of Little Flower Missionary House, Santa Teresita and Sacred Heart Retreat House, all located in southern California, reveals a common feature of these first foundations of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.  A beautiful chapel occupies the place of prominence in all three locations and leaves no doubt that God is the enter of everything that happens.  Mother Margarita Maria, O.C.D., envisioned and brought to completion each one of these chapels, overseeing every detail of their construction and sparing no expense in providing “the best” for God’s House.  Throughout her life, Mother would often say, “We must give our best to God.” Inevitably, she would always add, “If we do our best, God will do the rest.”

Mother Margarita Maria discovered God within the stunning edifices which she built for His honor and glory and within every person she encountered and served.  These beautiful chapels stand as a silent witness to the driving force of her life -- the conviction that God is worthy of, and deserves, the best that we can offer.  Placing our lives totally and unreservedly in His hands is the greatest gift anyone can give Him.

Maria de la Concepcion Hernandez was born on February 25, 1903, in the city of Ameca, Jalisco, Mexico, the first of three surviving children of Nestor and Maria Concepcion Hernandez.  Nestor, a widower with three children, was twenty-four years older than his second wife, Maria Concepcion.  An artisan and jeweler, Nestor created beautiful silver and gold chalices, ciboria and other vessels for use in the church.  Perhaps, Maria learned her attention to detail and desire to use her gifts and talents in the service of God from her father.  When she was only nine years old, she remained at her father’s side for the last twelve hours of his life and always remembered his final words to her to “get a chair for your older brother.”  She understood this as a legacy left to her by her father -- to be forgetful of self and to be aware of and serve the needs of others.

She was named after her mother, a homemaker who lovingly cared for her growing family.  During the religious persecution in Mexico, at the risk of her own life, Mrs. Hernandez often sheltered Mother Luisita and her religious in her own home, again providing Maria with a legacy of courage in the service of God that endured throughout her life.  When Mother Margarita wrote her vocation story many years later, she said, “We were an ordinary family. I learned to love Christ from the example of my parents.”

The following is her written account of her application to enter Carmel:
“When I met Mother Luisita, I applied in the third
person. I remember that, on the way to the meeting, I saw a sick man with his head all bandaged, and I looked at him and thought, “I don’t like to be with sick people.” I told Mother that my friend was a teacher (Maria already had her teaching credentials), and she would like to know if she would be assured never to be sent to work in a hospital.

Mother Luisita replied, “When a woman enters religious life, she gives herself to God. It is not a loan; it is a gift, and God does with that gift whatever He pleases.” Then Mother added, “Of course, you tell your friend that the superiors usually use the qualities of the candidates when they come already prepared for a specific work.” I thanked Mother and told her that I would let her know what my friend decided. Later, when I told Mother Luisita that I was the one applying, she told me that she had known it all along.”
    – from the writings of Mother Margarita Maria of the Sacred Heart, O.C.D.

Maria entered Carmel on September 30, 1923, and received the name Sister Margarita Maria of the Sacred Heart when she became a novice.  At the completion of her novitiate, she pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  In 1927, one year after she made her first profession of vows, God asked another gift from Sister Margarita Maria.  He asked her to leave her family and her beloved homeland in Mexico to accompany Mother Luisita as she journeyed into an unknown future in the United States seeking refuge for her young Congregation from the fierce religious persecution raging in Mexico.  The words of Mother Luisita that “God does with the gift whatever he pleases” echoed in her heart and she joyfully assented.
During those early days in her adopted country, she taught catechism, ran a secondhand store, helped with the parish census, gave Spanish and piano lessons, and worked among other Mexican refugees at Holy Innocents parish in Long Beach, California.  When Santa Teresita Sanatorium opened in Duarte, California, in 1930, Sister Margarita Maria was appointed the first administrator and served in that capacity for the next 55 years as Santa Teresita continued to meet the needs of the people through their healthcare services.  She learned to love the sick and the elderly and spared no effort to provide the best in care and service. 

When Mother Luisita returned to Mexico, she left Sister Margarita Maria – now called Mother Margarita Maria - in her place as the regional superior.  In 1983, when the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles became an independent congregation from that in Mexico, she was named co-foundress.
A great trust in God characterized Mother Margarita Maria’s life. Her extraordinary ability to envision the outcome of projects enabled her to see the great things that follow the humble beginnings of projects.  She accomplished much during her lifetime. She was equally at home among cardinals, bishops, businessmen, doctors and lawyers, workers, the poor, the sick and the elderly.  Mother loved her Congregation and each one of her Carmelite sisters.  She nourished and protected the charism of Mother Luisita so that it might be passed on intact to future generations.
Her first priority was always the spiritual welfare of those who were served.  She would remind the nursing sisters that they were serving Christ in each person they encountered in the hospital room.  To those who taught, she would repeat that they must bring those they educated to love Christ by their own Christ-like example.  Mother was gifted with a great sense of humor and when she appeared lost in thought with the characteristic twinkle in her eyes and her stocky hands moving excitedly, either a prank or a new building project was in the making.
On September 21, 1988, at the age of 85, God called His faithful servant home to Himself and she surrendered her noble soul to Him as her final gift.   A few short pages cannot enumerate the many gifts with which God blessed Mother Margarita Maria and, through her, all those who came across her path.  We can only respond gratefully– Thank you, Mother, for your unconditional gift of self – words that perhaps she herself heard as she came before Him, Whom she had served so faithfully in religious life for sixty-four years.

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