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Catholic Heroes… St. Narcisa de Jesus

August 30, 2018 saints No Comments


Twice a year, pilgrims from Ecuador, Peru, Europe, and the United States flock to Canton Nobol in Ecuador for a procession. On Good Friday, thousands participate in the procession of the Way of the Cross placed at the outdoor shrine. On October 22, they come in memory of their beloved saint who was canonized on October 22, 2008 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The young lady was St. Narcisa de Jesus.
Narcisa (1832-1869) was born just a few years after the Republic of Ecuador was founded in the early nineteenth century. Peter Martillo, a simple and devout landowner, and his wife, Josephine Moran, had nine children — Narcisa was their sixth child. They lived in a tiny hamlet established on the bank of the Rio Daule, a tributary of the great Rio Guayas which flows to the Pacific Ocean.
Peter, a hard-working farmer, prudently handled his finances and built substantial wealth for the family. Also, he led the family in devotions, which the children adopted as well. He had two favorite saints.
One was St. Marianna of Jesus, who was also a native of Ecuador. She was born of noble Spanish immigrants in 1618 and died in 1645. Blessed Pope Pius IX beatified her in 1853, so her sanctity was well-known when Narcisa was born on October 29, 1832 in Nobol.
The other saint to whom Peter had a deep devotion was St. Hyacinth of Poland, a priest famous for his reform of women’s monasteries in Poland in the thirteenth century.
These two saints were honored by the family as they grew together in love and holiness. This happy and serene family life was sadly interrupted when Josephine died in 1838.
Thus, a friendly teacher took Narcisa, age six, under her wing and taught her to read, write, sing, and play the guitar. She also helped her learn to sew — she became an excellent seamstress — and to weave, embroider, and cook. Narcisa’s natural proclivity for music frequently inspired her to pray by music and song. One of her favorite refrains was a chant: Reaching the heart of Him who well deserves it.
Always a child dedicated to Jesus, her love deepened in a special way when she received Confirmation on September 16, 1839. Though she was just seven years old, she began periods of isolation in the woods for meditation. There she would pass time in contemplation of divine mysteries. The guayabo tree, under which she sat at these times, is now a popular pilgrimage site.
Narcisa also transformed a small room in her house into a domestic chapel. Upon this foundation of prayer and contemplation, she sought to imitate the life of St. Marianna of Jesus and to become a victim soul for love of God.
She embarked on a regimen of penance as she yearned to join herself closely to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, and thereby share in the redemption of the world. Even with all the time she spent in instruction and prayer, the young girl also devoted a good deal of time helping with domestic chores as well as helping with the work in the fields.
Narcisa hoped to answer her call to sanctity with cheerfulness and a true sense of being God’s servant. As time went on, her sanctity grew and she became even more obedient, generous, devout, and eager to help the poor and sick.
As a young woman, tall, graceful, and beautiful with her fair hair and blue eyes, she possessed great poise, strength, and agility. Yet it was her loving heart that drew the attention of the townspeople. She glowed with the indwelling love of God which she so eagerly shared with others. She became an excellent catechist and a model of Christian living to the children.
When her beloved father died in January 1852, 19-year-old Narcisa moved to Guayaquil. There, nearly 22 miles south of her home in Nobol, Narcisa found lodging with a prominent family who lived near the cathedral. Except for a few months when she went to Cuenca, she lived in Guayaquil for the next 16 years.
During these years she sought privacy in order to spend more time in prayer and freely engage in penitential practices. To support herself, she did some tailoring and embroidery. In her spare time, she tended the poor.
She obtained spiritual direction from the Franciscans being obedient to their guidance with holy docility, moving from house to house. Sometimes she stayed with Blessed Mercedes of Jesus Molina, who founded the order of the Sisters of Mariana de Jesus to care for abandoned children.
Seeking ever greater perfection, she followed the advice of her spiritual director and went to Lima, Peru, where she became a lay member of the Dominican convent of Patrocinia founded in June 1688. It was in the same vicinity where St. John Macias used to take his flock. Here she learned the joy of suffering, as the Lord revealed to her how pleasing life could be in the midst of trials.
The following year, Narcisa was struck with many high fevers which doctors could not treat, but she still insisted on continuing her responsibilities and devotions. As she became weaker and weaker, she began a novena and celebrated the gift of the Eucharist.
Then she informed her sisters that she was going on “a journey very far.” They smiled at her, not realizing what she meant. When the sister in charge of blessing the cells at night came to Narcisa’s, she noticed a special fragrance emanating from it. She summoned the rest of the community and when they entered they found that she had died at the young age of 37. She was dressed in white in honor of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception when she died on December 8, 1869. All remembered that she had demonstrated a great joy in her last moments, dying on the very day that Blessed Pope Pius IX opened the First Vatican Council.
Although she never took formal religious vows, Narcisa had made private vows of perpetual virginity, poverty, obedience, and enclosure. She also vowed to live an eremitical life, committed to fasting on bread and water, and making daily Holy Communion and Confession, practicing mortification, and prayer. As she took so little food and endured such severe mortifications, the doctors were amazed that she lived as long as she did.
After her death, the Dominicans diligently cared for her tomb and many miracles were attributed to her intercession. In 1955, her body — found to be incorrupt — was transferred to Guayaquil and the appeal for canonization was presented to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in 1964.
Pope St. John Paul II beatified her on October 25, 1992. Benedict XVI canonized Narcisa on October 12, 2008.
On August 22, 1998, a shrine in Nobol was dedicated to her honor where she now reclines beneath the altar.
Dear sweet Narcisa, pray for many souls to become victim souls for their salvation and for the good of Holy Mother Church. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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