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Catholic Heroes… St. Nazaria March y Mesa

July 4, 2019 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Throughout the 2,000-year history of the Church, there have been periods of great conversions followed by a waning of the faith among future generations. After the initial persecution of the Church during the few hundred years following Christ’s crucifixion and death, the Church grew rapidly.
In Latin America, the Catholic Church expanded rapidly after the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego. Millions were baptized in a short time. However, after a few hundred years, the fervor faded and the Protestants came to draw Catholics into their sects. Not a few priests and religious sought to re-evangelize, catechize, and serve the peoples of Latin America during this crisis.
One of these was a lady, born in Spain, who first served the elderly. She then founded an order to restore the faith in Catholics who had either become tepid or had fully fallen away from the practice of their faith.
José Alejandro March y Reus, a merchant, fisherman, and industrial worker, married Nazaria Mesa Ramos and together they had 18 children. On January 10, 1889, their fourth child, Nazaria was born in Madrid, Spain. Some records indicate that Nazaria was one of a set of twins, who were baptized at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church within days of their birth.
While the parents had their children receive the sacraments, they were not very devout Catholics. Nazaria received a special favor on the day of her First Holy Communion, November 21, 1898. At this time, she heard the voice of Jesus summoning her by saying, “You! Nazaria, follow me.” She immediately committed herself to Jesus, trying to attend Mass frequently. She talked to her parents, informing them of her desire to enter religious life.
Strongly against their daughter becoming a nun, they hoped to temper her desires by forbidding her to receive the sacraments. Then they sent Nazaria to live with her maternal grandmother in Seville, about 500 kilometers southwest of Madrid.
As time went on — and probably with their persuaded by her grandmother — Nazaria’s parents allowed her to receive Confirmation. On March 15, 1902 Blessed Marcelo Spinola y Maestri confirmed Nazaria.
Furthermore, her parents then allowed Nazaria to join the Franciscan Third Order and once again to receive the sacraments more frequently. As a result of her piety, sacrifices, and good example, Nazaria also brought several of her relatives back to the Catholic Church.
With the economic conditions worsening in Spain, Nazaria’s parents decided to move to Mexico. At the end of 1904 the family packed only their basic necessities and left for Mexico. During the voyage, Nazaria became acquainted with a religious order serving the elderly. Thus, when she was twenty years old, she joined the Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly on July 12, 1908.
She made her formal entrance on December 7, 1908 in Mexico City. One of Nazaria’s first assignments took her to Oruro, Bolivia, halfway down the west coast of South America. There she cared for the sick and elderly. She arrived in 1908 and worked for four years before she was sent to Palenica to finish her novitiate. Receiving her veil on December 9, 1909, she made her next level of commitment, her initial profession of vows, on October 10, 1911.
Sr. Nazaria then returned to Oruro with nine other sisters on December 23, 1912. Two years later, on January 1, 1915, she made her final vows and solemn profession. Although she had no trouble with her vows of chastity and poverty, she struggled greatly with the vow of obedience to her superiors.
Nevertheless, she served as cook, housekeeper, nurse, and sometimes as a lowly beggar, seeking help for the poor. She had done this work before her novitiate and returned to it until 1920.
Her exposure to life in Bolivia revealed a distressing laxity in the priests, and conflict with Protestants, who were seeking to “steal sheep” from the Catholic fold by establishing missions.
Therefore, when she met Archbishop Filippo Cortesi, the apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, they discussed their mutual concern to found an order dedicated to the re-Christianization of the world, which would be devoted to evangelization, education, and missionary work.
Unfortunately, Sr. Nazaria fell ill and they had to postpone their planning until August 15, 1924. Since it was the Feast of the Assumption, Archbishop Cortesi gave Sr. Nazaria a picture of Mary to mark the beginning of this new endeavor. On March 23, 1925 she attended a celebration in which Cortesi consecrated five new bishops.
She finally left the Little Sisters to begin the new religious congregation on June 16, 1925. Ten Bolivian women also joined her in this new work. Of course, she met with considerable resistance, testing both her resolve and her trust in God’s Providence. Perhaps the most painful challenge came from the Little Sisters who felt betrayed by her change in service. Even more challenges would come later.
Archbishop Cortesi met with Sr. Nazaria again a few weeks later and approved the beginning of plans on August 18, 1925. This congregation, named the Missionaries of the Crusade, was founded on December 12, 1926 and received diocesan approval on February 12, 1927.
Although papal approval had not been received until after her death, Pope Pius XI gave favorable recognition on June 8, 1935. In the meantime, Sr. Nazaria was unanimously elected superior of the Congregation of Missionary Crusaders of the Church on June 1, 1930.
The war between Bolivia and Paraguay from 1932 to 1935 also tested the missionaries as they labored to bring the sacraments to soldiers on both sides of the conflict. They also helped establish homes for war orphans.
Sr. Nazaria was a champion of women as well, as she began a publication for women religious and founded the first trade union for women.
In 1934, when Msgr. Cortesi petitioned for Vatican approval, Sr. Nazaria went to Rome, making pilgrimages to several holy sites. During her private office with Pope Pius XI, she voiced her readiness to die for the Church. He told her she must live and work for the Church instead.
From Italy, Sr. Nazaria returned to her hometown of Madrid, Spain, but was forced to leave because of the Spanish Civil War between the Communist republicans supported by the Soviet Union and the traditional Catholic nationalists led by Francisco Franco.
Sr. Nazaria returned to Bolivia and in 1937 she called a chapter meeting for the congregation to strengthen the zeal and promote the unity of the sisters. She continued to set a fine example for the sisters for the next few years.
When the Spanish Civil War ended, Sr. Nazaria returned to Spain to visit her sisters for the last time. She encouraged the superiors of the various houses to be maternal in nurturing the vocations of the missionaries.
Her work spread to Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Cameroon and throughout South America
In May 1943, Sr. Nazaria was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and eventually died on July 6, 1943. Her feast is celebrated on the anniversary of her death.

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(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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