Saints for Our Times: St. Genoveva cared for poor, elderly women
By Mary Lou Gibson
Genoveva Torres Morales had more tragedy in her young life than most people experience over several decades. She was born in Almenara in Castile, Spain, in 1870, the youngest of six children. She lost both parents when she was 8 and then lost four of her brothers and sisters soon after. She was left to care for her younger brother, José, but she did find time to read books on religious subjects. Even at this young age, Genoveva decided that happiness was to be found in doing God’s will. Editor Bernard Bangley writes in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” that she decided to practice this with her life’s work.
When she was 13, her leg became infected. Sarah Gallick writes in “The Big Book of Women Saints” that Genoveva lay on a kitchen table while a doctor amputated her left leg with little anesthesia. For the rest of her life, she walked on crutches and lived with constant pain.
After the operation, gangrene set it and Genoveva expected to die. Her brother took her to an orphanage run by the Carmelite Sisters of Charity. Miraculously, Genoveva recovered and lived for the next nine years at this orphanage called the Mercy Home. She learned to sew and over time became a proficient seamstress.
Genoveva grew in her spiritual life while at Mercy Home and was guided by Father Carlos Ferris, a diocesan priest. She discovered spiritual liberty which she later described as, “I loved freedom of heart very much, and worked and am working to achieve it fully. It does the soul so much good that every effort is nothing compared with this free condition of the heart.” She was drawn to the religious life and asked to enter the Carmelites of Charity. Her request was denied and Gallick writes that it was because her disability and physical problems were so severe.
She left Mercy Home and joined two other women who supported themselves with their own skills. With the help of her pastor, Genoveva opened a boarding house for working women. In 1911, when Genoveva was 41, she acted on the recommendation of Canon Barbarró to start a new religious congregation dedicated to serving elderly women in the working class. This was a new kind of religious community –– one for poor women who could not otherwise support themselves. For years, Genoveva had thought of starting a religious congregation that would be solely concerned with meeting the needs of such women, since she knew of no one engaged in this work.
In 1925, Genoveva and 18 associates formed the religious order called the “Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Angels.” The community was also known as the “Angélicas.”
Genoveva opened the first house in Valencia. Other foundations followed in several Spanish cities including Barcelona, Madrid and Pamplona. According to Gallick, the government closed down many of the boarding houses during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). When peace returned, Genoveva began to rebuild. Matthew Bunson writes in “John Paul II’s Book of Saints” that the community received approval from Pope Pius XII in 1953.
Throughout the rest of her life, Genoveva directed the work and ministry of her community. She had a reputation for kindness and openness to others, Bangley wrote, and her good humor was legendary. Genoveva died on Jan. 5, 1956. She was beatified in June 1995 by St. John Paul II. At her canonization on May 4, 2003, St. John Paul II called Genoveva “an instrument of God’s tender love. This love led her to devote her life to caring for retired women, to remedy the loneliness and deprivation in which many of them lived.”