Saints for Our Times: Mother Angela worked with poor, sick in Seville
By Mary Lou Gibson
A cholera epidemic devastated Seville, Spain in 1876. Many of those who fell ill were cared for by an angel named Maria de los Angeles Guerrero y González. She and the sisters of her newly formed religious community called the Sisters of the Company of the Cross were dedicated to the care of the sick and the poor.
Maria was born in Seville in 1846 into a modest family. Her parents named her “Maria of the Angels” and called her “Angelita.” There were 14 children in the family, only six lived to adulthood. She was greatly influenced by her pious parents who taught her how to pray the rosary at an early age.
Editor Bernard Bangley noted in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” that Angela had little formal education and started work in a shoe factory while still a young girl. It was there that her supervisor noticed the young girl’s spiritual outlook and introduced her to Father José Torres Padilla. He became her spiritual director and confessor.
She first tried to join the Discalced Carmelites in Santa Cruz but was refused because of bad health. She returned to her family but longed to join a religious congregation. Matthew Bunson writes in “John Paul II’s Book of Saints” that Father Padilla encouraged her to live according to a specific rule of life and take yearly vows while living as a religious.
She received another sign to become a religious when during a time of prayer in 1871, she saw an empty cross in front of the chapel’s crucifix. Bangley writes that she saw this to mean that God was asking her to accept the empty cross to “be poor with the poor in order to bring them to Christ.”
Angela began keeping a spiritual diary to record what she understood of the life to which God was calling her. At the same time she supported herself with her work in the shoe factory. Others were attracted to her life and in 1875 Angela and three other women rented a small room with a kitchen in Seville. They organized a 24-hour support service for the local poor.
The Sisters of the Company of the Cross as they came to be known lived an authentically reclusive, contemplative life when they were not among the poor. Once they were home, they dedicated themselves to prayer and silence, but it was their policy that they could always be interrupted by the poor and the dying.
People began to call Angela “Mother Angela of the Cross” and the sisters thought of themselves as “angels” called to help and love the poor and sick in their homes that otherwise would have been abandoned. During Mother Angela’s life time, another 23 convents were established. The congregation works with the sick, the poor, orphans, the homeless, finding them food, medicine, housing and other needs, living solely on alms, keeping only enough for themselves to continue their work, according to www.catholic.org.
Mother Angela died in Seville on March 2, 1932. She was beatified in 1982 in Madrid by St. John Paul II and he canonized her on May 4, 2003. Her shrine is at the convent of the Sisters of the Cross in Seville.