The Story of Mother Candida Maria de Jesus: A Guided Life to Jesus

by Katherine Louise L. Miller 

On October 17, 2010, Mother Candida Maria de Jesus was welcomed as a new saint in the ranks of the Catholic Church. She is the founder of the Hijas de Jesus (Daughters of Jesus) congregation. Interestingly enough, this was not her original name. Her "original" name was Juana Josefa Cipitria y Barriola. This is her story.

Juana Josefa Cipitria y Barriola was born and baptized on 31 May 1845, the feast of our Lady of Fair Love, in Berrospe, Guipuzcoa, in the Basque region of Spain. Her family called her Juanita.

At a very young age she once woke up before the sun rose and went to see the Blessed Virgin. Her sisters would complain to their mother because Juanita would not play with them. By the fountain, Juanita would be found holding flowers – her offering to Jesus and Mary who, she said, would be coming to drink.

At a young age, Juanita already showed a preferential option for the poor, sharing her favorite food (omelets made by her grandmother Josefa Antonia) with a beggar on the street.

Juanita’s grandmother also taught her how to pray the rosary at just age four. Juanita always felt secure with the Blessed Virgin – she remained unharmed when her dress caught fire and everyone was sure she would be burned alive. She even cut her tongue badly when she was forcefully kicked by a cow that witnesses thought she would never speak again. Nevertheless, she healed quickly.

When Juanita turned seven, her family, moved to Tolosa and there, God’s Will was shown to her. On the image of Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit Order, were engraved the words: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (“For the Greater Glory of God”).

When Juanita was 15 years old, a young, hard-working, honest man fell in love with her and asked her parents for her hand in marriage. Her mother, Maria Jesus, later talked with Juanita about the proposal and she replied with tears, “I am for God Alone.”

From Tolosa to Burgos, 17-year old Juanita worked as a household help to the Sabater family. She barely spoke Spanish because Basque was her hometown language. She was unlearned but Mrs. Ermitas Sabater was kind and understanding, and all the members of the family grew to love her.

Juanita would use her extra money to buy a pot-full of food for the poor. This caused their neighbors some consternation as the poor would crowd around the Sabater’s home. When told to stop this kindness, Juanita answered, “Where there is no room for the poor; neither is there room for me.”

Juanita also made an unlikely friendship with a vain and flighty fellow maid and Mrs. Sabater worried that the girl would be a bad influence on Juanita. To everyone’s surprise, it was the vain girl who changed her ways – starting with a more conservative way of dressing – until she eventually left to join the Carmelites!

When the civil war broke out, the Sabater Family had to move to Valladolid. Due to the transfer, they did not have enough money anymore to pay all their household staff, but Juanita remained loyal to them. There Juanita met Father Miguel Herranz, who was going to be her future Spiritual Director. Fr. Herranz wanted to found a congregation dedicated to the Christian education of girls but was waiting for the Lord to show him God’s chosen one. After mass, Fr. Herranz saw to Confession, where he heard the voice of a Basque country girl filled with faith and humility. He knew then that God had sent him His chosen one.

For a moment Mrs. Sabater was doubtful of Fr. Herranz’s idea because even if Juanita was a good girl she felt that Juanita was not up to the task. So they devised a “test” to see if Juanita were indeed the one chosen by God for the mission. Earlier that morning, Juanita lost a key while playing with Mrs. Sabater’s children and couldn’t find it anywhere. Fr. Herranz asked her to bring any key she may find and try to open this locked door. She obeyed and the door miraculously opened. The result of this simple “test” amazed them and Juanita was allowed to learn how to read and write under the supervision of Fr Herranz.

Mother Candida: Her New Name

One late afternoon in the church of El Rosarillo, Juanita was in silent meditation when out of the blue, she heard a soft but clear voice. “From now on your name will be Candida Maria de Jesus.” She thought at first that it was an ugly name for the town drunkard was called Candido. The Blessed Virgin repeated “I want you to be called Candida Maria de Jesus.” She obeyed, recognizing the will of God.

On 8 December 1871, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, at 4:00 in the afternoon, the Hijas de Jesus (Daughters of Jesus) congregation was founded. A few days later, Fr. Herranz was called by his superiors back to Vigo to start anew his apostolate. Many were dismayed but Mother Candida reminded them, “En Jesus todo lo tenemos.” (“In Jesus, we have everything.”)

The congregation was to found schools, so they started small with classes. They received orders of embroidery from people in order to make improvements on their first school. There was a certain order that stood out from the rest. The task was to embroider a golden image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Nobody could do the work until the deadline grew as close as to the next day.

Mother Candida locked herself in the room, whose light remained bright the whole night, and when morning came the banner was done. She gave the banner free-of-charge as a service. When the sisters asked who taught her to embroider, she replied, “Who could it be? To whom do I run for help when I am in need?” Everybody knew she always asked the Blessed Virgin for help.

After two years they finished their novitiate. They began their work of teaching, which was the dream of Mother Candida. Everybody helped: others taught and attended to the needs of the students, the rest did household chores.

She established more schools in Salamanca and in Tolosa. The trip was tiring and hard what with the many seasons, but she thought of God’s will and went on courageously.

Witnesses tell this story of how Mother Candida was once invited to a fiesta in a ranch at Maza. There were many fierce bulls surrounding the area. Even though the rancher told the folks that the bulls were harmless, one set out to attack Mother Joaquina Gomez and Mother Candida. The bull headed straight towards them but while everyone panicked, Mother Candida remained calm. She made the sign of the cross with her crucifix right before the bull’s attack, and he fell in front of her without causing any harm.

Mother Candida and Her Mission to Teach

After many years, Mother Candida continued to work hard in order to found more schools in Spain. She went to Rome to obtain the approval of the Constitutions of her Congregation. In 1911 she sailed for Brazil along with several Daughters of Jesus where the first school outside of Spain was founded.

Juanita was already 67 years old and recalls that in all her 41 years as a religious, there was not a time that she did not spend in the service of God. During the afternoon of 5 August 1912, Mother Candida fell very ill. The news of her health spread all throughout Salamanca. Even then, many already thought that this woman was going to be a saint. Father Munarriz assisted her at the moment of her death on 9 August 1912 when, at 5:00 in the afternoon, Candida Maria’s lips moved slightly with soft whispers which could be heard only by God.

Mother Candida, along with her student, Antonia Bandres, was beatified on 12 May 1996. Her Canonization last 17 October 2010 was the highlight of her life as she was brought even nearer to Jesus and his Blessed Mother on whom she had much faith to do great things despite many limitations. 

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