St Joachina de Vedruna de Mas before the turmoil unleashed by the French Revolution, the noble family of Vedruna had reached the peak of its power and prestige in north-eastern Spain. They were highly respected for their integrity and virtue, as well as their influence among the elite families in Barcelona and the Catalonian countryside. Lorenzo de Vedruna and his wife Teresa Vidal raised their eight children to be very proper and perfect little aristocrats, and never dreamed that their fifth child, little Joachina, was anything out of the ordinary. But she was.
To be sure, Joachina (born in 1783) was a lively and affectionate little girl, with the typically generous enthusiasm that one finds in children. She also had a fairly normal attraction to the traditional piety of the times. At the tender age of twelve, she insisted that she needed to enter the cloistered Carmelite convent, and was surprised to be turned down. Her parents were confident that this childish fantasy would pass. And it did…for a while.
But Joachina’s intense prayer life and her awareness of God’s presence in her life did not pass. Even the technicalities of sewing or gardening became spiritual insights, or reminders to dedicate even the most trifling actions to God. If she could not live her life as a nun in the loving silence of a convent, then God must be calling her to serve in some other way.
In 1799, a young lawyer named Teodoro de Mas asked for Joachina’s hand in marriage, and her parents agreed. Although he was somewhat older than his new bride, Teodoro was a fine fellow from a good family, and they felt that he was just right for their daughter. At first, Joachina felt that she had betrayed her true calling. But once she got to know her new husband, she discovered that they had much in common. For example, he had seriously considered joining the Franciscans, and continued to love prayer and works of charity. So the couple decided that they would raise their children to be upstanding Christians, but that Joachina could later retire to a convent, if she still wished to do so.
Eventually, they raised nine children in the devout and loving atmosphere of their home. But they were not blessed with the stability of earlier times. Spain was drawn into the vortex of war and revolution when Napoleon led his French troops south in a wave of conquest. For safety, Teodoro moved his family from Barcelona to his birthplace of Vich, and then joined the Spanish forces fighting to defend their homeland. Joachina and her children managed to avoid columns of hostile soldiers, giving the credit to divine protection and intervention. But the vicious conflict broke all bounds of violence and bloodshed, and no one in Spain would ever be the same again.
joachinabThroughout the turmoil of war, Joachina continued to be a devoted wife and loving mother. Teodoro resigned his army commission in 1813, as the war was coming to an end. He returned to his family and civilian life, hoping to take up a more normal existence. But his military struggles had seriously damaged his health. Joachina had already realized that she might soon be alone. When Teodoro died suddenly in 1816, she was only 33 years old, with children to raise. But she resolved to carry out all her responsibilities, and with God’s help, she did so. For the next 10 years, she devoted herself to her children, and used her substantial inheritance to insure their future. But she also lived simply, continued her prayer, and helped the sick people of Vich.
One by one, her children began to get married and leave home, and Joachina began to consider what was next for herself. Although she never lost her loving relationship with her children, she resolved to divert her skills to other works of mercy. Her spiritual director, Esteban de Olot, was a man of great charity and learning. He advised her not to enter any existing religious community, but consider founding her own. He pointed out that she was already good at two forms of ministry: teaching the young, and nursing the sick. And so her congregation should focus on both of those worthy works. With the blessing of Bishop Corcuera of Vich, she established her Carmelites of Charity in 1826. The first community consisted of only 9 sisters, but they took their vows full of hope and enthusiasm.
Their early years were spent in extreme poverty, with rich and powerful donors avoiding any contact with a group which looked like it was doomed to failure. Even so, within a short time, the sisters had established a hospital at Tarrega, and served the people there well. Once again, Joachina and her sisters suffered from the hardships of war and butchery. The bloody Carlist Wars tore Spain apart in a bitter struggle between political factions, but the sisters treated the wounded of both sides, creating a neutral zone built upon love and mercy. Joachina again had to flee to exile in France for a brief period, avoiding the dangers of mindless violence with God’s help.
When she returned in 1843, her sisters experienced an astonishing period of growth and development. Joachina and her companions professed their final vows, with St. Anthony Claret representing the Church. In 1850, with final approval from Rome, they began to expand throughout Spain and even into other countries. But that same year, Joachina experienced the beginnings of a paralysis which would finally curtail her vigorous activity. Although her mental powers were as impressive as ever, she obediently ceded her leadership to others, and went back to living the simple life of a working sister, even though she was slowly dying by inches. She finally died in 1854, and was laid to rest in the mother house at Vich. She went serenely to meet her God, knowing that she had truly created a thing of beauty for him.