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Daughter of Mexico Devoted to the Sick
By Jack Wintz, O.F.M.


Inspired to Serve the Sick
The Mexican Revolution
'Model of a Nursing Sister'
María Vincenta Chavez Orozco

Throughout the history of Christianity, there has been no lack of generous women and men dedicated to the ministry of healing. This should not surprise us, really. After all, this venerable tradition goes back to Jesus himself, who said his mission was to proclaim God’s healing presence not only by word but also by action. At his touch, the blind saw, the deaf heard and the lame walked again.

To get to know this month’s “model of holiness,” we direct our gaze to the modest town of Cotija, Mexico, in the state of Michoacán, where Blessed María Vicenta of St. Dorothy Chavez Orozco was born. Her family lived in a neighborhood where many poor and unskilled workers also resided.

Her pastor, Father Agustin Beas, was devoted to people who were both poor and infirm. The priest set up six beds in a room of his parish house, which he called Holy Trinity Hospital. Sick people were cared for there by the women of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.


Inspired to Serve the Sick

When María Vicenta was about 25 years old, she entered Holy Trinity Hospital, suffering from pleurisy. Because of the gentle care she experienced there, she was inspired to dedicate her life to God by doing the same apostolic work. Later that year (1892), when María was well, she returned to the small hospital to nurse the sick and poor. In 1895, she took private vows with Catalina Velasco and Juana Martín del Campo.

In 1905, she founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Poor, later named the Servants of the Holy Trinity and the Poor. She made her vows in 1911 and was named superior general two years later. Serving in this capacity for 30 years as the soul and leader of her congregation, María Vicenta was fervent in prayer and a model of genuine charity.

February 6, 1867
Born in Mexico, youngest of four children

February 20, 1892
Became ill and was hospitalized

May 12, 1905
Founded Servants of the Holy Trinity and the Poor

July 30, 1949
Died in Guadalajara at Holy Trinity Hospital

November 9, 1997
Beatified by Pope John Paul II

Madre Vicenta and her sisters were in great danger from the anti-Catholic troops during the Mexican Revolution. In 1914, troops took over Guadalajara’s cathedral and imprisoned many priests and religious, including the Servants. In 1926, St. Vincent’s Hospital in Zapotlan was turned into a military headquarters. Not intimidated by the danger or by the insults of the soldiers, the sisters continued caring for the sick and wounded with loving dedication.

The faithful service of the Servants was rewarded with abundant vocations. By 1942, Madre Vicentita (as she came to be called) and her sisters had established 17 new foundations (hospitals, clinics and nurseries).

At 75, María Vicenta began to suffer serious health challenges. Archbishop José Gariba Rivera, who became Mexico’s first cardinal, was at María Vicenta’s bedside celebrating the Eucharist when she died—at the moment the host was elevated.

When Pope John Paul II beatified María Vicenta, he called her a model of a health-care minister. Maybe you and I are not in a position to follow in the footsteps of Blessed María Vicenta as full-time ministers of healing. But we can imitate her by visiting the sick or praying with them or possibly taking them to their medical appointments. We, too, can find ways to participate in the healing ministry of Christ.

Next: Mary McKillop


“The beatification of ‘Madre Vicentita,’ as you fondly call her, today gladdens the path of the Church in Mexico and on the whole American continent. As the model of a nursing sister, she spurs the gospel commitment of health-care workers in view of the third millennium....Impelled by the love of Christ always living and present in his Church, she dedicated herself to his service in the person of the ‘pobrecitos enfermos’ [poor little sick ones], as she called them with maternal affection.”

—Homily from the Mass of beatification


Jack Wintz, O.F.M., is senior editor of St. Anthony Messenger.

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