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The 'Mother Teresa of Honduras' View Comments
By Kathy Martin O'Neil

ON THE DAY Franciscan Sister Maria Rosa Leggol got her latest sign from God in 2010, it rained gatos and perros (cats and dogs) — a rare blessing in Honduras’ dry season. Cloud strands wound like headscarves around the mountain pines, and deep puddles pocked the dirt road to the Flor Azul Farm School for Boys, making Sister Maria Rosa and her driver late for the cross-raising. It was no matter at the time: As a School Sister of St. Francis for more than 60 years, she was adept at humility and didn’t expect that something extraordinary was about to happen.

The plan was simply to bless and then mount a homemade cross halfway up the mountain above the farm, one of three sites where her organization, Sociedad Amigos de los Niños (Society of Friends of the Children, or SAN), provides homes, safety, education and job training to impoverished children in Honduras. But the rest of us — U.S. volunteers on an annual mission trip to work and play with the 200-plus kids in SAN’s care — were antsy for her arrival.

Wondrous, fortuitous events follow Sister Maria Rosa around; her life history is chock-full of unexplained phenomena and seemingly divine interventions, like a chapter from Lives of the Saints. She is revered in Honduras as much for her holiness as for her legacy of raising 42,000 Honduran children up from poverty and abuse. Even the Honduran businessman sitting next to me on the plane knew her name and her work: “She is very close with God,” he whispered.

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Kathy Martin O’Neil is a freelance writer and editor. She is the former managing editor of Outside Magazine and has written features for Men’s Journal, Travel & Leisure, Chicago magazine and others. She’s currently writing Sister Maria Rosa’s biography.

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Anthony Claret: The "spiritual father of Cuba" was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council. 
<p>In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: The future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers. </p><p>He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians. </p><p>He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for opposing concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: <i>Reflections on Agriculture</i> and <i>Country Delights</i>. </p><p>He was recalled to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony. </p><p>All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets. </p><p>At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, "There goes a true saint." At the age of 63, he died in exile near the border of Spain.</p> American Catholic Blog The greatest tragedy of our world is that men do not know, really know, that God loves them. Some believe it in a shadowy sort of way. If they were to really think about it they would soon realize that their belief in God’s love for them is very remote and abstract. Because of this lack of realization of God’s love for them, men do not know how to love God back. —Catherine de Hueck Doherty

 
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