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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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Bernadette Soubirous: Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11,1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. 
<p>There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette's initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of "the Lady" brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig. </p><p>According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was. </p><p>Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. </p><p>During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. </p><p>She was canonized in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog In humility, a woman ultimately forgets 
herself; forgets both her shortcomings and accomplishments equally and 
strives to remain empty of self to make room for Jesus, just as Mary 
did.

 
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