Mother Maria Rafols Bruna was the Founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St .Anne. The Blessed Servant of God, was born on 5th November 1781, in Villafranca del Penedes, in Barcelona, Spain; and at the age of just 23 becomes the Superior, of a small group of women, which was recognized later on as a Congregation of Sisters of Charity of St.Anne. The small group of sisters dedicated themselves in the Hospital of Our Lady of Grace of Zaragoza in the assistance of the sick, the poor and the orphans, as also in the formation and government of the Congregation in the beginnings. With fortitude and the spirit of sacrifice she suffered many difficulties, including imprisonment and exile. But, on acknowledging her innocence, she returned back to the Hospital of Zaragoza, where she was outstanding for her charity, total poverty and apostolic fervor.
Some of the testimonies from the Decree of “The heroic Virtues” are: “In the exercise of Charity, so great was the tenderness of her heart, that the same sick people although bad and hard to win over, used to say to the Sisters, that she robbed their hearts and that she seemed to be their mother when she helped them”. “She served the sick and those suffering from every kind of pain, the foundling, the insane, the unwed mothers, the veneral and contagious sicknesses, the whole of the sick humanity.” “Open to all kinds of persons, needs and places, Maria Rafols neither looked at the faces nor surnames, inclinations nor groups while loving and serving. She was there, where any type of misery would need a word or a gesture of welcome, service and love.”
Mother Maria Rafols personally risked her lofe more than once to save the life of some noble men who had fallen into the hands of the enemy.” She came to know that several Spanish prisoners had been condemned to death. In the company of another sister, through many difficult situations and dangers, she arrived at the enemy’s camp, and obtained pardon for the ones who had been condemned and were on the point of being executed. She appeared before the French General who yielded to the pressure and request from, the servant of God.
In the midst of bullets and great fighting, she went to Torrero to ask the French General who was besieging the city for provisions of food and water for the sick.”
In the persecutions in which she was a victim. (2 months in jail and 6 years in exile) she slways remained serene and resigned and endowed with an admirable patience and meekness, without ever uttering any word of reproach against her persecutors.
The chosen sphere of the Charity of a Maria Rafols was the foundlings with all disabilities, their helplessness, and squlid conditions, misery and frightful mortality” her figure remained for ever connected with the foundlings, the most forsaken and helpless of all being in the whole Hospital.
Mother Maria Rafols breathed her last in an odor sanctity, on 30th August 1853, committing her soul to the God of Love for whom she lived and had given of herself unsparingly.Zaragoza hails her as “Heroine of Charity”, for her works of charity and bravery specially during the Sieges of Zaragoza. She was beatified by His Holiness, (now) St. John Paul II, in Rome on the 16th October 1994.
Father Juan Bonal Cortada was the Co-Founder with Mother Rafols, of the Sisters of Charity of St.Anne. He was born at Terrades – the slopes of the Pyrenees, Spain on 24th August, 1769. Beginning his studies at the age of 20, he graduated in the University of Huesca, in Philosophy and Theology and later on he undertook a public examination in Education during which time he was ordained a priest. He distinguished himself by his application and brilliance in his studies, defending and arguing several times at the public acts, defending public Disputations, that took place every Saturday at the said University.
Titles and extraordinary powers, very wide ranging, did not affect Father Juan in any way. During this time he got closer to the world of the marginalized. He was concerned about the Sisters, orphaned children, prisoners, the sick … This marked his life radically, and he gave up his career as Professor to give himself completely to the most needy of his time.
As a result of the War of Independence, the war of the Sieges of Zaragoza, the I Carlist War, etc …. Father John and the First Sisters worked without rest. The Hospital was bombed. They risked their lives moving the sick to a makeshift hospital. In the face of scarcity, lack of food, medicines, clothes they begged for alms in the city. They also attend to wounded fighters and visited the prisoners accompanied the prisoners to the gallows.
The Board of the Hospital, separated John Bonal from the fraternity, and hence it seemed that the doors were closed to the idea of constructing a Religious Community, which pained and hurt him tremendously. The poverty in which the Hospital was submerged, served as an excuse to separate Fr. Juan from the Sisters. The Board of the Hospital assigned him a new task: Fund Raiser of the Hospital! This man of God was not defeated; he rose above all as a witness, priest, friend, an apostle, offering peace and forgiveness of God to all in the long hours spent in the confessionals. He was called “the beggar of God for the poor”, “a missionary traveller….
Fatigue and humiliations were Fr. Juan’s frequent companions on his long travels through a great part of the Spanish terrain on horseback, which he undertook from 1814 till 1829, in which year he breathed his last on 19th. He is also acknowledged as a “Hero of Charity”. The process of his beatification is going on, of which the Degree of his “Heroic Virtues” is already acknowledged in Rome.
When a child is born, there is also a room a promise, a hope, a future. Mother Pabla is that child of promise who hope and stabilized the future of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of St.Anne. She has as such rightly been called the second Founders of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of St.Anne, the legacy of aHospitality of the Congregation.
She lived between two centuries XIX and XX like us, she also lived a change of century, the doubts and insecurities provoked by the political turmoil, to face a cultural and religious change.
In Pabla Bescos, the child that was born at Panzaro, Huesca, Spain 25th January 1848, of Mara and Jose her parents future of a great work was initiated. Swhe came from a well to do family of a farmers. At home, she learnt from her patents how to live in austerity, hard work, peace and deep religiosity. Mother Pabla’s house was always open to the neighbors and to the poor who went there in their needs and they were attended to with generosity and goodness.
At a time when women were not sent for formation, Pabla showed a great interest in learning and asks her parents to allow her to study in her village school. She was not conformed to what was usual. She was the only girl among the students and she excelled and was exemplary both in her behavior and studies. Her brave and strong spirit is already manifesting itself.
At the age of 13 she receives the first Holy Communion and in that moment she experienced God’s call. Nurturing this call Pabla thinks her vocation is for the Contemplative Life and sas such at the age of 16, she gets admission for the Cistercian Convent. However she does not enter because she does not have the required age. In the meantime she discovers that the Cistercian Convent was not her place. God had other dreams for her. Pabla is now oriented by her Parish Priest to enter the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of St.Anne. The sisters consider before her the difficulties of religious life in that time and Pabla is given no hope to share her life with the sisters because of her delicate sickly aspect. She was rejected up to six times. The parish priest intervened again and Pabla after a very brief aspirant ship of little more than a month, begins her Postulant ship in Our Lady of Grace Hospital, in Zaragoza, on Nov. 1868. She was 20 years old. M.Pabla arrives in the Hospital 15 years after the death of M. Rafols.
M.Pabla occupied an outstanding place in the Congregation. She was a bride which constituted a link with the sisters who know M.Rafols, the founders. She knew to transmit the Rafols life and visits through her own examples in life and to impel in the sisters in all her simplicity, the charism and the Spirit which M.Rafols and the first sisters lived with heroism.
Between her first profession in 1870 and the Final Profession in 1874, when she is 26 M.Pabla is assigned big responsible and difficult works in the Congregation which were under the civil authorities. Wi8th her pedagogy of love and patience she is able to overcome the troublesome situations. Successfully on two occasions M.Pabla falls sick and is sent to her village for recovering. She returned to the convent.
The M.General, Martina Balaguer, knowing how M.Pabla is responsible and serious about how she is making an advance in holiness, finding in her traits that can guide and lead young girls to dedicate themselves radically to God, appoints her as Novice Mistress, assigning to her at the same time very great responsibilities of the Congregation.
In 1894, being 46 years old, M. Pabla is elected as a General Superior of the Congregation and every successive 6 years, she is re-elected as the General Superior till the last election in 1924. She occupied this post till her death 20/02/1929, being for 35 years at the helm of the Congregation.
In the undertaking of every mission entrusted to her in life, M.Pabla understood, the importance of giving authentic Christian formation, which later on gave meaning to all her apostolic expansions in her field of education, opening several school, in the villages, dispensaries as health centers went hand in hand with schools. Some of her characteristics are: she used her crucifix as the first book of Pedagogy. For her,, more than the science, the methods used by M.Pabla was that her apostolate was founded in the living of love manifested in dedication, goodness and meekness. The Apostolic irradiation activity were fruits of her intense spiritual life exercised with faith, optimism and patience. Her great practi9cal talent of organization her administrative capacity brought a radical and deep transformation for the better in all the areas where she was assigned her work.
While she appears as a person with halo of veneration of sanctity, of an attractive mysterious. M.Pabla in her interior, she suffered hours of tribulation the cross of sickness, spiri8tual barrenness, molestations from devil, calumnies… But she overcame the trails with self forgetfulness and the strength of God, entrusting fully to His will with peace.
Her humility and poverty were outstanding. The present impressive structure of the General House of the Congregation with the Novitiate is her “Building… built with a lot of sacrifices and miracles” as says M./Pala.
In 1897, M.Pabla obtains from the country council of the city of Zaragoza to remove intervening in the appointments of Superiors and admission of sisters in the Houses that depended on it
In 1901, the definite approval of the Constitions by Pope Pious X
In 1998, the approval of the Congregation by Pope Leon XIII
At the time of M.Pabla there was a transcendent movement in the History of the Congregation. It assumed the richness of the past, in practicing it in the present and projecting it for the future.
The saints have their own identity, and in Fr.Juan Buj and Gracia, have a man of God, of clear vision, who opened his heart to the Spirit’s gift of love and responded with humble fidelity to the people and the situations around him, by his radical self-giving, in a multifarious apostolate. Together with Mother Pabla, he fostered the spiritual life of the Congregation, together with our Founders, M.Maria Rafols & Fr.Juan Bonal, Fr.Juan Buj is considered a pioneer of the Congregation.
Fr.Juan Buj was born on 27th of January 1863, in a tiny village of Orrios, Terruel, Spain. He was very Christian family, knitted in piety, peace, joy and a good sense of humour. The parent know that God is the best richness which their children can inherit. A few years later, his parents being millers, move to another close by village of Allapuz in the District of Teruel itself. Here Juan finished his elementary studies and feels called to be a priest. Having passed the entrance test, Juan enters the seminary of Teruel at the age of 14, and does the studies of Humanities, Philosophy and Theology. In all the studies, Juan is qualified as “Meritssimus” and “Examplary” in his conduct.
Mean while, during the holidays, Juajn profits to go to another village and learns to play the Keyboard – music – his hobby. Soon he excels in this art and is appointed the Music Master of the seminary.
In 1884, being just 21 years old, Juan is appointed professor of Physics, Chemistry and Science in the seminary. Gradually but steadily, Juan climbs as the ladder of Proficiency.
In 1886, at the age of 23, Juan is ordained a priest before the 12 years of actual preparation for the ecclesiastic career the philosophy ordination. In the wider environment of his priesthood, all his evident natural gifts and qualities, gave him a greater scope for expression and experiement to fulfil his dreams. All the appointments indicate his competence and the trust of his Bishop.
In 1876, Archbishop of Zaragoza appoints Juan Buj as a spiritual director and confessor the Novitiate of Sisters of Charity of St.Anne. Ever since, his association with the Congregation of St.Anne, Fr. Juan Buj made his own and loved it deeply the Spirit and Charism of our Congregation. Whilst fostering and guiding the novices and the sisters of the Congregation for 39 years on a journey towards holiness. M. Pabla as the M.General at those time. In 1912, Juan Buj is raised to the status of a “Canon” in the Basilica of Our Lady of Pillar, Zaragoza.
Fr.Juan Buj has to his credit, a couple of noble publications, periodicals all declaiming the existing social evils. This was to spread the message of the Gospel, to give to understand, his two loves, the doctrine of the Cross and of the Eucharist, through preaching and writing. His death in the popular language of the time on themes religious, novel social, cultural of theological and biblical,. The “Apostolate of the Cross” a devotion of the cross and the widely spread public “The Echo of Cross” were his favorite apostolate. They contained simple, intelligible articles open to all capacities and always with a deep doctrine.
Before he died, he bequeathed to the Congregation his house called “Villa Cruz” educate the poor children of the workers around that area, specially the girls. On 26th September 1935, the Lord called him home, His mortal remains are in the Chapel of the school that was built in the same campus. It retains the name “Villa Cruz” in Venecia, Zaragoza.