We remember and celebrate today the life and witness of an Augustinian sister who devoted her life and energy to the care of sick and poor children and elderly of Venezuela, and who founded a religious congregation for this purpose. Her witness is perhaps all the more powerful as she is a contemporary of ours, having died in 1967. She reminds us, as do so many other men and women, canonized or not, that love for God is made manifest in the practical love of neighbor, especially the most needy.
Maria of Saint Joseph is the first native of Venezuela to be beatified. She was born Laura Alvarado Cardozo in Choroní (Aragua), on April 25, 1875, and from childhood showed a great sensitivity toward the sick and the needy. She worked as a hospital volunteer, gathering other young women around her, and from this group there developed over time the Congregation of the Poor of Saint Augustine. Maria and her first companions made their religious profession on January 22, 1902, Laura taking the name Maria of Saint Joseph. The canonization of Saint Rita in 1900 had been a strong factor in inspiring these women to adopt the Rule of Saint Augustine and the habit of Augustinian Tertiaries. In 1952 they changed the name of the community to "Recollect Augustinian Sisters of the Heart of Jesus", their charism being to assist abandoned children and the elderly poor. The first orphanage was opened in Maracay in 1905, followed in rapid succession by thirty other foundations in various cities. Beginning in 1906 Maria experienced a series of infirmities, but was not deterred in her attention to the needy nor her great devotion to the Eucharist. She died in Maracay on April 2, 1967 at the age of 92 and was beatified by John Paul II in Rome on May 7, 1995.
Numerous are the active religious congregations of women founded in various countries in recent centuries according to the Rule and spirituality of Saint Augustine. Many founders and foundresses, such as Blessed Maria, were inspired in doing so by the life and teaching of Augustine himself or by association with members of the Order, showing not only the contemporary quality of the Rule but also the relevance of Augustine's insights on religious life to every age.