The Week that would Change the World

For many of us, the 1st week of August means the “dog days of summer”. This is the time when the summer heat can be oppressive. It is in this time of year that many of us take vacations spending time at a local pool or at the shore. In Spain things are not much different. August can be painfully hot in Spain so most people head to the beaches or other spots to “beat the heat”.

The Blessed Virgin appears to St Peter Nolasco

As August approached in the summer of 1218, Peter Nolasco, a young Spanish merchant, was enduring the summer heat in a much different way. For several years now, he had been working with friends to redeem captives who were in danger of losing their faith in Moorish Lands. Many of these Christians were in real danger of apostatizing in order to obtain their freedom and even preserve their lives. For Peter and his companions something had to be done. For several years, they dedicated themselves daily to collecting alms from the pious faithful throughout the Province of Catalonia and the kingdom of Aragon. Many were ransomed and their faith was preserved, but many more were left to suffer at the hands of their captors. It became clear to Peter that the problem of captivity was too great for such a small band. He wondered what could be done to preserve the faith so many.

In his fervent prayer, Peter sought divine inspiration to be able to continue God’s work which he had started. At that point and in these circumstances, during the night of August 1, 1218, a special intervention of Blessed Mary occurred in Peter Nolasco’s life: an amazing Marian experience which illumined his mind and stirred up his will to transform his group of lay redeemers into a Redemptive Religious Order. The experience was so profound that it touched the very fabric of Peter’s being. He now knew what must be done.

The next day, Peter Nolasco went to the royal palace to explain his project to young King James I and his advisers, the first of whom was the Bishop of Barcelona, don Berenguer de Palou. Peter’s plan, inspired by God through Mary, was to establish a well-structured and stable Redemptive Religious Order under the patronage of Blessed Mary. The King was very pleased with the project and gave his approval and support to the endeavor. He would even give his “coat of arms” to be worn as a sign of the kingdom’s support and protection.

On August 10, 1218, the new Religious Order for the Redemption of Captives was officially and solemnly constituted at the main altar erected over Saint Eulalia’s tomb in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Barcelona. Bishop Berenguer de Palou gave Peter Nolasco and his companions the white habit that they would wear as characteristic of the Order; he gave them the Rule of Saint Augustine as a norm for their life in common and he gave his authorization for the sign of his cathedral, the Holy Cross, to be on the habit of the Order. After that, Peter Nolasco and the first Mercedarians made their religious profession right there before the bishop.

That was the beginning of an Order that was destined to endure for nearly 800 years. Countless captive Christians have been aided by this Institute. Several women’s communities, lay confraternities, and other groups have been inspired by the same spirit given to Peter Nolasco on that night of August 1st. Truly that first week of August 1218 was a week that would change the history of the world and influence millions for centuries.

So as we endure the heat of early August, let us thank God for sending his mother, Our Lady of Mercy, to inspire this great work of redemption.  She is the one who first inspired it and continues to do so today.  What started in Spain has now spread to four continents. May this mission of redemption continue to grow throughout the world in order that all may be free to practice the Catholic faith.


Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament Celebrate their Foundation Day!

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith”(Heb. 13:7). On this solemnity of the Annunciation, we remember Mary’s “Yes” given to the angel Gabriel. This “Yes” has been imitated by so many holy men and women throughout history in response to the needs of their time. María del Refugio was one of these people. The early 1900’s in Mexico was a time of revolution. The Church was seen as an enemy of the common people and was persecuted severely. Maria, though, believed strongly in the Gospel message. She saw the need for authentic Catholic education which focused on the Eucharist and Mary.

Sr Jeanette, local superior in Cleveland.

She founded a group of sisters in Mexico City on March 25, 1910, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. By God’s design, Father Alfredo Scotti, O. de M., Mercedarian, was chosen to be the director and guide of the Institute. Father Scotti became very interested in the well-being of the Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. On July 11, 1925, the sisters were spiritually incorporated in the Order of Mercy. They obtained pontifical approval on July 22, 1948.

In an age, when  many are questioning if Catholic education is a necessary or feasible it is good to look back at the example of leaders such as Mother Maria del Refugio. The times in which she lived in were not that much different than today. Today, we see that persecution is coming from what Pope Benedict calls a secular “dictatorship of relativism”. The pope has been warning us about “aggressive forms of secularism” which no longer value, or even tolerate, religious voices in public life. Mother Refugio faced the same strong opposition to Catholic education in Mexico. Her sisters have always sought “to work eagerly to extend the reign of Jesus in the Eucharist and filial love for our Blessed Mother of Mercy.” This apostolate is expressed through the education of children and youth and their formation in Eucharistic worship and piety. Obviously, these are countercultural values. But, this sort of renew is the answer to the relativism of our culture. Pope Benedict told educators during his visit in April 2008 that, “charity calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love.” Teaching children that their dignity and worth is found in the love that God has for us is a priceless gift. The  Mercedarian Sisters strive to prepare a new generation with a firm grounding in the truths of the faith.

Here in the United States, the sisters work with the Friars at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish. For over 13 years, the sisters have staffed the parish school and placed a special emphasis on promoting an authentic catholic identity. This of course means promoting devotion to the Eucharist and veneration of Our Mother of Mercy. During this time the school has been ranked among the best in the City of Cleveland.

Those who may feel that they may have a vocation to the Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are welcome to contact them at (216) 281 9304.