Blessed Laura Vicuña
Blessed Laura Vicuña

In wartime, a nation knows its enemy.  In civil war, the nation’s enemy is its divided self. Such was the case in Chile, South America, in 1891 when political revolution between forces loyal to the president, Jose Manuel Balmaceda, and those supporting the Chilean Congress engaged in open conflict. Three months after the fighting began, a young daughter was born to the aristocratic Chilean soldier Jose Domingo Vicuña and his wife, Mercedes Pino, in the national capital of Santiago, Chile, on April 5, 1891. Her name was Laura del Carmen Vicuña. 

Within two years, her father died, but not before another daughter was born.  In an effort to escape the escalating violence and seek safety for her family, Mercedes fled across the Andes Mountains with young Laura and her infant daughter and settled in Las Lajas, Argentina.

Mercedes lacked the resources necessary to care adequately for the little family of three so she sought a job working in a hostel owned by Argentinian Manuel Mora, a man of questionable moral character and reputation.  Accepting compensation in exchange for sexual favors, Laura’s mother was able to enroll her and her sister in the “Mary Help of Christians School” run by the Salesian Sisters.

Laura quickly developed a deep love of her Catholic faith there and spent all of her free time praying in the Sisters’ chapel, hoping one day to join the order.  She worried about her mother’s compromised spiritual situation and during visits home Laura was beaten and threatened by Mora who regularly made sexual advances toward her.  Laura’s refusal cost her Mora’s financial support of her education, as well as that of her sister.

Once the Salesians Sisters learned of Mora’s withdrawal of tuition, they offered the two girls scholarships, free of charge.  Her religious devotion intensified and was readily observed by the Sisters and Laura’s classmates.  Still fearing for her mother’s salvation, Laura prayed to God, “I offer you my life for that of my mother.”

In winter of 1903, Laura developed pulmonary tuberculosis.  Her mother brought her home, again only to be threatened and beaten by Mora.  Laura begged her mother to leave Mora and pleaded with God in prayer that Mercedes might repent for her sinful life.

Her mother pledged to Laura that she would turn from her sins which brought Laura great peace of mind and heart, despite her steadily deteriorating condition.  On January 22, 1904, at the age of 12, Laura Vicuña died, telling her mother, “Now I die happy.” 

Laura’s beautiful simplicity and unrelenting faith became legendary among the Salesian Sisters during her young life and many years after her death.  Inspired by the canonization of 12-year-old Italian St. Maria Goretti on March 5, 1950, the Sisters began gathering information and witness testimony about her to support their efforts to seek her canonization but encountered some resistance in Rome. 

Laura was neither a martyr as Goretti nor old enough to amass an abundance of evidence of her “heroic life.”  Determined to pursue their quest, the Sisters’ persistence regarding Laura’s sanctity convinced the Holy See to declare Laura Vicuña “Venerable” in 1986.  As required by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a healing miracle was attributed to Laura Vicuña’s intercession and Pope St. John Paul II approved and declared her beatified – “Blessed” – on September 3, 1988.  Her feast day is January 22.

At a time when the plague of sexual abuse of children is regularly before our minds in the Church, Laura Vicuña emerges as a true patron and intercessor for those who suffer such horrible victimization by adults.

Blessed Laura Vicuña is proof that sanctity does not require a long life or an early death – only a life, whatever its length, lived with and for the Lord.  For young people in today’s world, 12-year-old Laura Vicuña shows us that saints can and do look like them.  Blessed Laura Vicuña, pray for the youth of our Diocese and inspire them, like you, to love the Lord.