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Argentina’s first Catholic laywoman canonized

 Argentina’s  first Catholic laywoman canonized  ING-007
16 February 2024

María Antonia de San José’s apostolate was distinguished by an endless commitment to the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls through the practice of Saint Ignatius’ spiritual exercises.

María Antonia de San José, at the time María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, was born into a wealthy family in 1730 in Silipica, Santiago del Estero — at the time under Spanish rule — in modern-day Argentina. From a young age she was educated according to Christian values and principles, and she was soon exposed to Ignatian spirituality. In 1745, she took up the Jesuit mission, taking private vows and withdrawing into the local beaterio (convent), where she lived in community with other consecrated women.

In 1767, after the Spanish Crown expelled the Society of Jesus from its territories, María Antonia decided to continue the apostolate of the spiritual exercises, which she considered to be a precious good for people of every social class. The bishop and civil authority granted her full authorization for this project. María Antonia’s method turned out to be very simple. Upon arriving in a city or village where she would set up a place for the exercises, she would first obtain the necessary permits. She would then invite a few priests to preach and would look for an appropriate space where she could host some 100 people for about 10 days. She always managed to collect what she needed to allow everyone to participate for free. For many who participated in the spiritual exercises, María Antonia became an example of humble and spontaneous simplicity, capable of edifying through her availability and wisdom.

In 1779, after a period of pilgrimage between the northern cities: Jujuy, Salta, Tucumán, Catamarca, La Rioja and Córdoba (5,000 kilometres on foot), she established herself in the city of Buenos Aires, where she quickly gained the respect and trust of the bishop, who granted her wide-ranging authority. Her steadfast faith, extraordinary hope and immense charity towards God and neighbour made her an authentic instrument in the Lord’s hands. María Antonia was also esteemed for her exceptional prudence, displayed above all in her asking others for advice before making decisions. She was able to effectively bring rich and poor people together, earning her the esteem of many benefactors who supported her work.

Between 1790 and 1792, she travelled to present-day Uruguay to promote and expand her apostolate. Returning to Buenos Aires she dedicated herself to the construction of a larger building in which to carry out her work. The resulting house for spiritual exercises is still in use today and is the only one from that period still in existence.

María Antonia passed away on 7 March 1799, after falling seriously ill in the early days of that month. Her remains are kept in the church of the Pietà in Buenos Aires, which is a pilgrimage site today. She was beatified on 27 August 2016 in the city of Santiago del Estero, in Argentina. Pope Francis authorized the promulgation of the decree on a miracle attributed to her intercession on 24 October 2023.