On August 25, 1855, the Venerable Maria Antonia Paris and St. Anthony Mary Claret, Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, experienced the fulfillment of a dream. The Decree of Foundation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate, the Claretian Missionary Sisters, was signed in Santiago, Cuba. Maria Paris was 41 years old, when on September 3, she made her religious profession at the hands of Claret, accompanied by Mary Joseph Caixal, Antonia Gual and Mary Gual.
Today, the Claretian Missionary Sisters serve throughout the world in cooperation with other members of the Claretian family, renewing the Church and enabling others to do the same in ways best suited to a particular locale and culture.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Spain experienced profound and widespread turbulence. Ideas of the Enlightenment set off the French Revolution and ignited near chaos in Spain. The Old Regime fell and with it the traditional pre-eminence of religious belief. The Church, unable to keep pace with the onslaught of revolutionary ideas, suffered persecution and the imposition of anticlerical policies. The material wealth of the Church, as well as its social influence of the Church, were undermined. Unfortunately, the fervor and will of the clergy and religious left much to be desired. Religious houses were shut down and religious communities were forbidden to receive novices.
Antonia Paris was born in Vallmoll, Tarragona, Spain, on June 28, 1813. In 1841, she entered the Company of Mary, and remained a postulant for over nine years due to laws forbidding the reception of novices. A year after joining the Company, Paris thought for the first time of founding a new religious congregation. Fourteen years later, she said the thought came to her, while she prayed before an image of Jesus crucified, when she experienced him say: “Yes, my daughter, I want a new order, not new in doctrine but new in practice” (Autobiography nn 4. -14).
Three years later, Paris was told that Anthony Claret, a young Catalonian apostolic missionary, would assist her in bringing her dream to fruition. In January, 1850, her confessor Don Jose Caixal invited her to Tarragona to meet Claret. By then Claret had founded the Congregation of Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and been appointed Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba.
After suitable discernment, Paris made the extremely difficult decision to leave the Company of Mary, and along with Florentina Sangler, began to lay the groundwork of the new community. In a short time, they welcomed three young women, and on August 15, 1851, the five vowed “to cross the seas and to go anywhere in the world without any division among us…prepared to undertake any work for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Autobiography 121). Three days later, Claret asked the women to accompany him to Cuba.
The death of Sangler did not deter the remaining four. On June 7, 1853, they began their novitiate. In early 1854, Caixal sent nine aspirants from Spain. Finally, on July 16, 1855, the Decree of Foundation was signed.
What inspired Mother Paris and her companions?
- 1. To follow Jesus was Paris’ obsession, for which she risked everything. To follow Jesus was not a matter of speaking of him so much as it was to see and listen to him, to identify with him and his She urged her sisters: “Pray as a missionary with Christ as he prayed; journey with Christ the traveler; eat with Christ, drink with Christ, sleep with Christ sleeping; suffer with Christ suffering; preach with Christ preaching; rest with Christ tired; and live with Christ as he goes to death, if you wish to enter into life with him in his kingdom”.
- To follow Jesus crucified is fundamental to the spirituality of Paris as well as Claret. Fourteen years after she was first inspired to found a new religious congregation, Paris wrote: “In the middle of the night, I was praying intensely to Christ crucified on behalf of the Church, which at the time was under extreme duress. As I was accustomed to do, I offered to sacrifice my life. It was then that I first thought of founding a new religious congregation.” That experience sustained Paris, no matter what she endured. She wrote to her sisters: “All who join must be crucified to the world in every respect.” And to Don Paladio Currius, she wrote: “If it is to live and die crucified with Christ….detached from all created things and to live only for the Creator anywhere in the world…If this is the spirit that moves us, we are well…”
Claret says of a Missionary Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: “He delights in privations, accepts all forms of slander and rejoices in torment. His only concern is to imitate Jesus Christ in his work and suffering…”
- To enable others to do the same. It is not enough to speak of Jesus or to invite others to join in mission. Witness is essential by:
– Focusing on the Word of God by the testimony of a life of poverty and simplicity and living to the fullest extent the evangelical counsels.
– Preaching the Gospel to every creature, going anywhere in the world without separating themselves from the other sisters.
– Living a profoundly common life and holding all in common.
– Most important, to live as contemplatives in action.
The Claretian Missionaries Sisters serve throughout the world, in cooperation with all members of the Claretian family, focusing on the renewal of the Church, enabling others to do the same and determined to accommodate the needs of all, in spite of diversity, division, place or time.
- ÁLVAREZ GÓMEZ, J., initial vision. The charismatic identity of the Claretian Missionary Sisters. Rome 1991.
- ÁLVAREZ GÓMEZ, J., History of the RR of Mary Immaculate Claretian Missionary Sisters 2 tt., Madrid 1980 and 1999.
- ÁLVAREZ GÓMEZ, J., The Claretian Missionary Sisters and the new evangelization, Rome 1992.
- CLARETIAN MISSIONARY SISTERS, Hope against all hope. Biography of Maria Antonia Paris, Badalona 2004.
- MUÑOZ, H. and RUIZ, R., Maria Antonia Paris. Woman of history, woman of God. Madrid 2005.