LIFE AND WORK
The Venerable Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa was born in 1730 in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. She descendes from an illustrious family of conquerors and rulers. Her childhood was spent in the field sides on a farm in contact with the indigenous. At 15 she decided to devote herself to God. Some Santiagueños regretted the decision because she was very pretty, with fine features and large eyes. At that time there was no active religious cloister, so she decided to wear a black robe and to live with other women in a community for the rest of her life.
Guided by a Jesuit priest named Gaspar Juárez, she devoted to helping parents instruct their children, baked and did needlework, cared for the sick and handed out alms.
In 1767 Charles III of Spain decided to expel the Jesuits from America. Maria Antonia was 37 years old when this happened and thus she wished to restore the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. This was not well received in general because there was an environment hostile to all that was Jesuit, but she continued her idea of organizing this pious practice. The participants lived in an enclosed space for several days listening to lectures and reflecting on life to afterwards better their lives and to the good of their soul.
Maria Antonia began inviting person by person for these retreats between 1768 and 1770. She walked barefoot the lands of Santiago del Estero, Silípica, Loreto, Salavina, Soconcho, Atamasqui, etc.. She also decided to go to other provinces heading to Catamarca, La Rioja, Jujuy, Salta and Tucumán. The Bishop of Tucumán granted her leave and so began to accept this religious practice. The fruits of the exercises are known for the good they do to people and the change of life as a result. The exercises lasted 10 days and were made throughout the year. The ladies lived with their maids and men, who were separated from the women during the exercises, lived with the men who worked in their farms.
After the success and good fruits of these retreats, she decides to go to Buenos Aires. At that time she was considered crazy, because she had to walk 1.400 kilometers on foot. The dangers were multiple because there were wild animals such as leopards, wild boars and also Indians and robbers who attacked travelers. One of the phrases that guided her steps was "patience is good, but more perseverance," and she applied it at its best.
When she arrived in Buenos Aires in September 1779 she visited the Vice-King and the Bishop for a year to be granted the license. The Vice-King Vertiz had a huge hatred for all that was Jesuit and denied permission.
In 1780 the retreats start in Buenos Aires with an incredible success. It is when the Bishop changed his mind and starts to support her work, seeing the benefits that the faithful received. Groups of 200 people came to the Exercises and Providence was increasingly generous in meeting the needs of the participants.
Food was given to prisoners and beggars that passed by the house. Maria Antonia writes: "I see that Divine Providence unfailingly rescues me to continue and increases the public experiences of it. More than 15.000 people came to the exercises in four years."
Her desire to "go where God was not known" leads her to Uruguay, Colonia and Montevideo, remaining there three years. Back in Buenos Aires she began the construction of what is now one of the oldest buildings in Buenos Aires, the Santa Casa de Exercisios Espirtuales on Independencia Avenue number 1190. She goes door to door, including the Vice-King, for she says that "the work was of God and was God," and that's how she built this magnificent house.
Her work is known in France, in the monastery of Saint-Denis in Paris, where the prioress of the Carmel was the aunt of King Louis XVI. Her letters were translated into several languages: Latin, French, English, German and Russian. These letters are sent to various countries, including Russia.
The force emanating from her letters bear witness and the role model for the convents, leading to it an article which was written: "The standard of the strong woman," published in 1791.
Maria Antonia performs many unique events, including the multiplication of food when there were people who were doing the Spiritual Exercises, and bread which turned into fruit, or even when there was no grease to prepare food, someone went and did a donation, leaving what was needed that day.
Maria Antonia dies on March 7th, 1799 at the age of 69. She was buried in the Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy in Bartolomé Mitre Street number 1524 in Buenos Aires. On July 12th, 1799 honor is given to her at the Basilica of Santo Domingo. When she dies it is estimated that between 70.000 to 80.000 people had benefited from the retreats she organized.
In 1905 the Bishops led the cause of beatification of Maria Antonia for a process to the Holy See.