Genevieve Torres Morales (1870-1956) wrote of the importance of achieving “freedom of the heart”. In her own life this idea bore fruit in the overcoming of harsh personal disadvantage to serve the lonely and impoverished.
She was born at Almenara, about 20 miles north of Valencia, the youngest of six children of poor, extremely devout parents. Death stalked the family, so that by the age of eight she was an orphan with only one brother left. This was José, a taciturn and aloof figure, for whom she was obliged to skivvy. Perforce, Genevieve left school so that her formal education was confined to catechism classes on Sundays.
At 13 she developed a tumour in her left leg which turned gangrenous. The leg was amputated in her own home without anaesthetic. The terrible suffering of that operation was followed by a lifetime of pain from a wound which never properly healed.
From 1885 to 1894 Genevieve lived in an orphanage run by Carmelite Sisters, where she became steeped in the works of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. She wanted to join the Carmelites, only to be told that her handicap rendered this impossible.
Undaunted, Genevieve determined to find her own charitable way. At first she lived in a small house in Valencia with two other women. While supporting themselves by working they began taking other impoverished women into their home. Their good deeds gradually expanded, attracting the attention and the support of the Jesuits in Valencia, who drew her attention to the plight of genteel women reduced to straitened circumstances. Genevieve afforded them a communal life where poverty was irradiated by prayer. In 1911 her loose organisation became a more formal community, the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Angels, soon christened the Angelicas.
Women flocked to their care. Those who could pay did did so; those who could not were equally welcome. Genevieve herself took to the road, establishing houses at Saragossa, Madrid, Bilbao, Barcelona, Santander and Seville.
Despite setbacks under Republican governments, and the subsequent chaos of
the Spanish Civil War, her work continued to flourish. For herself, perhaps, she would have preferred solitary contemplation and prayer; she continued, however, to lead the Angelicas with calm determination and indefatigable industry.
“Self-love is horrible,” she once wrote, “for it conceals itself in the tissues of our heart under the seductive guise of well-being.
“Let us make war upon this shark that it may obscure neither our ability to hear, nor the oppression which lays upon our hearts.”
Genevieve Torres Morales was canonised in 2003. Pope John Paul II described her as “an instrument of God’s tender love for lonely people in need of love, comfort and physical and spiritual care”.