The foundress of the Spanish religious order, “Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Holy Angels”, was Genoveffa (Genevieve) Torres Morales. She was born in 1870 in the village of Almenara in eastern Spain. Her worthy parents had six children, Genoveffa being the youngest.
The sixth Torres child was destined to mature all too rapidly. Four of her siblings died as infants, leaving only herself and her brother Jose; and when she was eight, both parents died. She had by then received a brief schooling and had learned the art of embroidery. Now she found herself the family “housekeeper.” She could no longer attend school, but she never gave up Sunday catechism classes; and by reading some religious books left by her mother, she became fascinated by the thought of following God’s will in all things.
At the age of 13, Genevieve learned just how demanding God’s will can sometimes be. A malignant tumor developed on her left leg. Amputation saved her life but left her crippled. To the end of her life, she had to hobble along on crutches.
Now in need of care herself, she was taken in by the Carmelites of Charity who operated the “House of Mercy”, an orphanage in Valencia. There she remained for nine years. Spiritually, they were constructive years. She learned how to unite all her sufferings with Christ on the Cross. Wondering what life had in store for her, she decided at length to leave the answer completely in God’s hands.
At first she felt that He might want her to join the Carmelites of Charity. But when she asked, they replied that her disabilities disqualified her.
As she continued to ponder her future, Genoveffa became ever more aware of one group of people who desperately needed care and had none to provide it. These were homeless women: widows, the childless, and others forgotten or even despised by society. On leaving the orphanage, therefore, she decided to try her hand at helping some of these lonely souls. She and two other young laywomen got a little house and opened its doors to some neglected women. To their service they added practices of religious devotions, particularly Eucharistic adoration.
In 1911, a priest friend suggested that Genoveffa’s project be formalized by establishing a house in Valencia specifically for homeless women. Those who could pay for their care would do so; those who could not would be welcomed too. Genoveffa liked the idea, as long as its spiritual side, particularly Eucharistic adoration, continued part of the program. So on February 2, 1911, the three laywomen started their home with four resident guests, with Genoveffa as director.
The undertaking succeeded so well that another home was opened a year later in Saragossa. God was apparently pointing the way to the establishment of a religious order to carry on the work. From 1912 on, the women in charge began to dress like sisters, and from 1915 they began to take private vows. On December 5, 1925, the Archbishop of Saragossa established their “Angelic Society” as a religious order of diocesan right, and two weeks later Genoveffa and her now 18 companions professed their public vows. Genoveffa was elected mother superior: God had decided her vocation. Their work was disturbed by the religious persecution of 1931 and by the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, but it recommenced after 1939.
In 1953 the Holy See granted her community the status of a papal religious congregation. Mother Genevieve retired from office shortly afterwards. She died in 1956. Even in death the constant smile on her face did not disappear.
This crippled but dynamic woman had inspired high veneration by her spiritual writings and her practical charity. Pope John Paul II declared her “blessed” on January 29, 1995 and canonized her on on May 4, 2003.
Her life reminds us that even the disabled can achieve wonders if they follow God’s will in all things.
–Father Robert F. McNamara