The beauty of the communion of saints offered by the Church is the saints’ breadth and diversity. True to form, of the three people named saints in the last month, one was a woman whose life can speak volumes to so many women of the 21st century.
Bonafacia Rodriguez Castro was the oldest of six children born to devout parents in Salamanca, Spain in 1837. The home was set up as a sewing shop, and Bonifacia learned that trade early in life. Her father died when she was only 15, and she and her mother worked diligently to provide for the family. Indeed, those trials made her intimately familiar with the challenges of child laborers, the poor and working women — especially those without the help of a father in the home.
Her family had always had a great devotion to the Holy Family of Nazareth, which reminded them of God’s great love for honest work, the importance of steady trust in God, and the beauty of the silent virtues that are naturally instilled within families. Certainly, the Holy Family — which lived a hidden life of love for 30 years — can be the model for any family struggling with the demands of ordinary life, not to mention the trials of widowhood, which Our Lady embraced at some point before the public ministry of her Son.
When her younger siblings were raised, she and her mother turned their attention to a small community of young women in the working community in which they lived. These they welcomed into their home on Sundays and feast days for prayers and healthy diversions amidst a culture that provided so many temptations and distractions. The group was originally called the Association of the Immaculate and St. Joseph, and was thus entrusted to the parents of Our Lord. The name was later shortened to The Josephine Association, and through this the sewing shop took on an apostolic dimension in a very organic and practical way.
As naturally as this work sprang from the circumstances of her own life, Bonifacia looked for an existing religious community to join, assuming that traditional community life was necessary for her own spiritual growth, but Providence led her to a Catalan Jesuit named Francisco Javier Butiña y Hospital, who showed her that what she was already doing was the perfect nucleus of a new and greatly needed community among the working class.
He wrote “The Light of the Manual Worker,” which collected the stories of lay men and women who had sanctified themselves through various humble occupations. Through prayer and Father Butiña’s guidance, a unique community was created from among the women already finding spiritual sustenance at the sewing shop. Its mission was to understand the sanctification of ordinary work and to protect young women from the spiritual and physical dangers of the wider community.
The dire need for such leaven in a fallen world should resonate with our own generation, and the power of this simple message should hearten those who wonder what — if anything — can make a difference. Women who hold fast to daily prayer, humbly seek God’s will, and arrange their lives to prioritize the needs of the human person will spread the beauty of that quiet home in Nazareth.
Working women, especially, can find common cause with this beautiful soul who learned diligence, humility and fidelity through her daily trials. Surely, we think that the present age is unique in its own dark challenges, and yet the Church offers one more reminder that the communion of saints is a place of consolation and light. St. Bonafacia, pray for us!