It’s common to say of those who are generous with their hearts and purses that “He’s a saint,” or “She’s a saint.” Sor María Romero, who was known far and wide for her kindness and spirituality, is about to become Costa Rica’s first saint, and many of her friends and admirers are still around praising her. She died in 1977.
Casa Sor María Romero, the home she built for her religious community and their works of charity, is in San José on Calle 32, between Avenidas 2 and 4. It’s open every day to anyone who comes to pray in the chapel, meditate in the garden, shop in the bazaar or just take a break from a hectic day. Others come to donate food or used items in good condition for the bazaar. And still others come because they need help, spiritually, medically or to feed their families.
A group of about 40 young women lives here while they learn job and homemaking skills and receive spiritual strength to make it in their difficult lives. And the latest addition is an emergency home for women and children who need shelter. Add to this the 20 or so nuns of the Salesian order Hijas de María Auxiliadora, or Daughters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and you have a houseful. A happy houseful.
Sor María Romero was born in Nicaragua in 1902. Her concern for the poor was such that as a child she gave away her good dresses to little girls who had none. At 18, she joined the Salesian order and eventually came to Costa Rica in 1931 to teach at the María Auxiliadora high school, which stands across the street from the home. As a teacher, Sor María became popular for her kindness and spirituality. She organized student missions to rekindle faith among lagging Catholics, and with her prayers and intercessions helped many people through emotional and spiritual crises.
But she was always aware of the physical needs of the poor, and so began the medical consultations, food packages, blankets and clothes and safe lodgings. According to those who knew her, her prayers reunited families and marriages and helped build housing projects, and also provided the home now named after her.
“Her prayers were powerful,” says Sor Angelina Chávez, who remembers Sor María. “The poor box was always full.” There were always donations and always people who needed help.
A visit to the neighborhood is a lesson in itself. Barrio Don Bosco, on San Jose’s west side, was named for the priest who founded the Salesian order of priests, nuns and brothers to teach and practice the works of mercy. There are Don Bosco high schools for boys and María Auxiliadora high schools for girls all over the world, with several here in Costa Rica, staffed and run by Salesians, to combine education with spiritual growth, Sor Angelina explains.
Stories of Sor María’s miracles began while she was still alive. Cures for illness, family stability, reunited marriages and help finding jobs or financial security were credited to her prayers and her caring.
Sor María died in her native Nicaragua on July 7, 1977, or 7-7-77, as Sor Angelina points out. She was buried there, but because of the war at the time her body was brought to San José to the general cemetery. In 1981, her body, still intact – a sign of a saint – was moved to a mausoleum in the rose garden she planted, where it is said the roses would bow down when she walked by.
Sainthood requires miracles, and Sor María occasioned many, starting with the mother who brought her small child to Sor María’s grave to ask the good nun to straighten his twisted legs so he could walk. Even as she prayed, the child began to run around among the tombs, his body healed.
Determining sainthood is a lengthy process. Nineteen boxes of “testimonies” written on special paper were sent to the Vatican, Sor Angelina says. In April 2002, Sor María Romero was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Now it’s a matter of waiting. Only a few of the many candidates for sainthood make it each year, but Sor María Romero is waiting her turn.
Casa Sor María Romero is open every day. Masses are at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily, 10 a.m. on Sundays. The bazaar is open every other week from 1 to 3 p.m. Donations for the food bank or the bazaar can be left at the front desk. For information, call 2222-1271.