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Maria Soledad
Born December 2, 1826(1826-12-02), Madrid, Spain
Died October 11, 1887 (aged 60), Havana, Cuba
Beatified February 5, 1950 by Pope Pius XII
Canonized 1970 by Pope Paul VI
Feast October 11

Saint Maria Soledad (Desolata in Spain), the second child of five of Francisco Torres and Antonia Acosta, was born in Madrid on December 2, 1826, and baptized Bibiana Antonia Emanuela. Her parents ran a small business in Madrid. She was educated by the Daughters of Charity and often visited the sick in her neighborhood, performing small penances for the benefit of others. She wanted to become a nun but was unsuccessful in entering the Dominican community because of her poor health. In 1851, she was asked by a parish priest, a member of the Third Order of the Servites, Fr. Michael Martinez y Sanz, to minister to the sick poor of his parish in their homes. On August 15, 1851, with six companions she began this ministry, taking the name Maria Soledad.

The community encountered difficulties in its infancy and, in 1856, was divided in half when Fr. Michael took six of the sisters with him to the missions in Fernando Po, leaving Maria Soledad as superior. The other sisters remained with Maria Soledad under a new director, who immediately removed her from this office. This move disorganized the community and the bishop threatened to dissolve it. After an examination by the bishop, Maria Soledad was re-appointed and, with the help of the new director, Fr. Gabino Sanchez, an Augustinian, they continued their work. At this time they named their community the Handmaids of Mary Serving the Sick. The bishop gave his formal approval to the community in 1861 at which time their ministry was expanded to include the care of the young delinquents of Madrid. The dedication of the sisters was brought to the attention of the public by their care of the sick of the cholera epidemic in 1865.

Maria Soledad was the victim of slander and removed from her office, until Fr. Gabino had her reinstated after an investigation. At about this time, several of the sisters left the community, but the Handmaids grew in number and, in 1875, began a ministry in Havana, Cuba. The new institute received definitive papal approval in 1876. Maria Soledad had governed the community for 35 years when she died of pneumonia on October 11, 1887. At the time of her death there were 46 houses in Europe and Latin America.

She was buried in the sisters' cemetery but, on January 18, 1893, her body was exhumed and transferred to the chapel. The body was still intact, exuding a bloody liquid and a sweet odor. A few years later, however, only bones remained. Maria Soledad was beatified on February 5, 1950, by Pope Pius XII. She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. She is commemorated liturgically on October 11.

In the United States, the congregation is known as the Sisters Servants of Mary, Ministers of the Sick. They have six communities in the U.S., still involved in home health care.

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