Spain, 1930 - 1950
The Virgin's Mirror
(Courtesy of Ann Ball - www.annball.com)
December 13, 1944 was an exciting day for a number of the students at the Carmelite Sisters of Charity's high school on the Plaza de San Francisco in Madrid. Recently, a Sodality of Our Lady had been formed, and the girls were to make their consecration and choose their motto that day. Thirteen year old Teresita Quevado wrote out her chosen motto in which she had expressed an immense aspiration: "Mother, may those who see me, see you." The motto was etched on her medal of the sodality.
Baptized with the long name Maria Teresa Josephina Justina Gonzalez Quevedo y Cadarso, she had always been called Teresita, but she lived the Maria of her name. She had a special fondness for the Blessed Virgin from her earliest days, but in her own words, "Since I have become a Sodalist, I love the Blessed Virgin infinitely more than before." Teresita kept this love for the Virgin, trying hard each day to mirror her virtues for love of Jesus, until the final moments of her life. Her last words were, "How beautiful, O Mary, how beautiful you are!"
Explaining her Marian devotion to her cousin, Teresita said, "I love Our Lord with all my heart. But He wants me to love Our Lady in a special way and to go to Him with my hand in Mary's." Years later her uncle, a Jesuit priest, asked her, "How did you begin to have such love for the Blessed Virgin?" She replied, "The Virgin herself gave me this devotion. Since childhood, when Papa would take us into his room to make the daily offering with him, I delighted in the prayer, "Oh, my Queen and my Mother, I give myself completely to you."
Teresita was born April 14, 1930, the third child of the prominent Doctor Calixto Quevedo, a physician, and his wife. She was born in Madrid, only a year before the fall of the Spanish monarchy.
Teresita's mother described her children in a letter to her sister-in-law when her youngest was three: "Louis has the manner of an army general, Conchita is quiet and thoughtful... Teresita is a bundle of happiness. Everyone loves her.., pretty as a picture, but terribly self-willed. Perhaps we have indulged her more than we should because she is the youngest. Whatever the reason, she cannot be crossed. We shall have to do something about it."
"No me gusta!" - I don't like it! - was Teresita's frequent comment at table. Her finicky appetite often led to such outbursts of rudeness. Later, she said, "After such disagreeable outbursts--there were a number of them before I received my First Holy Communion Tia (Teresita's aunt) would watch for the first sign of sorrow on my face. I never apologized, I am ashamed to say. What patience and kindness she possessed! Not a word about my bad behavior to me, nor to Mama and Papa. She taught me many lessons in that way - patience and repentance. Without a word, she forced me to grow truly ashamed of myself."
The happy but headstrong little girl apparently took the matter of her self-control upon herself. After her First Communion, her father noticed quite a change in Teresita. He wrote to his brother, "The extraordinary power she had acquired over her quick, impulsive nature touched me deeply."
Later, as we learn from her confessor and her notes, she found another aid to self-control; this was her love for Mary. Every time Teresita triumphed over her revulsion for certain foods, or managed to put away her own will, she silently counted the incident as a little gift for Mary.
During much of the time of the Civil War in Spain, the Quevedo family lived away from their apartment in Madrid. During one of their stays in a fishing town, the cook noticed cakes and breads disappearing from the larder. Teresita's sister later confessed that Teresita had "snitched" them to take to the children of the fishermen. Even the plainest of fare from the wealthy Quevedo household was a rare treat for these children.
After the war, the family moved back to Madrid, where the girls attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy. Teresita worked hard and made relatively good grades, but she also got into her share of schoolgirl mischief. At a designated period each day, the students were all supposed to be working in absolute silence on handwork. On one occasion, Teresita was embroidering a large tablecloth and enjoying a forbidden conversation with her cousin Angelines. Suddenly the two magpies heard the measured tread of a sister coming down the hall. Angelines had no book or embroidery--what was she to do? Quickly, her cousin threw the large tablecloth over Angelines, and with a smile and a nod Sister passed by the industriously sewing Teresita.
Each year the academy girls of a certain age made a retreat. In 1941, at the age of eleven, Teresita would normally have been too young to attend. However, she asked for and received special permission to go along with the other girls. During the retreat, each girl kept a little notebook of points to remember from the lectures and discussions. It is probable that Teresita did not understand all the items in the discussions, but one thought which the priest presented and which Teresita quickly grasped was the necessity of making a resolution for life. Teresita's resolution, later found in this notebook, was: "I have decided to become a saint.
The road Teresita decided to travel to fulfill this resolution was paved with numerous small conquests of her own will. Always, her companion and guide on this road was Our Lady. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, she realized that even the smallest personal sacrifices were pleasing gifts for God. Teresita said, "I know that of myself I could do nothing; but thanks to my wonderful confidence that the Blessed Virgin is going to make me holy, I am completely certain that I am going to reach great holiness." Later as a novice, Teresita asked for a copy of the life of her patroness, the Little Flower. She told a friend, "I like the little way of St. Therese very much, but for me that way must always go through Mary."
Teresita was not fond of books, and often said school would be fine if there were no books to study. In study hall, she often spent time sketching on her paper or jotting notes rather than working on one of her assignments. At times she would entreat her sister Carmen, "Come on, Chatina, study the lesson for me." Nevertheless, she got along well with her teachers, and her happy nature made her a favorite with the other students. She was elected best dressed of her class, president of the sodality, and captain of the Basketball team which won the school championship in 1947. A good dancer, she enjoyed most things a normal Spanish girl her age enjoyed--including the bullfights, although she clapped for the bull as often as for the matador.
Tennis was Teresita's favorite game, but no matter how hard she tried she usually came in second. By her senior year, she had improved her game so much that everyone felt certain she would win the championship. After the big game, Teresita returned home with such a happy expression that her mother asked if a new champ had been added to the family. Teresita said, "If you consider one who has won a spiritual victory a champion, then you have your champ, but not a tennis champion."
Teresita then told her mother that before the match one of her friends had jokingly said that she was going to order a larger crown for the champion, as Teresita's head would be swelled by her victory. Although the remark was made only in jest, Teresita began to wonder if her desire for the championship might be only vanity. Before the game, Teresita asked Our Lady for whatever would please Jesus. Then at the match she played her best, but she lost. On the way home, Teresita stopped at the church to tell Our Lady that she understood the decision. An old woman was begging at the church door and Teresita gave her some money. In turn the beggar handed Teresita a card; she carried this with her to Our Lady's altar without glancing at it. As she knelt, the card fluttered to the floor, and she noticed that it had no picture, only a slogan ---"Love makes all things easy."
One of Teresita's friends remembers her party days. "Everyone flocked around Tere at a party, especially the boys, because her conversation was sparkling. Tere loved people, and she loved parties... I never knew her to miss one."
Once, Teresita promised to pierce a friend's ears for her. She had barely begun when the girl became queasy and fainted. Instead of panicking, the young surgeon took the opportunity of her friend's unconsciousness to finish her work and insert the new earrings. Her calmness and presence of mind had become a hallmark of her personality.
On day in May of 1947, Teresita was praying in the chapel with the other students when, almost without knowing what she was saying, she asked the Virgin, "Mother, give me a religious vocation." Later, she confessed to a friend, "When I came out of chapel, I entered a terrible time of fear. I thought, `What if she takes me seriously and gives me one!'"
But Jesus, who gives everything we ask through Mary, heard her prayer and answered it, making use of human mediation to work out the call. Teresita did not like to read and when someone gave her a spiritual book she took it only to be polite. Later, Teresita told the story. "As it was May, I wanted to give a sacrifice to Mary and so with much good will but little interest I began to read it. The book was about all the different vocations in life. When I reached the chapter that dealt with the religious vocation, I realized that this was the best and that it was definitely what I wanted."
With the consent of her confessor, Teresita petitioned the Mother General to be admitted to the Carmelites of Charity. In the same interview, Teresita asked, "Then may I go to the missions in China?"
Laughing, the superior replied that she would have to go to the novitiate first. It seemed that Teresita had always wanted to speed up everything. Several times her father had to restrict her use of the car, for she drove too fast to suit him. And many times she asked her aunt how she could become holy more quickly.
On January 7, 1948, Teresita broke the news to her beloved father. After questioning her and realizing that she had a true vocation, he agreed to tell her mother and her brother and sister. For this deeply devout family, the natural sorrow of parting was tempered by the joy that one of their own had been chosed by God. Teresita entered the novitiate of the Carmelites of Charity on February 23, 1948.
Throughout her postulancy and novitiate, Teresita tried hard to overcome even the slightest fault. She was known for her recollection in prayer and her charity to the other sisters. Even during her school days this recollection had been noticed by one of her teachers, Sister Ramona. Sister Ramona tells us that one day, wishing to see exactly how recollected Teresita was, she knelt beside her for ten minutes while she said the Rosary. Later that afternoon she asked Teresita, "Who was the sister kneeling on the prie-dieu with you after lunch today?" Teresita replied, "No one knelt on the priedieu while I was saying the Rosary, Sister. At least, I don't remember anyone." Teresita, or Sister Maria Teresa, liked nothing better than to keep Mary in all phases of her life.
In May of 1949, Teresita became ill with a bronchial disorder, and her father came to the convent to persuade her superiors to send her home with him for treatment. They decided to wait a few days. Teresita seemed to recover after a dose of streptomycin, so she was allowed to stay to continue her novitiate.
During advent of that year, a group of novices were discussing the coming holy year (1950) and the pope's intention of proclaiming the dogma of the Assumption. Teresita mentioned that she felt she would be allowed a special favor that year. After much questioning, she admitted that she believed she would be allowed to celebrate the proclamation in Heaven.
Some laughed, some protested, none took her very seriously. She replied, "Go on, little sisters, laugh at me. But remember what they always say about the one who laughs last! Every one of you will probably be singing my requiem before the close of 1950. I know I shall be with my Mother on her glorious day. Can you imagine, sisters, what Heaven will be like when the dogma of the Assumption is declared?"
During the last part of January, 1950, Dr. Quevedo was called in to examine Teresita to see what was causing her such severe head and back aches. With a heavy heart, he admitted to the superior that he suspected tubercular meningitis. At the most, she had only a few months to live. Although his natural inclination was to bring his child home, Dr. Quevedo realized that Teresita would be happier to die in God's house. He decided to ask the superior to allow her to stay in the convent. As he was bringing up the subject, Reverend Mother interrupted to ask him if he would please not take Teresita home.
Although she had not completed her novitiate, Teresita was allowed to take her vows to become a fully professed sister. She was also given Extreme Unction, as her father feared she might lose her mental faculties. Although her mind did wander at periods toward the end, she never totally lost the use of her reason.
Teresita's whole community began to pray for a miraculous recovery. Asked why she was in such a hurry to get to Heaven, she replied, "In Heaven, nothing will separate me from Jesus and Mary. Besides, I am of very little use here, but from Heaven you will see how busy I shall be."
She told her father, "How would I be afraid to die since I have a Mother in heaven who'll come out to receive me?"
The next three months were filled with pain for Teresita. The only way to relieve the intense agony of the headaches was to draw off some of the spinal fluid by a spinal tap. In all, the doctors punctured her spine a total of sixty-four times. At all times, Teresita attempted to accept the pain without complaint.
Finally, Holy Week of 1950 arrived. On Monday, Teresita was in great pain, and she was in a coma part of Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday she seemed better, and asked for a snack in mid-afternoon. A severe spasm of pain hit Thursday evening and left her with a stiff neck and a headache. She was barely conscious, but fought having another spinal tap, although it would have provided some relief, on Holy Saturday, the community began to chant the prayers for the dying. "Pray for her," the community intoned. "Pray for me," came the weak response.
Around eleven p.m., Teresita suddenly smiled and looked up. "How beautiful, O Mary, how beautiful you are." The sisters looked wonderingly at each other. Did Teresita see the Blessed Mother? Or was she merely thinking of things soon to be? Teresita gave a final soft sigh, and then quietly passed away.
Before her death, Dr. Quevedo had asked Teresita to pray for her Mother as she was taking her daughter's illness very hard. Teresita promised the first thing she would do when she got to Heaven was to ask God to send complete resignation to her mother. Told of Teresita's death, Senora Quevedo was immediately conformed to God's Will.
Teresita's cause for canonization is in Rome. She was declared Venerable in 1983.
(Courtesy of Ann Ball - www.annball.com)