1848 Spain

Fr. Joaquin Masmitjá, a 32 year old priest, was appointed pastor of the parish church in Olot, his home town, due to the removal of the previous priests because of their political beliefs. In August of 1844, St. Anthony Claret, a very popular missionary priest, preached a month-long mission in Olot. It was on this occasion that the two priests got to know each other and established a friendship that lasted all their lives. They found that they were two souls united in all that referred to the love and glory of God, a tender devotion to Mary and dedication to the full good of their brothers without exception. In a sense, their lives were two different expressions of the same objective: the growth of the Kingdom of God under the protection of Mary.

Three years pass by. Fr. Masmitjá was deeply concerned about the social problems in Spanish society, especially the plight of women. Due to the Industrial Revolution, large numbers of men and women were flooding the city from the rural areas. Most were uneducated and illiterate, and the work in the newly founded factories was little better than slavery. Many of the women were forced into prostitution as a means of survival. While praying before a sculpture of the Sorrowful Mother, Fr. Masmitjá conceived the idea of founding a religious congregation for the apostolate of education and prayer. The plan seemed reckless and imprudent given the anticlerical laws of the time and women’s place in society. Nonetheless, having seen the “painful and extraordinary abandonment of the poor girls in Olot”, and their need for education and spiritual formation, Fr. Masmitjá was sure that his inspiration was from the Holy Spirit and that he would be given the strength and means necessary to accomplish the work. With encouragement from Fr. Claret, Fr. Masmitjá surrendered himself and the work to God’s providence.

For the beginnings of this little community, he chose seven young women from among his penitents, in honor of the seven swords that pierced Mary’s heart. When he met with them in December, 1847, he was joyous in seeing himself surrounded by his courageous and dedicated penitents; however, in explaining his plans for the new institute he wished to establish, he did not hide the difficulties that would be encountered. The women responded with determination and enthusiasm. On July 1, 1848, the Daughters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary officially began with a simple, intimate ceremony. Communal life started on September 17, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.