Maria Josefa Alhama Valera was born on the 30th of September, 1893, in Santomera, a town in Murcia, Spain.
Those were dry lands, struck by the sun during the summer and prone to flooding during the rainy season; lemon cultivation is the only means of support for the many families living there, and Maria Josefa, ever since her birth, found herself in poverty and indigence.
Her father Jose Antonio worked the land, when possible, while her mother Maria del Carmen took care of their many children, their only reason for happiness. During a disastrous flood, the water destroyed their house and took one of their youngest children, an almost unavoidable tragedy, considering the precarious conditions the family lived in.
Maria Josefa was a lively girl, smart, who was taken under the wing of the local priest, Don Manuel Allaga. Her parents, for her own good, chose to entrust her to the attention and the education of the priest’s two sisters, who will go on to take care of her since she was 6 years old.
Maria Josefa was strongly attracted to faith and religion, ever since her youngest years, to the point that she engineered a ploy to have her first communion at 8 years old, when at the time it was only allowed to 12 year olds.
Taking advantage of the presence of a new priest who didn’t know her, during a Mass, she went to him and, to her happiness, received the Communion. She would later say that, from there on, in order to not bother Jesus, who she had finally connected with, she would not even play anymore.
The sign of her predestination was to arrive just a few years later when Maria Josefa, at only 12 years old, had the vision of Saint Teresa of Avila. The Saint, who will inspire braveness to Maria Josefa for her whole life, revealed the destiny she was meant for:
“You see my dear – said St. Teresa – I have come to tell you, on behalf of God, that you will begin from where I finished. God does not want to be known as a judge of character anymore, but just as a Father. This is the mission I received, to tell the whole world.”
Maria Josefa felt the need to begin her journey and wanted to do it specifically on the day dedicated to St. Teresa. At 21 years old, she left her home. The vocation call was so strong that she could even bear the thought of leaving her ill mom at home, even if she knew she could never see her again.
In that year, the Great War began, and although Spain did not participate, the sufferings of millions of people would not go unperceived, even in a neutral nation.
Maria Josefa dedicated herself to the care of the sick, children and those in need. At 23 years old, she entered the Convent of Villena of the Daughters of the Ordeal and took her vows with the name of Speranza of the Agonizing Jesus.
This institute, made up by only seven old nuns, seeing its future was uncertain, merged with the Institute of the Immacolata, founded by S. Anthony Claret. The merger between the two religious family happened in 1921 and Speranza of Jesus took her perpetual vows, with the name of Esperanza of Santiago. She spent the following nine years taking care of different tasks, especially the education and the care of the young ladies that were entrusted to her.
Her talents, her commitment, her compassion, along with the manifestation of uncommon phenomena, astounded everybody who knew her and worked with her, distinguishing her from everyone else and putting her in the spotlight of the best spiritual directors of the time.
God certainly never spared Mother Speranza from the most difficult and painful tests. In 1922, she was very ill, and had to undergo three different surgical operations due to an ovarian cyst.
The consequences began to appear in the following season: the appearance of hernias that prevented her from eating, a generally unhealthy body, that she described in her diary as follows:
My problems give me continuous vomiting and pains are so harsh that doctors gave me chloroform.
(Quote from the book: Madre Speranza, una storia di Grazia e Misericordia, di Beppe Amico)
The pain she suffers from leave her debilitated for three years, to the point of taking her, in February of 1925, to the face of death.
On February 15th, the priest of Saint Mary la Antigua, administered her last rites and gave her the viaticum, while everybody prayed for her. At 7 in the following morning, Mother Speranza asked to be given the Communion and felt better in a matter of hours.
This is what she wrote:
“I received the Communion and along with it, the benefit of health, feeling immediately better, as if I had never had any problems before.”
Mother Speranza, inspired by God, felt the need to present to her superiors and to the Bishop her idea to reform the Claretians’ ideas. Along with the intense life dedicated to contemplation, she felt the need to give more attention to the life of those in need, especially poor little girls. A very innovative step, which will go on to define Mother Speranza’s educative mission.
The Bishop, listening to her, gave the Congregation of the Claretians the permission to build a place for little girls, so they could take care of their education.
For this, a house in Calle Toledo was chosen, in Madrid. This place of hospitality and love would become a shelter for those who really needed it.
The work the Claretians began in this house was contrasted by quite a few difficulties. On Christmas 1927, while hundreds of poor people arrived to receive some food, many influential people expressed their hostility to the presence of so many poor people. Selfishness and fear resurfaced. Mother Speranza, after many disputes, chose to leave Calle Toledo, listening to the advice given to her by Jesus himself, while praying:
““Where the poor cannot enter, you shall not enter either. It is time for you to leave this house.”
Mother Speranza moved to a new home, in Calle del Pinar, still in Madrid.
These were the years in which it began to become obvious to everybody that Mother Speranza was a means for God to express his will, to the point that Mother Speranza had to tell the local authorities that extraordinary events were happening to her.
Her spiritual guides, Father Postius, Father Antonio Naval and Father Felice Maroto, worked side to side, exchanging opinions and thoughts, to correctly interpret these events.
The Apostolic Nuncio, on the 14th of February, 1929, authorized the fusion of the house of Calle Toledo with the one of Calle del Pinar. This is how the core of the Religious Family that Mother Speranza strongly wanted, finally started, following God’s wish.
Considered by everybody to be the engine pushing this initiative, Mother Speranza became the director of the place, a position that required high compassion and love.
The foundation of the “Congregation of Merciful Love Maids” happened on Christmas 1930, in an apartment in Calle Velazquez, in Madrid, in private legal form. In this simple and humble place, the Congregation that the Lord desired was born, with Mother Speranza as his tool.
The following year, the College was inaugurated, the first of a long series. At the beginning of the terrible civil war of 1936, the Nun’s initiatives were an important reality for the people: many were the people in need, the children and the sick that found comfort thanks to the Handmaids ’ efforts.
In 1935, thanks to their infinite and tireless faith, the Congregation of the HandHandmaids of Merciful Love was officially recognized by the Diocesan Law.
May 1936: Mother Speranza chooses to leave her home nation and to move to Rome.
Together with Miss. Maria Pilar from Arratia, Mother Speranza rented a house, away from the center of the city and in one of the poorest parts of the capital, in via Casilina.
Mother Speranza, in Rome, had to confront the Holy Office that, after intervening due to controversies that never ceased against her, seemed to oppose her initiatives.
Nevertheless, the exact opposite of what her critics wanted happened: the Holy Office welcomes the Congregation of Merciful Love Handmaids under its direct protection and nominates Mother Speranza the General Superior, with the possibility of training the nuns.
In 1951, Mother Speranza Alhama of Jesus moved to Collevalenza, in Umbria, which was, at the time, just a wooded hill at 350 m. high, over the city of Todi.
On the 18th of August, the construction of the “Sanctuary of Merciful Love ” began. The idea was not only to build a spiritual place, but a large religious family made up of the Community of Merciful Love Handmaids and by the first Community of the Children of Merciful Love .
Mother Speranza, perfectly aware of what it meant to build something in the name of the Lord in Collevalenza, pushed until all the buildings were done.
In 1953 the home of the Children of Merciful Love was built.
In 1954, the Minor Seminary.
In 1955, the Chapel of the Crucifix, which would then become in 1959 the “Sanctuary of Merciful Love ” as named by Bishop De Sanctis.
Collevalenza always lacked water resources. In this situation, made much more difficult by the presence of many new people and pilgrims, a miracle happened, and it was briefly and effectively described by the sister of the General Secretary of the Handmaids as follows:
“Our Mother received the order to build some pools, and it was indicated to her where she would find the necessary water”.
So, without having the need to dig numerous wells to find where the water flowed and without using any technical means, Mother Speranza indicated a precise spot in the ground, near which the future “Church of Merciful Love ” would stand.
The excavation and the drillings began. Water was found at 122 m inside the ground, an endless and miraculous flow of water, a true gift of God, which brought relief to the souls and bodies of the pilgrims.
On November 22nd 1981, the Sanctuary received the visit of Pope John Paul II. The Pope, who had recently almost lost his life in the attack of Piazza S. Pietro, felt the need to thank the Merciful Love.
He said: “ We have come to visit this Sanctuary because we owe our health to our Lord’s mercy ”.
Mother Speranza died in Collevalenza on February 8th, 1983, at 90 years old. It snowed when she died, almost as if to make the moment even more intense.
Her burning desire to lie in the place which her life she had dedicated to was fulfilled, and her remains rest in the Crypt of the Sanctuary of Merciful Love.
Mother Speranza Alhama of Jesus was beatified by Pope Francisco Bergoglio. The Pope allowed for the rite of beatification to happen in Collevalenza.
One miracle in particular was recognized to Mother Speranza of Jesus; the healing of a kid affected by a severe intolerance to protein.
Today, her will is carried on incessantly by the Handmaids of Merciful Love.
The following were the words of Mother Speranza of Jesus, a demonstration of her tireless faith: