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FROM VIUDA TO BEATA: Woman Religious in 17th Century Philippines

Fr. Clarence Marquez, O.P.

To be widow is to be a victim of death. True that she is the survivor, but a vacuumed one. For in the condescending gaze of a patriarchal world, with the man gone, what is left of woman? It is as if the one flesh conjugated in matrimony is forever torn asunder by masculine mortality, and the feminine remnant is emaciated, disabled, scarred by death and dearth. To complicate the crux further, the widow is, at the same cruel time, childless. She is manless and fruitless; full of disgrace; no lord is with her; cursed among women.

But the widow and the orphan, have God as their defender. They are the explicit recipients of divine redress and salvation. For in the coming reign of God on earth, the restoration of widows to life and fecundity is a hallmark of the proclamation and realization of the Gospel.

Thus is the issue at hand, in the life-story of a viuda of Manila, FRANCISCA DE FUENTES. She overcame the bias against her gender, and the obstacles against her holy desires, in order to give birth to the pioneer beaterio, women religious-in-community, in colonial 17th century Philippines.

This work sets out to sketch the socio-political milieu from which she emerged as a woman of note, a woman who stood above women, and above men of her time. She is type and anti-type, embodiment of the fairest virtues, and frontier-woman who pushed the confines of her world and won a sacred space for her cause and her kind. In a real sense, she invented and reinvented herself as institution-builder, spiritual mother and daughter, paragon of excellence and persistence, woman of God, woman for others. Francisca is the viuda beata, the widow who lost a husband, but found God; who bore no children but mothered a whole new religious family; who received more than what was taken away; and who gave the most because she gave all that she has, all that she is.