Mother Francisca del Espiritu Santo
Dr. Florentino H. Hornedo (1996)

Francisca de Fuentes was born to Don Simon de Fuentes and Dona Ana Maria del Castillo y Tamayo in the City of Manila in 1647. Francisca grew up to be a fine lady; and she was given in marriage to a gentleman who, by the inscrutable design of God, did not live long, leaving her a childless young widow.

Francisca then dedicated her time to prayer and social service helping many poor and sick in the city. In a vision in which she saw St. Francis and St. Dominic, she prostrated herself before St. Dominic. Because of this, she chose to be a Dominican, being admitted as a tertiary. in 1682. She chose the name "Francisca del Espiritu Santo."

In 1686, Francisca, Antonia de Jesus Esguerra, Maria Ana de Fuentes (blood-sister of Mother Francisca), and Sebastiana Salcedo requested that they be allowed to live together in a life of prayer and the practice of the virtues while continuing their social apostolate. After a brief hesitation, their request was sent to the Master General of the Order of Preachers in Rome, who approved it on January. II, 1688.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile Director of the Third Order, Fr. Juan de Santa Maria, who favored the request of the ladies, was assigned to Bataan, and Fr. Juan de Santo Domingo was assigned in his place. The new Director was against the project and the proposal was laid aside. Mother Francisca and her companions were deeply dismayed, but Mother Sebastiana prophesied that although she and Mother Antonia would not live to see it, the Beaterio would be a reality.

Mother Francisca was progressively maturing spiritually, and her desire for serving the needy grew more and more. The desire for the realization of the beaterio also grew more intense so that one day, after confession, she opened once more the subject to Fr. Juan de Santo Domingo, and she got scolded for her "impertinence." But bravely, she told Fr. Juan with a tone of prophecy: "Father Prior, the beaterio will be established, and Your Reverence will see it.

"Fr. Juan de Santo Domingo was enlightened and became one of the powerful supporters of the Beaterio project. Under his direction, Mother Francisca and her companions lived at first in the house of Mother Antonia de Jesus Esguerra who had by then died.

On the feast of St. Anne in 1696, the Beaterio was formally established with Fr. Juan de Santo Domingo, then Provincial, presiding. And on this joyful occasion, Mother Francisca was appointed first and founding Prioress for life. The first community consisted of Mother Francisca, Mother Maria del Espiritu Santo, Mother Juana de la Santisima Trinidad, Mother Lorenza de Jesus Maria, and Mother Rosa de Santa Maria. The community was placed under the patronage of St. Catherine of Siena, and accepted in the Provincial Chapter of 1698.

But their joy was not to last very long, for in 1703, Manila Archbishop Don Diego Camacho wanted the Beaterio under his jurisdiction. The conflict grew until Archbishop Camacho excommunicated Mother Francisca, and put the other Sisters under interdict. To avoid scandal, the beatas removed their habits and with the help of the Governor General and counsel from the Dominican Fathers, they went into "exile" at the Santa Potenciana College, there to stay for over two years in what is called the Beatas' "Babylonian Exile."

Mother Francisca suffered the most under these grave trials, but with heroic courage, she and most of the sisters increased their religious fervor and continued to live faithfully their religious life hoping for the day of victory.

Since part of the opposition against the Beaterio was a question of finances, very valuable help came from a lay Dominican Tertiary, Don Juan de EscaƱo y Cordova, who in 1704 assured the Beatas an annual subsidy through the Dominican Province of the Holy Rosary of two thousand pesos - a considerable sum in those days.

The time of triumph came in 1706 when after some negotiations, their former opponent Archbishop Camacho changed heart and began to show himself sympathetic to the Beatas. With the help of the Governor General and the Dominican Fathers, Mother Francisca and her Sisters returned to their original home, having donned once more their Dominican habits, there to live under the rule set for them as beatas, with a few added features of their religious life as prescribed by the Archbishop. The permit from the Archbishop is dated 26 March 1706. With Mother Francisca at the time of their return were 15 Sisters including a novice, and in addition, there were lay Sisters and a girl who eventually donned the habit. It was in the same year that the Beaterio became a Beaterio-Colegio which admitted Spanish girls, "mestizas" and natives, instructing them on the 4 R's -Religion. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic with Music, Embroidery, Flower Making, etc.

The.major trials having passed, Mother Francisca continued with even greater ardor her pursuit of spiritual perfection for herself and for her spiritual daughters. Like the brave and strong woman that she ever was, she governed the Beaterio with great prudence and fidelity to the Rule, making the Eucharist the sublime center of the community's spiritual life. To do this, in the absence of a Chapel for the Blessed Sacrament in the Beaterio, she importuned, against many difficulties, the Fathers of San Juan de Letran College, to build a corridor connecting the Beaterio to the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of Letran. As always, her prayers eventually prevailed.

Worn out physically by her perpetual acts of mortification, and her continual struggle to secure the solid establishment of the Beaterio, she became ill and was suffering with heroic resignation and humility for several months, edifying everyone with her extraordinary spiritual life. And on the feast of St. Bartholomew on 24 August 1711, she was born to eternal life, leaving behind her the living witness to her love of God and neighbor-the Beaterio de Sta. Catalina de Sena which lives vigorously as ever up to this day as the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.