Bl. Bonifacia Rodríguez Castro

Foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of St Joseph
Memorial : 8 August

Bonifacia Rodríguez Castro was born on 6 June 1837 in Salamanca, Spain, the eldest of six children. Her parents, Juan and Maria Natalia, possessed a deep Catholic faith and took special care to educate their children in the faith. Her first "school" was her home, where Bonifacia's father, a tailor, carried out his trade that Bonifacia quite easily learned.

After completing her primary studies and following the death of her father, the young Bonifacia learned the trade of cord-making to provide financial support for her mother and family. Eventually she was able to establish her own house-shop, where she worked tirelessly in imitation of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

A group of Bonifacia's friends, attracted by her witness of life, soon began to meet in her house-shop on Sunday afternoons and feast days, seeking Bonifacia's help in order to avoid dangerous forms of entertainment. Together with her, they decided to form the "Association of the Immaculate and St Joseph", later called the "Josephine Association". In this way, the shop acquired a clear apostolic and social dimension of spiritual support, especially for women.

Institute to help female workers

As time passed, Bonifacia felt more and more called to enter religious life and become a Dominican in the convent of Sta Maria de Dueñas in Salamanca. A providential encounter, however, changed this path.

In 1870 the Jesuit Fr Francisco Javier Butiña y Hospital arrived in Salamanca with an evangelizing message for manual workers about the sanctification of their work. Bonifacia felt very drawn to this ideal and began to receive spiritual direction from Fr Butiña.

She confided to the priest that she wanted to become a Dominican, but he instead suggested that she establish with him the Congregation of the Siervas de San José (Servants of St Joseph), with the mission of protecting female workers.

She consented with great docility and on 10 January 1874, together with six women from the Josephine Association, she began community life in Salamanca in her own shop. Three days earlier the Decree of Erection had been signed by Salamanca's Bishop Joaquin Lluch y Garriga, who strongly supported the foundation.

Opposition and exile

In the shop, the Siervas de San José offered work to poor unemployed women to help them avoid the dangers encountered by those working outside the home at that time.

There were those, however, who did not understand the evangelical depth and richness of this form of religious life, so close as it was to the world of work, and it quickly encountered opposition. Among the opponents were certain members of Salamanca's diocesan clergy.

Three months after the foundation, Fr Butiña was exiled from Spain with his Jesuit companions, and in January 1875 Bishop Lluch y Garriga was transferred as Bishop to Barcelona. Within one year, Sr Bonifacia was leading the new Institute on her own.

The new directors of the community appointed by Salamanca's new Bishop began to sow discord among the Sisters, some of whom began to oppose the "shop" and the sheltering of women workers in it.

Sr Bonifacia, however, avoided all changes in the original charism as defined in the Constitutions by Fr Butiña.

Foundress is 'separated'

In 1882, Sr Bonifacia travelled to Gerona in order to unite the other houses of the Siervas de San José that Fr Butiña had founded in Catalonia upon his return from exile; however, upon returning to Salamanca she found that she had been removed as Superior and Counsellor of the Institute by the Director of the Congregation.

Humiliations, rejection and calumnies soon followed, all with the hope that she would leave Salamanca. But Sr Bonifacia's response was simply silence with forgiveness.

She even developed a compromise when she proposed to the Bishop the foundation of a new community in Zamora. With approval, she gave the community life with utmost fidelity, while in Salamanca Sr Bonifacia and the community in Zamora were completely ignored.

Institute's reunion 'when I die'

The greatest humiliation and moment of self-emptying for Sr Bonifacia occurred on 1 July 1901, when the pontifical approbation of the Siervas de San José that was granted by Leo XIII excluded the house of Zamora.

Not even this, however, separated her from her Salamancan "daughters", and with complete trust in God she told the Sisters in Zamora that this reunion between the two would take place "when I die".

Sr Bonifacia died on 8 August 1905 in Zamora. On 23 January 1907, the house of Zamora was fully incorporated to the rest of the Congregation.

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