Blessed Laura Vicuña was a heroically virtuous child who offered herself on behalf of her mother’s soul. Laura was born in Santiago, Chile in 1891 to José Domingo Vicuña and his wife Mercedes. José was from an aristocratic Chilean family.
At the time of Laura’s birth, there was a civil war underway, which forced José to escape into exile with his little family into the Andes Mountains. This trial took its mental and physical toll on him, and he died when Laura was just three. Mercedes, worried about how she would provide for her two little girls, crossed over the Andes with them into Argentina. There, she tried to find a means to support herself and her children doing domestic work, but could find nothing. She came to the town of Las Lajas in the Andean foothills. There, she met a wealthy landowner who owned and operated a hacienda. This owner, Manuel Mora, offered to house them there. While he promised to protect this vulnerable little family, he soon betrayed that trust by seducing Mercedes, who thought she was in no position to resist, and she became Manuel’s mistress.
When Laura and her sister Julia became old enough, Manuel paid for their attendance at a boarding school operated by the Salesian religious order. Laura flourished in the school environment, was a good student, and made many friends. She became known as a peace-maker during quarrels, and took an interest in the neediness of some of her classmates. She defended them when they were teased, gave them what coins she had, and sometimes snuck them her clothing or food items. She discovered God’s goodness and the story of salvation. She greatly admired the missionaries who left their homelands to operate the school. However, she observed during her visits home that something was wrong. Manuel Mora had developed an alcohol addiction, which exacerbated his lustfulness, arrogance, and belligerence. During his drunken rages, he even made lewd passes at Laura. She realized that her mother was profoundly unhappy and resolved to pray ardently for her. When Laura made her First Holy Communion in 1901 at age ten, Mercedes, who was visiting for the occasion, did not receive, and Laura noticed this.
With time, Laura felt a desire to be a missionary like her teachers. Since she was only eleven years old, her spiritual director explained that she would have to wait until she was older. She begged him to allow her to make personal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and sensing her spiritual maturity, he allowed it.
AN EXTRAORDINARY OFFERING
During a school lesson on the Sacrament of Marriage, Laura knew that her mother would likely be damned because of her extra-marital relationship unless she repented. She resolved to assist the Lord in saving her mother’s soul, no matter the cost, and she began making frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. She enrolled in the Sodality of the Children of Mary, at which time she received a medallion, which she loved to wear. During her home visits, Manuel’s physical advances became increasingly aggressive, and after she fought him off on one occasion, he refused to pay for her school tuition any further. When the Salesian sisters became aware of this, they allowed Laura and Julia to attend without paying. Laura was Confirmed on Easter Sunday of 1902. Increasingly aware of her mother’s ongoing state of mortal sin, she asked her spiritual director if she could offer her life for her mother’s conversion. At first, he hesitated, but became increasingly aware that the girl understood the meaning of such an offer and that she had been given extraordinary graces to do so. In 1903, Laura became seriously ill. Mercedes moved with Julia to the town near the school, where there was better medical care for Laura; there, they lived in a small cottage.
DEATH AND ITS FRUITS
On January 14, 1904, Manuel arrived at their door, demanding that Mercedes and the girls return to the Hacienda and making his intentions toward Laura known. Weak and ill, Laura fled the cottage, followed by Manuel. He kicked and beat her with his whip, leaving her unconscious in the street. She died from her severe internal injuries on January 22. Before her death, Laura told her mother of her offer of her life for her conversion. Indeed, Mercedes fell to her knees, begged her daughter’s forgiveness and actually did return fully to the Catholic Faith after going to Confession that very night.
Just twelve years old at the time of her death, Laura was buried in the town cemetery, which became a shrine of prayers and remembrances. In 1954, her remains were transferred to the Salesian school she had attended.
Blessed Laura Vicuña’s life bears a striking resemblance to that of St. Maria Goretti, who died in a similar manner just two years earlier. The diocesan process for her canonization cause was opened in 1955. At her 1988 beatification, her life was described as “a poem of purity, sacrifice, and filial love” and the “pure glory of Argentina and Chile”.