by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — During her lifetime in the 1800s, Mother Maria Soledad, foundress of the Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick, modeled love and respect for persons who were poor, sick and dying.
Today, through the new archdiocesan shrine recently dedicated in her name, St. Maria Soledad can continue to intercede on behalf of the dignity of all human life, for the sick and for an increase of vocations to religious life.
On Dec. 2 — Mother Soledad’s 197th birthday — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann celebrated a special Mass to inaugurate the status of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, as a shrine to the Spanish saint. He commended the ministry and zeal of St. Maria Soledad and the religious community she founded — in the archdiocese, commonly referred to as the Sisters, Servants of Mary — as pioneers in the care of the dying and forerunners of today’s hospice care.
While there are churches and chapels in Spain and Colombia dedicated to St. Maria Soledad, the Kansas City shrine is a first. Following the Dec. 2 Mass, members of the congregation processed to the adjacent Our Lady’s Chapel at the cathedral where the archbishop blessed the statue and the first-class relic of the saint that are now prominently enshrined behind the altar.
In his decree designating the shrine, the archbishop identified it as an opportune place to promote the spiritual message and legacy of St. Maria Soledad, to bring the faithful to a deeper experience of Christian life, to offer a place of pilgrimage, to encourage devotion to the saint and to foster vocations to the Servants of Mary. The archbishop said that the designation of this shrine solidifies the special bond that exists between the Sisters and the priests, deacons and laity of the archdiocese.
The Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick, have served in the archdiocese and lived within the boundaries of the cathedral since 1917. They provide in-home nursing care for those who are seriously ill. The Sisters charge no fees for their services. Their convent in Kansas City, Kansas, is the provincial house for the United States and Mexico.
A sign of hope
Sister Alicia Hermosillo, S. de M., provincial superior, said the designation of the shrine is a very exciting and meaningful development for the Sisters.
“In the midst of all the changes we are undergoing in our congregation, leading us to a revitalizing and restructuring of our provinces, the shrine serves as a sign of hope that Mother Soledad still walks with us in this time,” she said. “She keeps working hard for the dignity of the sick and the salvation of souls.”
Mother Alicia and the archbishop both acknowledge the efforts of Sister Ema Munoz, S. de M., local superior, and Father Anthony Saiki, rector of the cathedral, who collaborated on the development of the shrine. Father Saiki explained that through the years, there have been ongoing conversations of ways the religious community and the parish could collaborate more and support one another’s mission. The suggestion of an archdiocesan shrine to the foundress surfaced as a creative and viable opportunity.
Study and research, consultation and prayer led to the decision to seek designation as a shrine. The cathedral seemed like a natural location with its close proximity to the Servants of Mary convent. It is the mother church of the archdiocese and the archbishop’s church. The archbishop embraced the plan.
“We can’t discount Mother Soledad’s intercession in all of this,” added Father Saiki, “bringing together the archdiocese, the Servants of Mary and the cathedral in what is a win-win-win for all the entities involved and for the people of northeast Kansas and visitors who will come to the shrine.”
“The Servants of Mary have been such a blessing to the archdiocese,” said Father Saiki. “The shrine is a way to show gratitude to them for more than a century of caring for the sick and elderly.”
An approachable saint
Mother Alicia agreed that everything has been connected and providential in the designation of the shrine. She described Mother Maria Soledad as a humble person who is a very approachable saint.
“Mother Soledad always had an extraordinary preference for the poor and sick,” she said. “She fought for the dignity of every sick person, and she confronted many authorities in order to reach out to the most vulnerable — those sick and suffering who needed help. Her desire was to be with every sick person and to care for them with dignity and to help them value their suffering and offer it for the good of their souls and for the whole world.”
Father Saiki said that the plan is being developed to welcome pilgrims to the St. Maria Soledad Shrine. For now, interested persons can call the parish office, Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at (913) 371-0840 to make an appointment to visit the shrine. The goal is to enhance ease of access and to have holy cards and information about Mother Soledad and the Servants of Mary available, along with catechetical materials on end-of-life issues.
Other benefits to be publicized in the future include the granting of partial and plenary indulgences to those who visit the shrine and meet identified requirements. Additionally, while St. Maria Soledad’s feast day is not on the official U.S. liturgical calendar, the cathedral will observe her Oct. 11 memorial.
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