St. Mariana Paredes


As Lima, Peru, boasts of its hermitess St. Rose, so Quito, Ecuador, is proud of its own saintly solitary, St. Mariana of Jesus. There is, indeed, a connection between the two, in that Mariana took Rose (d. 1617) as one of her models.

Mariana’s parents were of noble descent. She was the eighth child of Jeronimo Zenei Paredes y Flores and his wife Mariana Jaramillo de Granobles.

When the father and mother died untimely young, Mariana, her sister Jeronima, and her brother-in-law Cosme de Caso, undertook to raise her.

As a small child, Mariana had already set out on a program of prayer and self-denial. Jeronima and Cosme wisely entrusted that part of her development to what became a series of Jesuit counselors. While attracted to a contemplative life, Mariana apparently did not seriously consider becoming a member of a religious order, although she did become a tertiary of the Franciscan Order at 21. Normally, she wore no religious habit, only a black dress modeled on the Jesuit cassock.

Her dwelling place was an austerely-furnished room in the upstairs of her sister’s house. Here she passed long hours in meditation and prayer. Her practices of self-denial, if correctly reported, were eyebrow-raising: brief sleep, ever-diminishing food and drink, chains and other penitential instruments. One wonders why her spiritual directors did not command her to temper these well-meant but immoderate measures. Perhaps it was because in the Spanish tradition of spirituality, they were more commonplace than in some other ascetical traditions. The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta would have agreed equally on the need of interior mortification; she called them “a sharing in Christ’s passion.” But I fancy she would advise modulating them and accepting them with the joy of Christ’s resurrection.

Of course, God must have been pleased with St. Mariana’s utter generosity of spirit. By no means did she devote herself solely to prayer and penance. She welcomed the poor, hungry and ill to come to her for help. Thus her sister’s house became a sort of free clinic for the sickly and a schoolroom for poor Indian children. In connection with this ministry, she was reported to have spoken prophecies and performed miracles.

In 1645 Quito experienced a series of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and epidemics that carried off very many residents. On the fourth Sunday of Lent, Mariana’s confessor preached an eloquent sermon on these disasters in the Jesuit church. Mariana, particularly moved by his words, made a public offering of her life for the sins of citizens if the temblors and the epidemic might possibly cease. God evidently accepted her gift.

The earthquakes did cease, and at once. The epidemic also ebbed, if more gradually. But as the plague lessened, the volunteer victim was stricken with a series of maladies that resulted in her death on May 26, 1645. Only 27 at the time, Mariana de Jesu de Paredes was gratefully hailed by the people of Quito as the savior of their city.

Within the generation after her death, Rome inaugurated the process of her beatification.

Unfortunately, various mishaps befell both the sponsors of the cause and the necessary documentation, so that she was finally declared “blessed” only in 1854. Pope Pius XII canonized the “Lily of Quito” on July 9, 1950, one of the eight persons declared saints during the Holy Year of 1950. As Paris has St. Genevieve for protectress, Quito has its St. Mariana.

--Father Robert F. McNamara