Madre Candelaria de San José was born as Susana Paz Castillo, in Altagracia, Venezuela, August 11, 1863. Growing up Susana learned to serve others through her family. When her Mother died, she took over the care of her siblings, nephews and even godchildren that were living with the family.
At the end of 1902, a new parish priest, Father Sixto Sosa arrived in Altagracia. The next year a small hospital was opened there and Susana along with three other women took over the responsibility of staffing it. After several years the townspeople recognized their efforts. The women worked with practically nothing, dealing with many problems and suffering without complaint. For this reason they were called: “The Little Sisters.”
Their congregation known as the Sisters of the Poor, was not an offical order. While they tried several times to be recognized, they were not successful until they met Carmelite Friar, Father Sendra. Madre Candelaria approached him asking that her sisters become Carmelites. They were invested with the Carmelite habit and they were affiliated to the Order as the Third Order of Regular Carmelites in July of 1929.
In June of 1938 Madre Candelaria bécame very ill. While they thought that recovery was possible, her health proved otherwise. Staying in the convent with her Carmelite Sisters, she died on January 31, 1940.
She spent her whole life serving the poorest of the poor. Despite having raised substantial funds for their ministry by going door to door, and begging throughout the towns and villages, she died in extreme poverty and was buried in a tomb that was borrowed from a friend.
The life of Mother Candelaria de San José was recognized from the beginning as an inspiration not only for those who met her, but also for the whole nation of Venezuela. After a lengthy process that involved much study and research of her life and accomplishments, her beatification was celebrated in Caracas, on April 27, 2008.
This celebration was attended by nearly 60,000 people from all over Venezuela and other nearby countries filling two stadiums. While the Eucharist was celebrated in one stadium, large screens in the other stadium allowed the people there to follow along.
The Eucharist was presided by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, accompanied by the Papal Nuncio, the Cardinal of Venezuela and many of the Venezuela bishops. Representing the Carmelite Order was the Prior General, Fernando Millán, the General Councilor of the Americas, Raúl Maraví; the Postulator of the Cause, Felip Amenos; as well as many other Carmelite Friars and Sisters from Spain and Venezuela.
The celebration began with a greeting from Sister Evelyn Gonzáles, General Superior of the Carmelite Sisters of Madre Candelaria. She thanked the crowds in the stadium for being present for such an important and meaningful moment for Carmel and the Church in Venezuela. During the celebration choirs performed songs and music inspired by typical sounds and rythms heard in Venezuela. People arrived in the stadiums hours before the Eucharist began. As they waited for the celebration they prayed and sang along with all the different choirs their for the occasion.
You could tell by the joy and particpation during the celebration that something indeed very special and gracious was happening around us. Venezuela was being blessed by God and Madre Candelaria. Her life was an evangelical example to many in the past and is still inspiring and encouraging many today to work for the poor.
Madre Candelaria´s life reflects the generosity of those who are poor and know how to share all they have and all they are.