Ignacia del Espiritu Santo

po_Ignacia-Mother2Venerable Ignacia del Espíritu Santo, also known as Mother Ignacia (February 1, 1663 – September 10, 1748) was a Filipino Religious Sister of the Roman Catholic Church. Known for her acts of piety and religious poverty, founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, the first native Filipino female congregation with approved pontifical status in what is now the Republic of the Philippines. Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

Ignacia felt strongly against the Spanish prohibition that native Filipinos could not become religious nuns or priests at the time. Mother Jerónima de la Asunción was the first Spanish religious sister who came to the Philippines to establish a convent but due to the Spanish prohibition at the time, native Filipinos were prohibited from joining the Holy Orders and religious congregations. In hopes of changing this ecclesiastical limitation, Ignacia began to live alone in a vacant house at the back of the Colegio Jesuita de Manila, the headquarters of Jesuits in Manila. She devoted a life of public prayer and labour which attracted other Filipino lay women to monasticism at a time when Filipinos were barred from pursuing the religious life.

Ignacia accepted these women into her company, and though they were not officially recognised as a religious institute at the time, together they became known as the Beatas de la Virgen Maria (English: “Religious of the Virgin Mary”) living under the “Beaterio de la Compania de Jesus” (English: Mary’s Convent of the Society of Jesus”). They frequently received the sacraments at the old church of St. Ignatius, performed many acts of public devotion there and went to the Jesuit priests for spiritual direction and confession.

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Popular folk tale ascribed the penitential form of spirituality and mortification of the flesh which sustained the other women in hardship, especially during times of extreme poverty, when they had to beg for rice and salt as a form of almsgiving and scour the streets for firewood. The lay women continued to support themselves through manual labour and requesting alms from other laypeople. Eventually, the growing number of laywomen called for a more stable lifestyle and a set of rules called Religious Constitution which governed their daily schedule . The association only admitted young girls and boarders who were taught catechism and given manual work.

A well-known street in Manila called Mother Ignacia Avenue is named after Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, because St Mary’s School of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, stands there. The municipal city of Santa Ignacia in Tarlac, Philippines is also named in honor of Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo.