Maria Antonia Paris y Riera was born in Vallmoll (Tarragona) on June 28th, 1813 and was baptized the following day, feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. She will later see this date of her entry into the Holy Church as a symbol of her profound ecclesial spirituality.
Her parents were farmers and lived in Tarragona, but because of the French attacks her mother fled to Vallmoll to give birth to her second daughter, María Antonia. The father had died a few months earlier.
She made her first communion at the age of nine. At about fourteen she decided to consecrate herself to the Lord. Since then, her life of piety intensified even more.
Despite her early decision to become a nun, she did not enter the Convent of the Company of Mary in Tarragona until 1841, when she was 28 years old. She entered as a resident because the anticlerical laws of the Spanish State at that time prohibited the entry of new novices.
When she had been in the Convent for a year, the Lord granted her a very particular mystical experience that marked her whole life (those who have studied her mystical life define it as “intellectual vision”). When the Servant of God offered, as so many other times, her life for the great needs of the Church at that time, the Lord made her understand the Evangelical Law and the way in which He wanted it to be fulfilled. He made her see that it was the lack of that fulfillment that was the greatest evil that the Church was going through. And that especially the conversion of consecrated persons was necessary. She felt called to found a new Institute: Apostles of Jesus Christ in imitation of the Virgin Mary. This experience left her with a great love for evangelical poverty and a deep intimacy with the Lord, as well as great humility in recognizing her smallness for such a great work.
Shortly after this vision, the Lord made her understand that it would be Father Claret who would help her in the foundation. She did not know him but it was manifested to her that he was the apostolic man that the Church needed to preach the Holy Law. She met him later.
In 1850, due to an exception granted by the Queen when visiting the Convent of Tarragona, María Antonia took the habit along with her companions but with it began her great and distressing doubts about whether she should profess there or it would be more convenient – according to God’s will – not to profess in order to be freer for the foundation that was asked of her.
On the advice of her spiritual director, Dr. Caixal, and also of Fr. Gatell, O.P., she left the Company of Mary. Another novice, to whom the Lord also manifested himself in this sense, went out with her. They lived for a while in Tarragona, living as nuns. Three more young people joined them.
Shortly after her departure she wrote, by indication of Dr. Caixal, to the Archbishop Claret, then already in Cuba. Claret answered immediately by opening the door of his diocese to the sisters. They waited for an opportune time to embark. Meanwhile, on August 15th, 1851, they vowed not to separate, to cross the seas if it was God’s will, and to obey their legitimate superiors.
They finally left for Cuba on February 22nd, 1852. Once in Cuba the vicissitudes for the foundation were great. It was difficult to obtain governmental approval. Once this was achieved, Claret asked Pope Pius IX for the Edict to erect the new convent. Previously they had already begun the apostolic work of teaching. Finally, on August 27th, 1855, María Antonia professed.
On this occasion she has a new spiritual experience about the Church and the need for its renewal. Her spiritual director at that time, Fr. Curríus, commands her out of obedience to write down her lights on that renewal. They are the so-called Points for the Reformation of the Church.
Called again by Claret, who had returned to Spain as confessor of Queen Isabel II, María Antonia returned to the Peninsula in 1859, to found the second house of the Institute in Tremp, in the Diocese of Seo de Urgel. Shortly afterwards, in 1860, Fr. Curríus presented to the Holy Father the Points for the Reformation of the Church, with letters from Archbishop Claret and from the then Bishop Caixal. Pius IX answered that they could not produce the fruit that was thought. This decision was accepted by María Antonia with great humility and submission.
Some time later (1867) she founded the third house of the Institute in Reus (Tarragona). And it is precisely there where she lives the Spanish Glorious Revolution of 1868, with the consequent vicissitudes. At that time the Servant of God experienced a dense night of spirit in tune with the evils of the Church. It is a painful mystical grace because of her great love for the Church.
In 1875 she realizes the foundation of Carcagente (Valencia). But four years later she returned to Reus, called by the ecclesiastical authority to take over the community that was suffering great upheavals with the people due to two nuns who left the convent and sowed restlessness in the population. The Servant of God, with great prudence, fixed the internal difficulties of the community and with it the peace was also re-established towards the outside.
En Reus, tras haber fundado cuatro casas del Instituto y haber dado anuencia para fundar dos más, muere el 17 de enero de 1885. su última enfermedad duró casi un año y la llevó con gran paciencia y caridad para con todas. Las hermanas que la cuidaron han dejado unos hermosos testimonios de sus últimos momentos. Tras su fallecimiento se realizaron algunas gracias particulares.
In Reus, after having founded four houses of the Institute and having given consent to found two more, she died on January 17th, 1885. Her last illness lasted almost a year and she carried it with great patience and charity for all. The sisters who took care of her left beautiful testimonies of her last moments. After her death some special graces were given.
CHRONOLOGY OF MOTHER MARÍA ANTONIA PARÍS
1813 (28th JUNE) – she was born in Vallmoll (Tarragona) and baptized the next day.
1826 or 1827 – during a mission preached by the Franciscans she decides to consecrate herself to God.
1841 (23rd October) – she enters the Company of Mary of Tarragona, but the Laws prevent her from professing.
1842 – ofreciendo su vida por las necesidades de la Iglesia, Cristo Crucificado le hace ver las exigencias de la Ley evangélica y la triste situación de la Iglesia porque no vive según ese Evangelio. Experimenta que Dios la llama a fundar un nuevo Instituto.
1842 – offering her life for the needs of the Church, Christ Crucified makes her see the demands of the Gospel Law and the sad situation of the Church because it does not live according to that Gospel. She experienced that God was calling her to found a new Institute.
1844 or 1845 – she receives lights on St. Anthony Mary Claret (when she did not yet know him). He is the apostle that the Church needs and he will be the one who helps her in the foundation.
1848 – by order of her spiritual director, Dr. Caixal, she wrote the Rules of the future Institute.
1850 (January) – she met for the first time St. Anthony Mary Claret. He sees that the time of founding the new Institute has not yet come.
1850 (April 21st) – she takes the habit of the Company of Mary, but she begins to be distressed over whether or not to profess.
1851 (January 21st) – advised by Caixal and Fr. Gatell leaves the Convent with another novice, Florentina Sangler.
1851 (August 15th) – three more young women had joined them. They vow to remain united and cross the seas if God wills it.
1852 – called by Claret, she sails for Cuba on February 22nd and arrives, after many vicissitudes, on May 26th.
1855 (August 27th) – she makes her first profession and has an important mystical experience on the renewal of the Church. She wrote, by mandate of her then confessor Fr. Curríus, the Points of Reform of the Church. She also wrote the Constitutions of the Institute by mandate of Claret.
1859 – Maria Antonia returns to Spain to found the second house of the Institute in Tremp (Lérida).
1867 – she founds the third house in Reus (Tarragona).
1868 – she lives a dense spiritual night for the Church.
1869 – Rome gives the Decretum Laudis on the Constitutions, but asks for several juridical questions to be settled.
1870 – Claret dies.
1875 – the Servant of God founds the house of Carcagente (Valencia). Shortly before she had given her approval to found Baracoa in Cuba.
1879 – she returns to Reus called by ecclesiastical authority.
1880 – Vélez Rubio (Almería) is founded, but she cannot go.
The Autobiography, in which she narrates the most important intimate and external events of her life from 1842 to 1857. The process of discovering her vocation as Foundress with S. Antonio María Claret, to give life to the Institute, faithful to what they saw to be God’s will.