Rocio Pestana Segovia
The youngest in a family of four brothers and four sisters, I am a Spaniard who was born in Madrid. My family was profoundly involved in the Roman Catholic Church. One of my aunts, Maria Josefa Segovia, was the co-founder of a secular religious order, the Institucion Teresiana,dedicated to education.
My Early Years
At the age of two, I was taken along with two of my sisters to a convent boarding school. During the week, we lived in a house with members of the order who worked as public school teachers. On weekends we went home. Sometimes my mother visited us at the school in the afternoon and helped to feed us dinner. From age two to age seven, I was there acquiring my basic education. In the house there was a small chapel with an altar and tabernacle. There, from the time I was very small, I began to be conscious of all the religious practices of Roman Catholicism. I was taught to pray, to use holy water, and to follow the ritual of the Mass and the rest of the sacraments.
I made my first confession before a priest at the age of five and prepared for my first communion at age six. At this same age I began to read and write and to memorize the Catholic catechism of Astete in order to enjoy the privilege of Holy Communion. I remember clearly how expectantly I prepared for this event, firmly convinced that Jesus was really in the consecrated Host and would enter into my heart. I thank the Lord that He gave me a delicate conscience and a sensitivity to everything related to Him.
From my infancy, Jesus was the motive of my dreams, aspirations, and desires. He was my intimate Friend. I was taught about God, the Trinity, and Jesus Christ by both the Teresians and my family. I knew about the lives of many saints and martyrs, the history of the early church (according to the Catholic Church), exemplary lives of all time periods and many stories of Bible characters.All of this motivated me with a desire to imitate their lives. I sincerely wanted to please God and dedicate my life to Him. I fervently worked to comply with all the ordinances of the church: daily Mass, confession, communion, fasting, alms, prayers for the dead in purgatory, indulgences, etc. We recited the rosary both at home and at school. I had private times of prayer and endeavored to be a regular helper in the sacristy of the school chapel.
When I was seven, I went to several different private schools for girls, in Madrid, in the mountain chain of Cordoba in the south of Spain, in Avila, in the province of Castilla, the city of “Saints and Knights”, and in Burgos. Always living far from family, each time I moved I was more attached to my special friendship with the Lord.
A Private Vow
At the age of fourteen, I felt the call to consecrate myself to the Lord, wanting to be totally His. I asked permission of my confessor to make a private vow of chastity. One of the happiest days of my life was January 21, 1961, when I committed myself to the Lord by this vow. I also put on a special “engagement” ring. After this, my purpose became definite; I decided to be a missionary. I proceeded to finish my secondary education with a goal to study nursing to be more useful on the mission field.
When I finished school at seventeen and told my family of my desire to be a missionary and to study nursing, I received no encouragement. They told me they could not help me financially and expected me to find employment, the sooner the better.
I had a difficult adolescence after I finished school. Although I was living with my family, I began to enjoy liberties I never had had. I began to have problems which I did not have the strength or spiritual maturity to face. Although I tried to find refuge and strength in the sacraments, as I had been taught, I was powerless, vulnerable, and lost in the “new” life the world offered me. I felt overwhelmed by my repeated sins and complete lack of control. I began to work and make money, but my family’s financial needs did not permit me to save enough for nursing school.
I smoked, drank, and never passed up a chance to enjoy life in one manner or another. Sometimes I was in total anguish because I felt so separated from the Lord. My confessor, an Augustinian priest, had scruples about giving me absolution for my sins because I was always repeating the same things over and over again. My situation was so desperate that more than once I was at the point of wanting to commit suicide.
A New Confessor
One day I came from church and in my distress entered running and crying into the Dominican monastery. A priest passed by the corner where I had hid myself and asked why I was crying. I started to talk with him. He waited patiently for my answers. He counseled me and offered the absolution for which I was so anxious, but that had been refused to me for, according to the Catholic religion, without the blessing of the priest, God would not pardon me. After that day the Dominican priest, P. Juan Luis Tena, was my confessor and helped me.
Entering the Convent
When I was almost eighteen, the minimum age to enter the novitiate for the Combonianos Missionaries, I had a sudden change of mind and decided to become a cloistered nun. I was referred to the Convent of the Clarissas, the “Monastery of the Sacred Heart”, in Cantalapiedra, Salamanca, because my confessor’s mother and five of his sisters were at that same place. Soon I began to correspond with the nuns, especially with Sister Mary Grace. We decided that within a few months, I would go to the convent.
When I broke the news to my parents, they did not want to give their permission. This created a big problem in my family, but finally after much struggle, they gave their permission. I left for the convent on February 4, 1965.
I cannot describe the inner joy and expectations with which I entered this new life. On the other hand, there was sadness because of the opposition of my parents, especially that of my mother when she tried to release me to that which I had always desired, to be the Lord’s totally and completely.
I adapted to the religious life of “poverty, chastity, obedience and Cloister (solitude)”. The first and most inconvenient problem that I encountered was the cold. In these convents, the austerity and poverty of life was translated into complete denial of any material and personal convenience. One has to submit to the Lord by means of rules, work, prayer, discipline, sacrifices, and even bodily self-imposed suffering. There was no contact with the world, nothing that would gratify or satisfy the senses. Whether cold or hot, hungry or thirsty, discomfort, humiliation, want, etc., one pretends that she is in a room filled with roses. I don’t know about my convent sisters, but it seemed to me as nothing compared to pleasing the Lord and making my salvation and the salvation of other souls sure. We had to be “co-redeemers with Jesus and Mary”. To intercede for the living and the dead, we were the dynamo, the hidden heart of the Holy Catholic Church. Our life of prayer and voluntary suffering was the key to success in the Christian life.
At last I was sure (or so I thought) that I had “arrived” in a secure harbor where I could practice all the sacraments. I was living a holy life separated from the evil and mundane. I prayed, worked, made special acts of self-imposed suffering, constant sacrifices and kept the rules of the convent, the religious life, and the Church. What more could the Lord ask that we had not already given? Apparently I was obedient, a hard worker, honest, completely dedicated to the glory of God.
In August of 1965, I took the habit of the Clarissas. One year later I made my first temporary vows and three years later the solemn and final vows. Now officially and permanently, I was consecrated to the Lord–“married” to the Lord or so I was taught.
My Godmother’s Gift
The day I was to take the habit, my family was invited to the ceremony. I was admitted to the Franciscan Order of the Clarissas on August 8, 1965. My family name was changed to “Sister Maria of the Holy Spirit”. Along with my parents, sisters and brothers, my baptismal godmother, Ma. Antonia Ruiz, was invited also. She gave me a Bible and with the Mother Superior’s permission, I began to read it. At first I read it from cover to cover but sometimes there were many things I did not understand. I enjoyed reading the New Testament more than the Old Testament. Because I wanted so much to know the Lord and love Him, I constantly read this precious book and also consulted sections of the Divine Office which were written in Latin. I took note of the references to the book of Psalms that we recited daily and in my free time read in Spanish. Because I had studied Latin in secondary school, soon it was possible for me to understand and translate it.