Laura was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1891. Her father was a soldier. When civil war broke out, her father took Laura and her mother to another town across the mountains in Argentina so that they would be safe. Laura’a father died when she was only two years old.
Laura’s mother, Mercedes, had to find some way to support Laura and her new baby sister. After working as a cook for several years, Mercedes took a job in the Quilquihué Hostel. The owner of the hostel, Manuel Mora, propositioned Mercedes, promising to pay for Laura’s education in exchange. Laura soon entered the Hijas de Maria Auxiliadora (“Daughters of Mary Help of Christians”) School, where, under the care of the nuns, she began to take a deep interest in the Catholic faith.
Laura was smart and did well at school. She loved learning about her faith and spent a great deal of time in prayer. On the day of her First Communion, she wrote, “Oh, my God, I want to love and serve you all my life” in her notebook. Because of her deep religious interest, she was not well liked by her classmates. Some of her classmates shunned her for her piety. She spent most of her time praying in the school’s chapel. She prayed every day for her mother’s salvation and for her to leave Manuel Mora.
But her happiness at school turned to worry when she returned home for a visit. During one of her school vacations, Laura was beaten twice by Manuel Mora, who wanted her to forget about becoming a nun. She held to this desire even when Mora stopped paying for her education, and when the nuns at her school learned of the conflict, they gave Laura and her sister scholarships.
When Laura returned to school with scholarship and she told a priest that she wanted permission to join the convent. Although the priest believed the girl had a true calling from God, he told her that she was too young and would have to wait until she was older to make such an important decision.
One day, remembering the phrase of Jesus: “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends,” Laura decided to give her life in exchange for her mother’s salvation. As time passed she became seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. Before she died, Laura told her mother: “Mama, I offer my life for you, I asked our Lord for this. Before I die, Mother, would I have the joy of seeing you repent?” Mercedes answered: “I swear, I will do whatever you ask me! God is the witness of my promise!” Laura smiled and said: “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Mary! Goodbye, Mother! Now I die happy!” On January 22, 1904, Laura died of her disease, weakened by the physical abuse she previously received from Mora, having offered her life for the salvation of her mother. From 1937 to 1958, Laura’s remains lay in the Nequén graveyard, after which they were moved to Bahía Blanca. One of her famous sayings is “Suffer silently and Smile always”
Seemingly in answer to Laura’s prayer to God, her mother returned to the Church when her daughter died.
On Sept. 3, 1988, Laura Vicuña was beatified by Pope John Paul II.