Joaquima Vedruna Vidal de Mas was born on 16 April 1783 in Barcelona to the nobles Lorenzo de Vedruna – who worked for the government – and Teresa Vidal. Her parents raised their eight children to be very proper and perfect little aristocrats, and never dreamed that their fifth child, little Joaquima, was anything out of the ordinary.
Joaquima was a lively and affectionate little girl, with the typically generous enthusiasm that one finds in children. She also had a fairly normal attraction to the traditional piety of the times. At the tender age of twelve, she insisted that she needed to enter the cloistered Carmelite convent, and was surprised to be turned down. Her childhood was a pious one and she fostered a special devotion to the Infant Jesus while being known for her obsessive cleanliness and she made her First Communion in 1792.
On 24 March 1799 she married the barrister and landowner Teodoro de Mas (the firstborn of his own household) with whom she had nine children; both husband and wife later became members of the Third Order of Saint Francis and she became known as “Joaquima of Saint Francis of Assisi”. Unfortunately they were not blessed with the stability of earlier times. Spain was drawn into the vortex of war and revolution when Napoleon led his French troops south in a wave of conquest. For safety, Teodoro moved his family from Barcelona to his birthplace of Vich, and then joined the Spanish forces fighting to defend their homeland. Joaquima and her children managed to avoid columns of hostile soldiers, giving the credit to divine protection and intervention. But the vicious conflict broke all bounds of violence and bloodshed, and no one in Spain would ever be the same again.
Throughout the turmoil of war, Joaquima continued to be a devoted wife and loving mother. Teodoro resigned his army commission in 1813, as the war was coming to an end. He returned to his family and civilian life, hoping to take up a more normal existence. But his military struggles had seriously damaged his health. When Teodoro died suddenly in 1816, she was only 33 years old, with children to raise. But she resolved to carry out all her responsibilities, and with God’s help, she did so. For the next 10 years, she devoted herself to her children, and used her substantial inheritance to insure their future. But she also lived simply, continued her prayer, and helped the sick people of Vich.
One by one, her children began to get married and leave home, and Joaquima began to consider what was next for herself. Her spiritual director, Esteban de Olot, advised her not to enter any existing religious community, but consider founding her own. He pointed out that she was already good at two forms of ministry: teaching the young, and nursing the sick. With the blessing of Bishop Corcuera of Vich, she established her Carmelites of Charity in 1826. The first community consisted of only 9 sisters, but they took their vows full of hope and enthusiasm.
Their early years were spent in extreme poverty, with rich and powerful donors avoiding any contact with a group which looked like it was doomed to failure. Even so, within a short time, the sisters had established a hospital at Tarrega, and served the people there well. Once again, Joaquima and her sisters suffered from the hardships of war and butchery. The bloody Carlist Wars tore Spain apart in a bitter struggle between political factions, but the sisters treated the wounded of both sides, creating a neutral zone built upon love and mercy. Joaquima again had to flee to exile in France for a brief period, avoiding the dangers of mindless violence with God’s help.
When she returned in 1843, her sisters experienced an astonishing period of growth and development. Joaquima and her companions professed their final vows, with St. Anthony Claret representing the Church. In 1850, with final approval from Rome, they began to expand throughout Spain and even into other countries. But that same year, Joaquima experienced the beginnings of a paralysis which would finally curtail her vigorous activity. Although her mental powers were as impressive as ever, she obediently ceded her leadership to others, and went back to living the simple life of a working sister, even though she was slowly dying by inches.
In due course she was forced to resign as the Superior of her order due to sickness; she died during a cholera epidemic in Barcelona on 28 August 1854 but she fell victim to paralysis since 1850. Her first attack of apoplexy came in September 1849 with more following. She finally died in 1854, and was laid to rest in the mother house at Vich. She went serenely to meet her God, knowing that she had truly created a thing of beauty for him. Her order now operates in nations such as Japan and Eritrea while in 2008 there were 2012 religious in 280 houses.