Bonifacia Rodríguez grew up as the daughter of a tailor in 19th century Salamanca, caring for her siblings and occasionally assisting her father with sewing. By 1865, her last surviving sibling married and Bonifacia remained with her widowed mother while making lace, rope, cords, and similar products to sustain their now shrunken household.
While aspiring to join the Dominicans as a religious sister, Bonifacia instead found herself befriended by a Jesuit priest, Francisco Javier Butiña. Father Butiña had a recognition that God sanctifies people in the most humble of situations, and even outside of traditional religious life. Bonifacia had long years assisting in her father’s trade and now found herself working with her hands, and caring for an aging mother. She realized the connection of her labors with the quiet example of Joseph of Nazareth.
With Father Butiña, she established the Congregation of the Servants of Saint Joseph in January 1874. Bonifacia and her mentor develop a rather different model of religious life: women working with the support of one another, and providing a safe and harmonious environment for other women. But you might imagine people outside this circle would bring their criticisms to bear on it.
On the day of this worthy woman’s beatification, St John Paul II offered a homily describing her witness of faith. Let’s permit him to continue our examination:
It was a form of religious life too daring not to have opposition. Immediately it was attacked by the then traditional diocesan clergy of Salamanca who does not grasp the evangelical depth of this form of life which is very close to the world of work.
The Spanish government ejects the Jesuits from the country in 1875–including her collaborator. A year later, a supportive bishop is reassigned to another see, and Bonifacia finds herself bereft of institutional support.
The new directors of the community appointed by the bishop among the secular priests, imprudently sow discord among the sisters, some of whom with their help, start to oppose the shop as a way of life and the sheltering of women workers in it. Bonifacia Rodriguez Castro, foundress, who incarnated with perfection the project of life which has given birth to the Siervas de San Jose, does not allow changes in the Charism as defined by Fr. Butiña in the Constitutions.
But the director of the Congregation, taking advantage of the trip of Bonifacia to Gerona in 1882, in order to establish the union with the other houses of the Siervas de San Jose which Francisco Butiña had founded in Catalonia upon his return from exile, instigates her removal as superior and counselor of the Institute.
Humiliations, rejection, disdain and calumnies fall upon her in order to make her leave Salamanca. The only response of Bonifacia is silence, humility and forgiveness.
She leaves her home and continues her work in Zamora, as before: gathering poor women under one roof to labor simply and under the inspiration of Saint Joseph. Expansion in the new location continues, and permits the sisters to receive poor lay women as companions in work. Vatican recognition of the Servants of Saint Joseph comes in 1901, but a reunion of Bonifacia’s communities does not take place until a few years after her death.
It is lamentable that jealousies and suspicions among otherwise well-intentioned believers sows such divisions deep within the Church. Some saintly, worthy figures rise above it all. Their opponents are consigned to the forgotten of the shadows.