Monday, December 16, 2013

Our Lady of Providence

In these desperate days the Church turned to Our Lady for help, and help came when the Catalonian Bishop Gil Estévez y Tomás was named bishop of Puerto Rico in 1848.  The Bishop brought an image of Our Lady of the Divine Providence, an oil painting of the Virgin with the divine infant sleeping peacefully in her arms, with him from Catalonia.  He shared his own personal devotion to Our Lady of Providence and placed his struggling Diocese in her hands.  In less than five years the dilapidated Cathedral along with Diocesan finances were miraculously restored.  (Catholic New World)  A new concordat was drawn up between the Spanish government and the Holy See and peace was restored.   

When Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States in 1898 the Spanish governor of the island was also vice patron of the Catholic Church.  But, the nature of the American Government made such a partnership between Church and State impossible.  The American government did however agree to fulfill all obligations of justice towards the Church. (Jones) Bishop Estévez y Tomás ordered a special image of Our Lady of Divine Providence to be carved in Barcelona. This image was delivered to San Juan in 1853.  The Church continued to seek restitution of all of the properties of the diocese, the Bishop’s residence, the seminary building, the cathedral, several parish churches, and the hospital that had been seized by the local government prior to the Spanish American War. There was great concern both in the U.S and in Puerto Rico regarding the outcome and a special commission was appointed by President Roosevelt, composed of two members for the United States, two for the Church, and two for the Puerto Rican Government.  

An agreement was finally reached in August of 1908 settling eleven claims between the Catholic Church and the Government, and the Diocese was awarded the sum of about $300,000.  The Bishop and Church of Puerto Rico gave thanks to Our Lady of Divine Providence for this great victory in the courts.  At that time the Diocese of Puerto Rico was comprised of 78 parishes owned and managed by religious orders of men including Augustinians, Capuchins, Dominicans and Redemptorists.  A few hundred Carmelites, Sisters of Charity, Religious of the Sacred Heart, Servants of Mary, Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart and Sisters of St. Francis were serving in the diocese, but more missionaries were needed.