Blessed Mary Catherine Irigoyen Echegaray was born in Pamplona, Navarre (Spain) on November 25, 1848. She was the 6th of 7 children of the Irigoyen Echegaray Family who resided on Mercaderes Street #9 (what is now Blanca de Navarra).
Her parents were Tiburcio Irigoyen and Leonarda Echegaray. Her father was a native of Errazu in the Valley of Baztánand was the President of the Representatives of the Region of Navarre. Her mother was a native of Pamplona whose family was related to the family of Saint Francis Xavier.
On November 26, the feast of the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Catherine was baptized in the Cathedral of Pamplona, and on November 26, 1860, Mary Catherine received her First Holy Communion. Belonging to a family with deep christian values, she was brought up in the faith, and as a young woman she was president of the Children of Mary. Her charity was manifest within her own family as well as with the sick and the poor.
Mary Catherine’s mother, Leonarda, died on December 17, 1868, and just three years later her father, Tiburcio, died on February 15, 1871. By this time, February of 1871, her older sisters, Joaquina and Cipriana, had already married so the Irigoyen household looked to Mary Catherine for her guidance and care. She was able to successfully run the household with her prudent and well-balanced character.
The family lived in the house on Mercaderes Street# 9 and was made up of her brothers Juan Pedro Alejandrino, 30, and Norberto, 24; and Mary Catherine, 22. Also under the same roof, were Mercedes Irigoyen, her father’s elderly sister and “Uncle José Luis”, her mother’s severely mentally handicapped brother who was dearly loved in the family. Mary Catherine did everything she could to take care of all of them and counted on the valuable help and support of her trusted friend, Juana Artola. They worked together, sharing the chores, time for rest and pious devotions.
All who knew her were struck by her kindness, her strong yet gentle character, perseverance and determination. She always appeared to be “lighthearted, joyful and strong-spirited; she was ready to welcome everyone with cheerfulness and to help them in whatever way she could”.
She had time for everybody and appeared to be untiring. Despite the amount of attention her own family required, she even found time to visit the hospital, and out of her thoughtfulness, she was determined to take the patients’ laundry to her own home to wash and mend it if necessary. The most admirable of her qualities was the simplicity with which she went about her work. One witness testified that “she did everything so naturally that we were hardly aware of her humility”.
When the Servants of Mary arrived in Pamplona in 1878, she asked their Foundress, Saint María Soledad Torres Acosta for admittance into the Institute. She entered the convent in Pamplona on December 31, 1881, and then moved to the Novitiate in Madrid. She received the Holy Habit on March 12, 1882, and her name was changed from Mary Catherine to María de los Desposorios (Mary of the Espousals). She made her Temporary Profession on May 14, 1883 and her Perpetual Profession on July 15, 1889. She would remain in Madrid until her death.
As a Servant of Mary, she showed great charity in her untiring care for the sick during the recurrent cholera, typhus and smallpox epidemics that plagued Spain during that era as well as the influenza of 1890. She was particularly known for being totally dedicated to the sick without any fear of becoming infected herself.
“All I can do is serve” was the motto of her life, and she gave herself unconditionally to anyone who needed her, within and outside the convent. She found time for everything, and her life was sustained by her limitless love for the Eucharist. She would spend long hours in adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist.
In 1913 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone. After a lengthy illness which she accepted with complete abandonment into the hands of God and with a widespread reputation of holiness, she died in Madrid on October 10, 1918.
“No matter what becomes of me, my only desire is to love God without interruption until the end of my life.”
“When I profess, I do not want to be distracted by anything that has to do with business or personal interests. Once and for all I would like to be finished with all earthly affairs that distract me. I am becoming a Servant of Mary because what I truly desire is to sacrifice myself and suffer much for the love of God.”
“My greatest desire is to come to know Jesus better and to always do his divine will through obedience. It is my only concern.”
“I only wish to love and serve Jesus, my beloved Spouse, more perfectly each day. He has greatly blessed me by choosing me to be His spouse. Jesus is my life, without Him I cannot live.”
“As we leave the house, let us offer God our steps, thoughts and words, the mortifications and humiliations that come our way and everything we do with His grace today. All for You, my God, all for You.”
“We must offer all of our steps for the love of God so as to win many souls for Him.”
“We must love the Church very much. We must pray much for the Holy Father and for Priests: that God give them strength and light to work for the good of souls.”
“Let us follow Christ through the streets on His sorrowful way and offer Him everything for the salvation of mankind.”
“Let us pray for those who do not have faith and to make amends to the Lord for the way they have offended Him.”
“I am deeply grateful to the Lord for the illness He has sent me. Because of it I can devote many hours of the day before the Tabernacle in His presence since I cannot do anything else. I am very resigned to my suffering. May it all be for the love of God.”
Prayer to obtain from God a grace through the intercession of Blessed Mary Catherine Irigoyen
Lord Jesus, physician of body and soul, you called Sister Mary Catherine to be consecrated to you as a Servant of Mary so that dedicated to the service of the sick, she would be the strengthening and healing presence of your love.
Grant us this same union with you that filled and inspired her entire life. Through her intercession, we ask you to grant us the grace we implore of you today for your greater glory. Amen.