Yermo y Parres, José María de, St.

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Founder of the Christian Mercy Program and the Congregation of the Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Poor (Congregación de las Servidoras del Sagrado Corazón ); b. Nov. 10, 1851, Hacienda de Jalmolonga, Malinalco, Mexico; d. Sept. 20, 1904, Puebla de los Angeles, Mexico.

José María was the only child of a lawyer, Manuel de Yermo y Soviñas, and his wife María Josefa Parres, who died 50 days after his birth. Under careful religious training by his father and his paternal aunt, José María soon discovered his vocation. He received his academic education from tutors, then by members of the Congregation of the Mission (vincentians) (186167). Emperor Maximilian gave him a medal for his academic excellence.

At age 16 he left home to join the Vincentians in Mexico City. In 1873, he founded a youth group called the "Angel of Purity." José María was sent to Paris for his theological studies. After his return to Mexico and a vocational crisis, he left the Vincentians to study in the diocesan seminary of León, Guerrero, and was ordained (Aug. 24, 1879).

Early in his career José María was known for his eloquence, promotion of catechesis for children, and care in fulfilling diocesan duties as secretary of the diocesan seminary, master of ceremonies, choir chaplain, and pro-secretary to the bishop. When his health began to fail him in 1885, the new bishop assigned Father José María to the outlying churches of El Calvario (Calvary) and El Santo Niño (Holy Child). The young priest wanted to resign upon being confronted with the misery of poverty, but accepted his assignment as God's will.

On Dec. 13, 1885, he founded the Asilo del Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart Shelter) at the hilltop near Calvary Church with the help of four women and a doctor. These women became the nucleus of the Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Poor as they began their novitiate (June 19, 1888). The following year the congregation was transferred to Puebla de los Angeles, where it grew rapidly and spread throughout Mexico.

Despite many tribulations during the rest of his short life, José María founded schools, hospitals, and homes for the elderly, orphans, and repentant women. His Christian Mercy program at Puebla freed women from lives of prostitution. On Sept. 20, 1904 he established the mission among the indigenous Tarahumaras of northern Mexico.

The saint left behind many writings, not all of which have been published, despite his having obtained printing equipment from Italy and France. He edited the first magazine for the formation of Mexican clergy (El reproductor eleciástico ).

Father José María, known for his personal asceticism, obedience, and love of the poor, died at age 52. His mortal remains lie beneath the main altar of the congregation's convent chapel in Puebla. He was both beatified (May 6 1990, Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Mexico City) and canonized (May 21, 2000, Jubilee of Mexico, Rome) by John Paul II.

[k. i. rabenstein]