Date of Birth: 6-22-1992, Chone (Ecuador)
Date of Entrance in the Servant Sisters: 10-20-2014
Date of Death: 4-16-2016, Playa Prieta (Ecuador)
The girls in the Home of the Mother called her “Cieli.” They began calling her that because her sister said that her eyes were “from heaven” (Cielo in Spanish). Her eyes were not the only thing that caught your attention according to what Sr. Kelly María Pezo writes, “She had always loved us, but the truth is that since she entered as a candidate, her love began to grow more and more. Her face would light up when she would see us, and she would smile with her big smile, which was so luminous.” Sr. Ruth Ibáñez adds, “I remember that she was happy to belong to the Home of the Mother because she loved Our Lady a lot.”
María Augusta was born July 22, 1992 in Chone, in the Province of Manabí (Ecuador). Her parents’ names are Glenda and Odilón and her sister’s name is Andrea. It was precisely with Andrea that Cieli, a young girl at the time, began to come to the Home of the Mother activities. She did not have a good attitude during that time period. She was there because she had to be there, but not because she wanted to be there.
She studied in the Amazonas School in Chone. Gema Menédez, who studied there as well says, “She was a very cheerful girl. She loved her schoolmates a lot and they were very close. I know this because she sometimes asked me to pray for them, especially when she would find out that something had happened to them or if they were in a bad situation.”
Estrella Cornejo tells us about when she first met her. “I met Maria Augusta through her sister Andrea, who was one of my classmates and best friends in college. I remember how she slowly but surely started attending the youth group meetings we had on Sundays. When I first met her, she seemed like a very serious person. Later on, I realized that it was just that she was a bit shy. She was very intelligent and she knew how to act in every circumstance. I was always impressed by the fact that even before she had her conversion, she always dressed very modestly and knew how to make others respect her. I think it was something that came naturally to her.”
Our Lord touched María Augusta’s heart during a summer camp. Her attitude changed completely and she made the decision – now because she was convinced about it – to make her commitment in the Home of the Mother Youth. Gema Menédez remembers, “She entered the Home at camp. It was an important step in her life so that she could begin to love Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin more. She opened her heart to God at that camp. She received an award for her good attitude at the end. After that, she would go to the Sisters’ house, do daily prayer, and tried to live out the virtues. She was very caring.”
Estrella remembers an example of how she tried to grow in virtue. “We would often make rosaries [at the Sisters’ house]. One day, while we were making rosaries, she helped me cut a string that I couldn’t cut on my own. I’m not sure what happened – all I know is that the scissors went in the wrong direction and I ended up cutting her hand. I was amazed at her reaction! All she did was move her hand and say, ‘Don’t worry about it. God shed more blood than this for me.’ I was a candidate at the time and her reaction was an example for me. She was no more than 16 years old at the time.”
Sister Ruth Ibáñez remembers, “Although she didn’t speak much, she always had a smile on her face. She was very helpful and docile. When we would organize fund-raisers in order to go to WYD in Madrid in 2011, she was always there and was one of the most responsible girls. When she would take on a commitment, she was faithful to it and responsible about it.” Her friend, Lisbeth Cedeño comments, “Something that I will never be able to forget about Maria Augusta is the smile that she always had. I don’t remember ever seeing her upset. She was always smiling.”
She was a very good and intelligent student. Moreover, she was very generous with her time when it came to helping others with their studies. Gema Menédez says, “She was a year ahead of me at school. Sometimes I would ask her about things that I didn’t understand, especially chemistry formulas.” Erika Tuárez confirms this saying, “She helped me a lot with my studies, especially in Biology. She was very patient and if it were necessary, she would repeat her explanation 10 times or draw on the chalkboard. She would try to explain the lessons to us in many different ways and we were always satisfied with her answers. Some of my classmates called her ‘Doctor’.”
As the years went by, the Lord began to show her His will for her. They were years of struggles and fears… Estrella went with María Augusta on the pilgrimage that the Home of the Mother organized to the Shrine of Our Lady of “Las Lajas” in Colombia. “What she was most looking forward to was to ask Our Lady to help her not be afraid. At a certain point, however, she came over to me and said, 'It’s that God is just so great that I can’t…' She really struggled with her vocation, as she feared making her parents – especially her father – suffer. She was the youngest in the family and the apple of her father’s eye. She loved him a lot as well.”
When a soul is docile and hears God’s voice, that soul understands that she cannot deny Him anything. However, when the soul realizes how poor she is and how “insufficient,” when she feels frightened…many times that soul reacts defending herself. She needs to enter into conversation with God, which allows her to hear the freeing words “Do not fear. It is I.” The soul also needs to understand that, despite the confusion that she experiences, fleeing from God’s call means fleeing from her happiness. María Augusta experienced this as well.
Estrella continues remembering those important moments in María Augusta’s life. “One day, I was praying Vespers in church, when she walked in. When she saw me praying, she came over to pray with me. We were praying Psalm 44. She was touched by the words, ‘Listen, daughter, behold: pay me careful heed. Forget your people and your father’s house, that the King might desire your beauty. He is your Lord.’ She asked me, ‘What does this Psalm make you think of?’ I told her, ‘Jesus.’ We continued praying and when we had finished, she asked, ‘Is such an intimate relationship with the Lord – as the Psalm describes it – really possible?’ When I told her that I always applied that phrase to myself, whenever I was having a hard time listening to the Lord, she got up and left without letting me finish. I could tell she was struggling inside.”
One of the candidates that lived with her remembers that, “in her struggles to respond to her vocation she would get angry with the candidates.” On one occasion, she apologized to them saying, “I see you and get angry because I still don’t have the necessary strength to do what God wants of me.”
In 2012, a group of girls of the Home organized a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Rosa Mystica, in Olón, Ecuador. María Augusta was a good friend of Mayra’s and they both knew about each other’s struggles with their vocation. They decided to say “yes” to Our Lord together to help each other. This simple gesture helped them both.
María Augusta wanted to study medicine and that is why she moved to Portoviejo. There were several girls of the Home that lived in that city in order to study there, and they decided to help each other maintain their faith. They began living together forming a Home of the Mother Students’ Residence. Gema Menéndez remembers, “The girls in the Residence were an example for me when I went to live there. María Augusta was one of them.”
She wrote a letter to Estrella from Portoviejo, in which she says, “Pray for me, Sister, so that I can be good, and so that I leave me fears behind and stop wasting time.” Not long after, she “stopped wasting time,” to use her own expression, and entered as a Candidate of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother. María Augusta allowed Jesus to “gaze upon her with love” and in that gaze, she found the necessary strength to conquer her fears. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mk 10:21). It was October 20, 2014 in our chapel in the house at Playa Prieta. Sr. Kelly remembers, “You could see that she was really happy. She didn’t speak much about it, but you could tell in the way she walked, the way she smiled, and in her gaze.” Gema Menédez, who witnessed her struggles, comments, “It was difficult for her to respond to her vocation, but in the end she generously said ‘yes’ to God. The day she entered she was full of joy.”
Not long before that, she had been named the Residents’ Assistant in the Home of the Mother Students’ Residence. She explains this to Estrella in a letter in 2014. “Well, I’m still studying in Portoviejo and now I’m in my third year. I’m still in the Students’ Residence and guess what… this semester I’m the Residents’ Assistant. Pray for me so that I do it well. It is a great responsibility and that makes me a little nervous, although I know that it is helping me to unite myself more to Our Lord and to Our Lady.” Everything went fine; María Augusta was an example for her companions on many different levels.
She was responsible with her studies although she knew that they were not the most important thing. Gema Menédez tells us, “I can say that she was always doing what she had to do. Although her school was very difficult because it demanded a lot of study time, she never put it before other things. Rather, she would always try in every possible way to go to Mass, to do daily prayer, to go to the Home of the Mother meetings…” The young women that lived in the Residence all took part in the household chores. We can see María Augusta’s responsibility shine forth in this as well. “She never neglected the chores that we residents had to do. If it was her turn to cook (she liked cooking), she would do so cheerfully and sometimes singing. She also liked to keep things tidy.”
She always paid attention to others’ needs. Erika Tuárez remembers her like this, “María Augusta was like a mother to us. Even when she was tired, she was always attentive to each one of us and was considerate in thinking about even the tiniest things we might need. She taught us a lot and explained everything to us. The very few times that she scolded us, she always did so kindly and firmly.” The girls that lived with her remember, “On the residents’ birthdays she would spend all the time necessary to prepare the party so that the girls would have a happy birthday.” Gema Menéndez confirms this with an example of María Augusta’s generosity and her capacity to see other people’s needs. “When I was going to enter as a Candidate, I went to tell her so that we could both celebrate together. Also, because I figured that she probably had a vocation too. The truth is that she was really happy for me. Right away she asked me if I had the clothes that I needed to be able to enter. I told her that I didn’t and she gave me one of her shirts that were like those that the Candidates wear. She told me to let her know if I needed anything else.”
She also knew how to help avoid difficult situations. Sr. Ruth Ibáñez explains, “When things didn’t go well – because others didn’t do what they were supposed to or they would do things badly – her response was to do things well, with a smile, and even offer to do what the others should have done.” María Augusta’s smile also caught Carolina Aveiga’s attention. “With just her smile she seemed to fix everything.” Estrella says, “Whenever someone got upset, she would immediately sing a song to make us laugh.” One of her classmates from college comments that even in the University María Augusta irradiated peace, “If an argument arose, she was able to end the problem with her loving gaze.”
She had a beautiful relationship with Jesus. Erika Tuárez comments, “María Augusta was truly in love with Jesus. She often tenderly called Him ‘My Dear Jesus.’” It was also very clear for others how much she loved the Blessed Virgin, Our Mother. Whenever something was hard for her, all you had to say was, “Won’t you do it for Our Lady?” To which she would respond without fail, “Yes, for Her I’ll do anything.” She liked the song “Tomad Virgen Pura” (Take O Pure Virgin). She often asked the girls to sing it, saying, “That way Our Lady is always with us.” Gema Menéndez remembers, “When I lived in the Students’ Residence, María Augusta’s love for Our Lady was visible. She liked the Marian Shrine of “Cajas” because she felt closer to Our Blessed Mother. She told me that she loved the song ‘Tomad Virgen Pura’ because in the song you tell the Blessed Virgin that you want to be with her and the angels. Her favorite part is when the song says: ‘A thousand cherubim adorn your mantel. I desire to be with them, Mother take me with you.’ Her heart belonged to God and to Our Lady despite all her struggles.”
María Augusta had a lot of apostolic zeal, although at the beginning she had to fight to overcome her shyness to dare to speak to other young people about God. However, she would do it for love of the Lord and for the souls. Estrella witnessed this effort that she would make. “On one occasion we were doing missions in the center of Chone. We went two by two and María Augusta and I were together. She was really embarrassed to talk because she was shy and it was difficult for her. I told her that if she didn’t want to talk she didn’t have to. She said that since they had sent us out together, it was right that we both had to talk. We had to visit a lot of houses and you could tell that it was difficult for her, but at the end, she had made a great effort.”
She wanted all of her classmates to get to know the Lord and she would invite them to Home of the Mother activities or she would get together with them to talk. Lisbeth Cedeño, a friend a María Augusta’s since childhood, remembers the school trip at the end of the year where some of María Augusta’s classmates made fun of her because she did not want to miss Sunday Mass. She reacted with her usual sweetness, but very firmly. However, several of those classmates ended up at Mass with her.
At the university, she continued being an apostle. Gema Menéndez states, “On several occasions she gave talks to the students of the Technical University of Manabí, who we would always encourage to get to know the Lord. Her words were very attractive because you could see that she was living what she said.” One of her classmates from college describes the impact that María Augusta had on her classmates. “I was one of Maria Augusta’s friends from college, a very close friend. Although it wasn’t easy for her to explain the faith with words, her testimony always spoke very clearly to us. She demonstrated this to us with her life, as if she were invulnerable to our sins.”
Summer Camps are very important activities in the Home of the Mother and they help the young people that take part in them. They help the participants to mature on both a human and spiritual level, and it is an occasion for many of them to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. However, you need other young people, in love with Jesus, to be like “leaven” in the midst of the flour. Ever since her first summer camp, the Sisters realized that they could count on María Augusta as an unconditional and self-giving apostle. Sr. Ruth tells us, “We had her be an assistant camp counselor at the first camp. She surprised us a lot, because although her shyness made it difficult for her, she dedicated herself completely [to the task]. The camp counselor of her group said that if it weren’t for María Augusta, she wouldn’t have been able to do anything with the group.” Gema Menéndez confirms this, “María Augusta was a very self-giving young woman. Although she didn’t like certain things, for example getting dirty or teaching the girls that they had to eat everything on their plate (I know this because she was my friend), she did them out of love for God and for souls.”
Estrella remembers the 2011 camp, “She was the group counselor and I was her assistant. There were four girls that were friends amongst themselves and that complained about everything. One day, the girls didn’t like what was for lunch and didn’t want to eat it. María Augusta put it all on her plate and began to eat so as not to throw it out. I was amazed because I knew that she did not like that dish either. Seeing that she had a triple portion, I tried to help her, but it was useless because she wouldn’t let me. I suppose that she was offering everything up. (…) There were many other details that impressed me during the same camp. María Augusta was giving her best.”
María Augusta also stood out for her apostolic zeal in the Puyo missions in the Amazon. Sr. Gema remembers, “We had walked a long way through the forest on muddy paths, and had waded through fast-flowing rivers with water up to our waists. María Augusta completely gave of herself although she was tired due to all the physical effort. When we would reach the villages, she would forget that she was tired and would play with the children. She did so to gain their confidence to later be able to teach them catechism.”
Sr. Kelly María remembers the last time she saw María Augusta, “I gave her a hug and told her to look to Our Lady, because She would teach her to be faithful.” After that, María Augusta – like the other candidates –spent her last days generously working to help the sisters in Playa Prieta clean the school that had been flooded.
The earthquake on April 16, 2016 demolished the main building of our school “Holy Family Educational Center” and trapped the eleven Sisters and candidates that were inside. A brave and generous team of volunteers (made up of friends, Home of the Mother members, and ex-students) worked tirelessly to save them. We will never be able to thank them enough. They had saved five of them an hour and a half after the terrible earthquake, but there were six remaining. They fought with all their might to find them, but Our Heavenly Mother came to take her daughters with her.
When they found María Augusta, they saw that she had tried to protect Valeria. It was Cieli’s last act of charity.