Today in 1891, Laura Carmen Vicuna was born the daughter of Joseph Dominic Vicuña and Mercedes Pino in Santiago de Chile. Living a short life, dying at the age of 12 in Argentina, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988 and there are popular shrines to her in Chile, Argentina, the US and the Philippines. Because of violence towards her from her stepfather, she has been declared a patron for abuse victims. Her life story has only become known to the wider world because of the persistence and witness of the nuns who educated her. They saw first hand how she loved her mother who was trapped in a toxic relationship and how this young girl with a generous heart was prepared to sacrifice everything for her mothers wellbeing in a punitive and macho culture.
Born into a wealthy family, her father Joseph, was an officer in the army. However after her Laura’s younger sister was born, Santiago had become a politically unstable place, a revolution had left the government of Chile in the hands of a junta under Admiral Jorge Montt. Joseph, Laura’s father found himself cut off from the life and happenings in the capital. He belonged to a distinguished family associated with the previous regime. He was a gentle type of man, and he died of pneumonia within a few days. His wife, Lauras mother, Mercedes, was Chilean, high-spirited and very beautiful but the Vicuña family had disowned Joseph because he had married beneath him.
Mercedes moved to the Argentina with her daughters, in search of a way to finance the girls education, Mercedes took a job in a hostel, although at a cost, the unscrupulous owner Manuel Mora, propositioned her, promising to pay for Laura's education in exchange for a relationship. Laura entered the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians School, where, under the care of the nuns, she began to take a deep interest in the Catholic faith. She spent a lot of time in prayer in the school's chapel prating for her mother's and for her to have the courage to leave Manuel Mora. When Mora found out that Laura was thinking of becoming a nun he stopped paying for her education.
When the nuns at her school learned of the conflict, they gave Laura and her sister scholarships. One day, remembering the phrase of Jesus: “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends," Laura prayed that she could give her own life in exchange for her mother's salvation. When she became seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis, Laura told her mother: “Mama, I offer my life for you, I asked our Lord for this.” When she told her mother that her deepest desire was that she would change direction, Mercedes, answered: “I swear, I will do whatever you ask me! God is the witness of my promise!" The 12 year old Laura smiled and said: "Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Mary! Goodbye, Mother! Now I die happy!" She died of her disease, weakened by the physical abuse she previously received from Mora.
The Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco started Laura's canonization process in the 1950s. The congregation commended that duty to the nun Cecilia Genghini, who spent many years collecting information about Laura's life. They were encouraged by the beatification of Dominic Savio and the canonization of Maria Goretti in the 1950’s, both teenagers. In 1986, Laura was declared Venerable. Every candidate for beatification, except in the case of martyrs, must have had a miracle associated with them as a request from prayers. In Laura's case, the requisite miracle concerned the Ofelia del Carmen Lobos Arellano. In August 1955, doctors told Ofelia that she would die of lung cancer in a few months, but when she invoked Laura's prayers, the disease disappeared. September 3, 1988, saw Laura's beatification by Pope John Paul II. Her feastday is celebrated on January 22.
No photograph of Laura was known until recently, when a group photograph taken at her school was discovered showing her true appearance. Church depictions have been changed to more accurately portray her as a serious-looking mestizo child.