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Beatriz da Silva – Part III

The Difficult Start of the Conceptionist Order

Marian T. Horvat

For 30 years, Dona Beatriz da Silva had lived in San Domingo el Real Convent in Toledo, waiting to fulfill the command Our Lady gave her to found an Order dedicated to her Immaculate Conception. For 30 years she lived silent, hidden, remaining faithful to her mission, confident that her wait was the seed that would give a great harvest in the Church and the world.

Beatriz da Silva, Beatrice de Silva

Ven. Beatriz da Silva (1424-1492)
Finally, in 1483, Beatriz da Silva and the 12 women she had been forming established themselves in a castle outside Toledo, which became the first Conceptionist Convent of Santa Fe. Another wait ensued as she set about getting papal approval of the Order, which was received from Pope Innocent VII in 1489 in a miraculous way, as we saw in the last article .Then, on the very day she took her vows and was clothed in the blue and white habit of the Conceptionists, she left this earth. From Heaven, she would guide the new Order.

A prophecy fulfilled

Beatriz had the custom of spending long hours at night in the choir, praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Once, as she was fervently begging Our Lady for the papal approval of her long-awaited Order, she saw the light of the Blessed Sacrament go out. Alarmed, she prayed with greater ardor, and she saw the light return, although she did not see who lit it.

Then she heard these words, “What you have seen will happen to your Order. It will be extinguished after your death, but like the Church that was persecuted at her beginning but afterwards flourished and was acclaimed, it will grow and spread throughout the world.”

This came to pass exactly as foretold to Mother Beatriz da Silva. On the very day of her death, Mother Beatriz, clothed as a Conceptionist, appeared to Franciscan Fray Juan de Tolosa in Guadalajara, telling him to go to Toledo to defend her Order.

The nuns of the new Order were already under siege by the nuns of San Domingo, where the Foundress had lived for three decades. The established Cistercian Order was already trying to merge the still unprofessed nuns from the Convent of Santa Fe with their Order and have Beatriz’ body interred in their Convent.

Archbishop Cisneros, Conceptionists

Archbishop Cisneros - a strong promoter of the new Conceptionist Order
Fray Juan de Tolosa was able to convince the religious of San Domingos to leave the fledgling Conceptionist community in the Convent of Santa Fe. Then, on August 25, 1490, he received the vows of the 12 nuns headed by the new Mother Abbess Filipa da Silva, the niece of Mother Beatriz.

This was just the first of the hard trials the young community would have to confront. Soon the convent was facing another merger, this time with the Convent of San Pedro de las Dueñas in Toledo. That Benedictine convent was decaying in spirit, having lost its first fervor. For this reason, the Reformer General of all the Orders of Castile, Archbishop of Toledo Francisco de Cisneros, ordered the Conceptionist Convent of Santa Fe to go there to live. The San Pedro community was to adopt the Conceptionist habit and way of life, the two communities living together under the Conceptionist Abbess Mother Filipa da Silva.

The period of change was difficult, and strong divisions rose in the fused community. The nuns of the older Order resented the corrections and customs imposed by the newer and less established Order.

The situation reached the point that Archbishop Cisneros, himself a Franciscan and promoter of the Immaculate Conception, was prepared to dissolve the new Order. This was not, however, the plan of God, who inspired the Prelate to make a last attempt to save the Order. In 1500 the Conceptionist nuns were installed in the Convent of St. Francis in Toledo, under the Order of Conventual Franciscans. The light of the almost extinguished Order was re-lit.

The light spreads

Queen Isabel also did not abandon the Order founded by her Portuguese relative Beatriz da Silva. After Beatriz’ death, the Queen along with Archbishop Cisneros were influential figures in shaping the future of the Order. In 1511, she petitioned Alexander VI, asking him to approve a new Rule for the Conceptionist Order and to place it under the Franciscans rather than the Archdiocesan authority.

On September 17, 1511, Pope Julius II issued the Bull Ad statum properum, which confirmed the Rule of the Order of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Beatriz da Silva had always desired, her Order was finally placed under the Order of the Friars Minor. The Conceptionist Order then had its own Rule and was inserted onto the tree of St. Francis of Assisi.

The wings of the fledgling Order opened and it took flight, entering a period of growth and vigor. New convents flowered first in Spain, with 40 convents founded just in Castile in the 16th century.

The Order soon spread to Portugal, Italy and France, as young women showed themselves eager to embrace the life inspired by Beatriz da Silva under the sign of Mary in her invocation of Immaculate Conception. The Conceptionist Order, once on the verge of seeing its first house extinguished, had become one of the major feminine Religious Orders of contemplative life in the Church.

Conceptionist tree

The Conceptionist Order - a Franciscan tree that has given rich fruit
The first convent in America was founded in the year 1540 and was sponsored by Franciscan Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, the same Prelate Our Lady chose to witness the miracle of Guadalupe. On the fecund Conceptionist tree we find the great mystical writer, Mother Mary of Jesus of Agreda, author of The City of God. During the years 1620 to1631, this Conceptionist nun bilocated to the America, making more than 500 visits to the Indians of the Southwest to instruct them in the Catholic Faith and direct them to the Franciscan missions to ask for Baptism.

Another of the Order’s rich fruits in America has only come to light recently. In 1577, Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres helped to found the first Conceptionist Convent in Quito, Ecuador. She was favored with many apparitions of Our Lady of Good Success, who revealed to her the disastrous state of society and the Church in the 20th century and asked her to be an expiatory victim soul for those times, our times. Our Lady also told her that only in that calamitous century would her name become known, as it has happened.

Another of the prophecies of Our Lady to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres was that the Conceptionist Foundress, Beatriz da Silva, would be raised to the altars only in the 20th century. In fact, her cause was introduced in 1636, and she was named Venerable. But then centuries passed with no further action.

Her cause was finally reopened under Pope Pius XI and she was beatified in 1924. In 1976 she was canonized with her feast set on August 17, the day she had professed her vows and died.

After more than 400 years, the Conceptionist Order has more than 120 convents spread through Europe and Latin America. As the two friars she met on her way to Toledo had foretold, Beatriz da Silva became a grande señora and mother of many children.

Today the mortal remains of this spouse of Christ repose in the church of the motherhouse in Toledo. There they bear witness that the star of Beatriz will always illuminate the firmament of the Conceptionist Order as the secure guide in the darkness and testimony of her unflagging confidence in the Immaculate Virgin.

Beatrice de Silva, Conceptionist Order

A painting celebrating the life and legacy of Ven. Beatriz da Silva
Posted March 23, 2012

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