Rafaela Maria Porras y Ayllón was born in Pedro Abad, a province of Córdoba (Spain), on the 1st March 1850. Her parents gave her a good Christian education, which was particularly effective because it was based on example. Saint Raphaela Mary was four years old when her father, the Mayor of Pedro Abad, who was personally and wholeheartedly committed to the service of the poor, contracted cholera during the epidemic and died.
The education she received from her mother, a mixture of caring tenderness and soft discipline helped to develop the best traits of her character.
From an early age she was always attentive to God’s voice and decided to give herself to Him completely. The proof of this firm decision is the vow of chastity she made when she was fifteen years old. Her mother’s death, when she was only nineteen, was another strong moment of her self-giving to God. From then on, she was entirely devoted to the underprivileged, and was always there to console those in need or in pain in her town.
Raphaela Mary lived through this with her older sister, Dolores (Mother Pilar), who was also one of the Foundresses of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Following unexpected ways, the two sisters started the first Community of Handmaids in Madrid on the 14th April 1877. In an atmosphere of profound friendship and solidarity, they lived in total dedication to the Eucharist and the christian education of girls, particularly the poorest.
The first Handmaids, witnesses of God in a world afflicted by the pains of several wars, strived, by all available means, to proclaim the love of Christ, love until the end, clearly symbolized in His open heart. Raphaela Mary and her sister Dolores made this the goal and mission of the Congregation. They developed this with their work and gave life to it with their spirit.
After having run the Congregation as Superior General for sixteen years, Raphaela Mary had to face very painful moments. Due to a series of misunderstandings, her closest Sisters started to mistrust her decisions, questioning her qualities and even the clarity of her mind. Following the advice of relevant people, she simply resigned her office as Superior General in favour of her sister, Mother Pilar. Without bitterness of heart, criticism or resentment, seeing the invisible hand of God who, with infinite love was molding her as clay, she accepted until the end of her life – she was then only forty-three years old – the martyrdom of “doing nothing”.
Devoted to prayer and to simple household chores, which she saw as her means to actualize her immense desire to help the Congregation and the Church, Saint Raphaela Mary saw the growth of the work born from her love and nurtured by her suffering. Always at peace, she believed against all hope in the faithful God, who, in His own way, would carry forward the work she and her sister had started.
On the 6th January 1925, she entered into the joy of her Lord quietly and peacefully. She was canonised by Pope Paul VI on the 23th January 1977.
The feast of Saint Raphaela Mary is celebrated on the 18th May, the date of her beatification.