Blessed Laura Vicuñas is the patron of abuse victims. She was born April 5, 1891, in Santiago, Chile, the daughter of Joseph Dominic Vicuña and Mercedes Pino.
Joseph was an officer in the army who belonged to a distinguished family of Spanish origin. His wife, Mercedes, came from an ordinary Chilean household. The Vicuña family had disowned Joseph because they disapproved his marriage with Mercedes.
Chile was experiencing political unrest. The President of the Republic, Joseph Emanuel Balmaceda, who was supported by the Vicuñas, abdicated. Despised his efforts, revolution broke out. There was violent reaction against supporters of the former president, including the Vicuñas. In those days, it was sufficient to be called a Vicuña or a Balmaceda to be persecuted to the point of death.
Joseph Vicuñas sensed the danger and went into exile in Temuco with Mercedes and their little daughter. In 1893, Laura’s little sister Julia Amanda was born. Soon after, Joseph died of pneumonia.
Mercedes, now a young widow in her late twenties, had to spend long hours sewing to support herself and her two daughters. She took up dressmaking and saved money to purchase a shop – a haberdashery store.
One night in 1899, thieves broke into the store and stole everything. Mercedes felt defenceless and decided to leave Temuco for Neuquén in Argentinia. Mercedes and her daughters made a first stop at Norquin, then moved on to Las Lajas towards the south. At the end of 1899 they were near Junín de Los Andes.
In the midst of insecurity, Mercedes clung to a man named Manual Mora, a wealthy ranch owner. He was about 40, a handsome but perverse man. Mercedes thought he would be a protector for herself and the children, so she followed him and lived with him. However, Manual had no intention of marrying her.
Another woman, Tomasa Catala, had been Manual's mistress at the Quilquihué ranch and had been subjected to cruel treatment. When Manual was tired of her, he tied her to a horse post. After branding her flesh with a red-hot iron used to mark his herds he drove her away. Manual also mistreated the natives, horsemen, shepherds, and servants. He used the whip not only on dogs, but on people as well.
The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (also known today as the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco) were opening a school at Junín de Los Andes. Mercedes wanted to put Laura and Julia into their care. Manuel was willing to pay the monthly school fee and for their clothes. Mercedes travelled on horseback for 20 km from Quilquihué to Junín. She introduced herself to Sister Angela Piai, the Superior, and asked for two places for her daughters.
Laura was overjoyed to go to school. She told a priest that she could not explain the reason for this deep joy which took over like a fountain of clear water. She said, “It's true, however, that I was happy, Baby Jesus must have been pleased with my mother’s decision.”
A religious sister recalled that Laura could read and write a little and could say some prayers. Though she had very little religious knowledge, she had an innocent heart that was ready to discover God.
Soon Laura learned to live according to a timetable and to look after herself and her personal belongings as well as those of her sister. She followed the religious sisters to pray in the chapel, which helped her to encounter God.
At the beginning of the school year, Laura listened to a reading of the school rules: “Try to practice virtue from your earliest years because to wait for old age is to put yourself in very grave danger of being eternally lost.”
Young Laura had the intuition that her mother, being the mistress of Manual, had gone far away from God and was in danger of eternal perdition.