The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 15, 2001 Issue
Saint of the Day

Sometimes a happy marriage can still end in divorce

Two sisters, whose marriages dissolved, founded convents

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

We live in an age when the dissolution of marriages is far too common, even with recent decreases in the divorce rate. Despite how frequently marriages end, most of us feel regret when hearing such news, particularly if we know the couple well.

Having a marriage end through divorce is difficult enough, but what about a couple who does't want their marriage to end, but it must end for reasons beyond their control, such as death? Or what about a marriage that outside forces terminate despite the wishes of the couple? What happens then?

Such was the case for St. Teresa of Portugal, who was born about three-fourths of the way through the 12th century and who died midway through the 13th century.

Teresa was the eldest daughter of King Sancho I of Portugal. She also was the sister of Ss. Mafalda and Sanchia.

Teresa was married to King Alfonso IX of León - her cousin, a common practice for many centuries. They had several children and were apparently happy, until their marriage was declared invalid because they were related to each other.

Teresa returned to Portugal and her estate at Lorvao, where she converted a Benedictine monastery into a convent where the nuns followed the Cistercian rule. The community proved so popular that she had the convent expanded to accommodate 300 nuns. Though not a nun herself, she lived there.

Then, in about 1231, she was asked by Berengaria - the second wife of King Alfonso and his widow - to help resolve a dispute among their children over who should be the king of León. After working out an agreement, she returned to Lorvao and probably became a nun. She died in 1250. We celebrate her feast on June 17.

Interestingly, her sister, Mafalda (1204-1252), had a similar experience. When she was 11, she married King Henry I of Castile. But their marriage also was dissolved because they were too closely related. She became a Benedictine nun at Arouca Convent, and convinced the community to switch to the Cistercian rule. She used her inheritance to build a hostel for travelers and to restore the Oporto Cathedral. We celebrate her feast on May 2.

The third sister-saint, Sanchia, was born in 1182. She retired to her father's estate after his death in 1211 and helped support the fledgling Franciscan and Dominican foundations in Portugal. She founded an Augustinian convent at Celles, but, like her sisters, switched it to the Cistercian rule in 1223 and became a nun there. She died in 1229. We also celebrate her feast on June 17.

The three sisters remind us that we are called to lives of sanctity, no matter what our vocations may be.

(Sources: Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints and 365 Saints.)

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