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Laura Montoya, a saint who dedicated her life to Indigenous people

Black and white portrait photo of St. Laura Montoya

Public Domain

St. Laura Montoya

Luisa Restrepo - published on 03/19/24

This Colombian saint was a generous teacher, brave missionary, a mystic, a prophet, a passionate writer, and a brave founder.

“Two thirsty people, my Jesus: you for souls, and I for quenching your thirst. What is stopping us then?” (St. Laura Montoya)

The missionary work in favor of the Indigenous people that Mother Laura undertook for many years is worthy of a great woman and was unusual one for the time in which she lived.

No one ever thought that Laura, a teacher born in a small town in Antioquia (Colombia) on May 26, 1874, would also become a pioneer, a fighter, and a great example for the women of her time — and for people today.

Moved by the plight of a forgotten people

She believed in the dignity of Indigenous peoples, who were as forgotten in her time as they are today. The situation in which they lived was painful for Laura, because they were looked upon as inhuman savages.

That is why at the age of 39 she decided to move to Dabeiba, a remote town in Antioquia, to work with the Emberá Katíos Indigenous people.

A missionary adventure

In the company of 6 catechists, riding a mule, she entered the mountains of Antioquia. She would write about it in her autobiography:

On September 8, 1910, the day of Mary’s nativity, I wrote a letter to the president of the Republic, asking him for support to undertake the work of the Indigenous people. On the 24th, the day of Our Lady of Mercy, I received a favorable response. (…) The gentlemen and ladies of Frontino visited us and they all laughed at the project, as if it were adventures written by Jules Verne.

We left Uramita as happy as if we were going to Rome. Dabeiba had been our wild fantasy; they knew well that it was like the incarnation of my dream… Ana Saldarriaga saw two huge snakes and didn’t speak up because she was on horseback and if she spoke the mule would throw her down. That’s not surprising at all because snakes were very abundant in that place.

That same day we put aside our titles as ladies. We made an agreement to call each other sisters, to better ensure respect. Immediately after I proposed this name to my classmates, they replied that they would call me Mother.

My authority was not soft; it was as energetic as the commitment we had with God and with men needed it to be, apart from the supreme suffering of souls. I understood very clearly that the success of the company and proving to the world that the work was possible in the hands of women, depended on the energy and self-sacrifice of the first women.

(Historia de las Misericordias de Dios en un Alma, “History of God’s Mercies in a Soul”)

The foundress of a community

Nobody could understand why a woman would dedicate herself to that type of work. Many considered Laura’s ideas to be too liberal and tried to prevent her missionary enterprise.

However, on May 14, 1914, not without opposition and with many hardships, Laura founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena, made up of that first group of friends who accompanied her to Dabeiba.

From then on she dedicated herself to establishing centers with the sisters close to the Indigenous communities, while their main house remained in Dabeiba.

Mother Laura wrote more than 30 books in which she narrated her mystical experiences, and after a lifetime dedicated to others, she died in Medellín on October 21, 1949.

This great woman was a generous teacher, a brave missionary, a mystic and a prophet, a passionate writer, and a brave founder.

She represents and receives the legacy of great women who have shaped the Latin American social fabric. There is a reason why Laura Montoya became the first Colombian saint.


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