(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

A beautiful young girl, daughter of a prominent family, Gracia had decided to renounce the world in order to enter the benevolent order of St. Vincent de Paul. Her first assignment was in a home for poverty-stricken old men. Among these aged pensioners, her favorite was Gabriel, formerly valet to her own grandfather; but she gave freely of her love and energy to them all. Gradually she became well acquainted with Trajano, a super-annuated anarchist, and with Liborio, a half-witted Cuban, whose only escape from melancholy was accomplished by Gracia’s gifts of cigars and the personal attention she gave him.

She found true happiness in this unselfish service, but her family felt other wise about her choice of a career. They thought that Gracia was wasting herself on old men who were dull and repulsive—her mother and sister did not see how she could bear to go near them. Visiting Gracia at the institution, they begged her to return home. Her father, whom Gracia dearly loved and respected, added his pleas; but the girl, though shaken by this emotional tug of war, still firmly declared that she must dedicate her life and happiness to help atone for the world’s misery.

Ten years passed. Gracia was no longer at the asylum for old men. Halfway through this period of time, she had been transferred to another institution, this one a maternity home for unwed mothers. Here her fidelity to her vows met a stern test, for Gracia found herself sorely tried by the confusion and heartbreak which she saw all about her. The outcasts of society to whom she tried to minister were all different—even though it was the same kind of misstep which had brought them to the home—and they reacted to her advances in ways which were painfully unpredictable. Some of the girls were incorrigible; Quica, for example, was a perennial visitor, shedding the reproaches of the good sisters as casually as a duck sheds water. Others were girls whose characters were fundamentally good, like the fiercely independent Candelas. Neither Quica nor Candelas, however, presented such a problem as the aristocratic and embittered Margarita, whose wall of resentment could no longer be pierced by any gesture of compassion or sympathy. In trying to cope with the hysteria of Margarita, Sister Gracia underwent such strain that she herself soon reached the verge of emotional collapse.

At that point young Dr. Enrique, the physician at the home, decided that it was time to intervene. He had long loved Gracia in silence, respecting her vow, but now he urged her to marry him and leave an atmosphere which was proving so harmful to her. In becoming his wife, he pointed out, Gracia...

(The entire section is 1087 words.)