SALESIAN COOPERATOR (JUNE 9, 1983)
“THE POOR WILL BE MY FIRST THOUGHT”
Dorothea was born in Santiago, Chile on June 5, 1816 to a rich Catholic family — rich in children (18 of them!) and worldly goods. Three years later, soon after Chile gained independence from Spain, don Pedro Nolasco Chopitea brought his family to Barcelona. Dorothea was energetic, lively, enterprising, but with a heart of gold.
When she was 13 she chose Fr. Peter Nardò as her spiritual director and he guided her for around 50 years. She was well educated. On Fr. Peter’s advice, she married an excellent young man when she was but 16, Joseph Serra who was a banker and businessman.
They remained happily and faithfully married for 50 years. In the end, Joseph would say, “our love grew daily.” Six children were born to them: Dorothea, Anna Mary, Isabella, Mary Luisa, Carmen and Gesuina. Dorothea’s main concern was to live mainly for God. She developed her piety through daily Mass, Communion and the rosary. But the most extraordinary of all was her charity towards everyone, especially the poor.
Her love for the poor came first in her scale of values. “The poor will be my first thought.” She was called “God’s almsgiver.” She went with her husband on his various journeys, and was received by Leo XIII who treated her with great deference. Some thirty foundations resulted from her and her husband’s charity: kindergartens, schools, hospitals, workshops.
On September 20, 1882, already a widow for several months, she wrote to Don Bosco, “I would like to found a work for young workers and orphans in Barcelona’s suburbs.” Don Bosco accepted, and Dorothea thus became a Salesian Cooperator.
The work began at Sarrià in 1884. She also worked with Don Rinaldi, provincial in Spain, to set up other Salesian works, and the future Rector Major says this of her, “Many times I heard her say that she carried out the humblest of services for the sick.” In April 1886 Don Bosco met with the holy benefactress, ever ready to help him. When Don Bosco died, Donna Dorothea began three new works, amongst which Santa Dorothea College in Sarrià, entrusted to the FMA, and for which she gave money she was keeping for her own old age.
Don Bosco called her “our mamma of Barcelona.” Dorothea, like Mamma Margaret before her, died poor on April 3, 1891. She is buried at Barcelona-Sarrià.