Exactly how did King Baudouin and Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragón meet?
There is quite a lot of confusion and misinformation on this point of their story, and they certainly did nothing to clarify the situation as they always said the story about meeting and how they came to fall in love and be engaged would be one they would reserve to tell their children. Unfortunately, they suffered five miscarriages – the last two of which almost killed Fabiola.
About the “arranged marriage” it absolutely was no an arranged marriage. It was a facilitated search and I supposed one could say arranged first introduction. After that, the church (including Suenens (later Cardinal) and the former nun Veronica O’Brien). I just do not understand why there’s so much confusion and spin in the press about a few things in their lives.
Think of it this way – Think of a couple where the wife has a girlfriend and the husband has a business associate or say a cousin. And the couple think these two people would be good together. It’s sort of along those lines.
(later) Cardinal Suenens was a spiritual mentor to King Baudouin, especially during the first 10 years of his reign which were quite lonely and he suffered isolation. Baudouin told Suenens late in 1959 that he knew he needed to get married – I believe this point was really driven home by Albert’s marriage to Paola in July of that same year. But, I also think he had been thinking about marriage for a few years by that point. He had been introduced to virtually all the available princesses in Europe. This is where people don’t really understand Baudouin, I feel like. The guy was old school. You know? He wanted a very traditional wife, not a princess that was used to the trappings of royal life. He wanted someone to cook for him and to have a very non-royal lifestyle. And, he was hardcore conservative Catholic (don’t think I’m saying he was not loving or caring or was harsh) and he wanted a devout a Roman Catholic wife with as deep a faith as his. This point was very important to him. Baudouin had made several trips to Lourdes and had turned over to Mary his desires to find a suitable wife that he would love. Throughout their lives, Lourdes remained a very important site for both Fabiola and Baudouin.
So, Cardinal Suenens (I don’t know his title at the time, so I’m just calling him by his best known title – that of Cardinal) knew this lady named Veronica O’Brien who had been in the Legion of Mary but was by then lecturing and working behind the scenes in many capacities in the Roman church in Belgium. She visited the King to provide spiritual guidance ON MANY TOPICS the LEAST of which was his search for a wife. She gave him many books on his spiritual journey but she later sent him a note and said she felt called to help in the process of finding a wife. His ONLY request was that it be a devout Spanish woman. I believe he wanted an old fashioned down to earth wife – I’m quite certain of this through all my studies of their lives, including reading Cardinal Suenens’ book detailing this very subject. So, there’s clear evidence supporting these events straight from a Roman Catholic cardinal that I highly doubt would fabricate anything and then publishing it.
Veronica O’Brien worked some personal contact in Spain including a large prominent Catholic Girl’s School where she was given Fabiola’s name as a second contact through which Veronica could get the names of Spanish aristocratic ladies who might be a suitable match for King Baudouin. However, when she met Fabiola, she was instantly struck by her freshness, joy of life and deep faith. She asked why Fabiola was the only one of her siblings not to be married and Fabiola answered perhaps God had something special for her to do. She did not know – but in the meantime she got her nursing certification and was working at a military hospital and kept her own apartment. Now this was 1950’s Spain and for a woman to be living on her own and supporting herself through her career, was quite modern. Here’s another point why I don’t understand why people think Fabiola was so reactionary. She was traditional, but not old – she had lived a modern life in her youth.
Long story a little less long – She told Fabiola about her secret mission and Fabiola was furious, thinking a cruel joke had been played on her. She would not listen to Veronica, so Veronica asked that the Papal Nuncio in Madrid call on Fabiola to confirm that this was not joke.
Quote from Cardinal Suenens’ book>> (This is in Baudouin’s voice from his personal journal) They said goodbye to the nuns (Lello – from the convent school where Veronica met Fabiola) and went to the chapel together. Veronica, deeply moved, gave her my letter (Lello – a letter from Baudouin explaining he’d like an introduction). What I was asking of her was no less than to “walk on the water, believing in the love of God and of Mary, and to allow for miracles.” Once she had read this letter, things began to turn stormy. Avila thought she was being deliberately misled and refused catagorically to have anything further to do with Veronica.
When the latter begged her to contact the Nuncio, before breaking off relations definitively, Avila refused, unless, as she said, “the Nuncio himself telephones and asks to see me.”
Which is what the Nuncio did. Only then did Fabiola agree to meet King Baudouin – ONLY to meet him. Nothing else. On their blossoming relationship and engagement there is only Cardinal Suenens’ words from his book on the subject…
>>The reason why the King did not satisfy public curiosity by revealing how it came about and who was instrumental in it will become clear: all that took place at a deeply personal religious level and belongs to the realm of those mysterious “coincidences,” those “mysterious ways of God” to which He alone holds the key.<<
Also in his book, “The Hidden Life” from Cardinal Suenens – to whom Baudouin had bequeathed all his spiritual journals – the Cardinal reports many of Baudouin’s own hand-written entries including these direct quotes from Baudouin’s journal:
Lord, why have you moved heaven and earth to give me this precious pearl, my Fabiola?
The danger we could run into would be flattery. What we need is people who are daring enough to contradict us and to put a spanner in the works if a project deserves it. Lord, surround us with people of this calibre and honesty, and help us to accept contradiction.
Fill Fabiola with your holiness. May she live her life in your joy and your peace. Teach me to love her with your own tenderness. Give her a more positive self-image. May she know that she has been loved and chosen specially by You. Thank you for having given me this treasure. Help me to love her still more, with that Love which comes from You.
Fabiola is so loving; she warms my heart. Her silent, yet active presence is a source of great joy to me. My God, how you have spoiled me!
Fabiola is adorable to me and spoils me terribly. She is full of gaiety. Thank you, God.
Thank you, Jesus for having nurtured in me an immense love for my wife. Thank you for having given me a spouse whose love for me is second only to her love for You. May we both grow in you, Lord.
Mary, show me what I should do so as not to miss an opportunity of loving, of denying myself for your sake, of living the present moment to the full, as if it were my last, and of loving my darling Fabiola infinitely more. Yes, Mother, teach me to love her with tenderness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, respect, and teach me to have faith in her.
Thank you for Fabiola’s incredibly strong and tender love. Help me to be filled with your joy and to love with your love.
May the year 1990 be a year of deep affection for Fabiola. Lord, show me the way to help her to have confidence in herself. May she feel my confidence in her and my admiration.
Help me, too, to love Fabiola while encouraging her; help me to accept that her rhythm is not min, that her way of thinking and arranging things is special to her. Teach me, too, to respect her personality with its differences and its inconsistencies. Jesus, I thank you for having given me this wonderful treasure.
(This next entry would have been from 1978)
Eighteen years ago Fabiola and I dedicated ourselves to each other as we came out from Mass in Lourdes, on the feast of St. Isabella of Portugal.
My God, I thank you for having led us by the hand to the feet of Mary, and every day since then,I thank you, Lord, that we have been able to love each other in your Love, and that that love has grown each day.
I knew Our Blessed Lady was a Queen and a Mother, and all sorts of other things, but I never knew that she was a Matchmaker!
Writing before the wedding, Baudouin made note of a letter from “Avila” (The code word for Fabiola during their secret brief courtship):
At times the waiting is hard, but only yesterday, in a delightful letter, Avila (Fabiola) wrote:
<<Quote from Fabiola’s letter to Baudouin before engagement announcement in 1960>> : “In relation to us, I have such peace and trust in God that everything that may make hings go quicker or later, better or worse, is only because God permits it, and will make the best of it, for our spiritual benefit.”
Isn’t it wonderful to learn such a fine lesson from one’s future wife? I am truly proud of my fiancee and I love her more and more each day.
Quote again from Suenens’ book which is referencing Baudouin’s own words about their engagement…
“We set off for Lourdes where Avila and I met up at Mass at the same spot. During the celebration, I felt a strong urge to tell her that I loved her and to write it in her missal. It was a Friday, and I promised Our Lady that I would put off this great moment until the next day, offering her this sacrifice with all my heart. Would you believe it, that day, 8 July (1960), is the feast of St. Isabella of Portugal, daughter of the King of Aragón…!
After that wonderful Mass, the texts of which I only read later – as I had forgotten my missal and Avila’s was in Spanish – we had breakfast by the side of the road to Tarbes, and then went for a long walk. Suddenly, without any lead-up, Avila asked me if we could pause and say three Hail Marys to thank Our Lady for all the favours and the love she had shown us. After that we walked on in silence, and it was then that Avila said: “this time the answer is ‘yes’, and there will be no going back.
It was so beautiful! I wanted to weep for joy and gratitude to our Mother in Heaven who had worked a new miracle, and to Avila who had allowed herself to be led so gently by Our Lady of Lourdes. It was 2 o’clock, I think, and we had agreed to meet Yvette and my friend around that time. They saw us arriving arm-in-arm and Avila announced that we were engaged.”
<<End of quotes from book>>
Perhaps now some of you can see just how annoying it is to hear the constant misinformation from the press when they report on the arranged marriage. It was absolutely not arranged. It was an arranged introduction, which was followed by DEEP deep soul searching and prayer-rooted discernment about their calling to be in marital union.
Now, I like several European princesses and royalty but THIS is why I am mostly involved with Baudouin and Fabiola. They did not live like royalty either physically nor primarily not spiritually. He was a shepherd king and servant to his people who was forever grateful for the divine gift of his wife, whom he adored.