The Mysterious Sofía

The Mysterious Sofía

One Woman’s Mission to Save Catholicism in Twentieth-Century Mexico

Stephen J. C. Andes

The Mexican Experience Series

456 pages
27 photographs, 2 illustrations, 1 index


December 2019


$65.00 Pre-order

December 2019


$35.00 Pre-order

About the Book

Who was the “Mysterious Sofía,” whose letter in November 1934 was sent from Washington DC to Mexico City and intercepted by the Mexican Secret Service? In The Mysterious Sofía Stephen J. C. Andes uses the remarkable story of Sofía del Valle to tell the history of Catholicism’s global shift from north to south and the importance of women to Catholic survival and change over the course of the twentieth century. As a devout Catholic single woman, neither nun nor mother, Del Valle resisted religious persecution in an era of Mexican revolutionary upheaval, became a labor activist in a time of class conflict, founded an educational movement, toured the United States as a public lecturer, and raised money for Catholic ministries—all in an age dominated by economic depression, gender prejudice, and racial discrimination. The rise of the global south marked a new power dynamic within the Church as Latin America moved from the margins of activism to the vanguard. 

Del Valle’s life and the stories of those she met along the way illustrate the shared pious practices, gender norms, and organizational networks that linked activists across national borders. Told through the eyes of a little-known laywoman from Mexico, Andes shows how women journeyed from the pews into the heart of the modern world.

Author Bio

Stephen J. C. Andes is an associate professor of history at Louisiana State University. He is the author of The Vatican and Catholic Activism in Mexico and Chile: The Politics of Transnational Catholicism, 1920–1940.


“With a sensitive, creative, and highly readable style, Andes narrates the life of Sofía del Valle, a complex, dynamic, and fascinating Mexican Catholic activist and lay leader. Yet Andes has done more than write a biography: he has also vividly portrayed the transnational world in which Sofía lived—a world in which lay activists and clergy circulated between Mexico, Europe, the Vatican, and the United States, exchanging ideas and plans, founding vibrant new organizations and publications, and working to engage Catholics in new ways with their Church. . . . Andes has brilliantly narrated an essentially Mexican story, one that explains and investigates the long and often contentious interplay between Church, state, and society in twentieth-century Mexico.”—Julia G. Young, author of Mexican Exodus: Emigrants, Exiles, and Refugees of the Cristero War


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Nota Bene, Dear Reader
Prologue: De te fabula narratur

Part I: The Mysterious Sofía
1. Days of the Dead
2. The Sophie Letters
3. Miss del Valle
4. The Mastermind
Interlude: Tere Huidobro

Part II: A Family Romance
5. Little Flowers
6. Sofía’s Belle Époque
7. Vocation
8. Respectable Telephone Operator
9. Preparing the Future
Interlude: Family Albums

Part III: Mexican Odyssey
10. The Catacombs
11. The Voyage
12. The Test
13. Gasparri’s Parrots
14. A Long, Hot Roman Summer
15. The Return
16. The Peace
Interlude: Las viejitas

Part IV: A Woman Alone
17. Out of the Shadows
18. The New Woman
19. Resistance
20. Les femmes internationales
21. Terrible Beasts
22. Winter in the City of Light
23. Doubt
24. Lourdes
25. The Road to Warsaw
26. Borders
27. Bridges
Interlude: Walls

Part V: Catholic Vagabond
28. Miss del Valle Goes to Washington
29. The Plan
30. The Deception of Miss Duffy
31. Consider the Lobster
32. Golden Hour of the Little Flower
33. On the Road
34. La Patria Calls

Postlude: Day’s End
Matins, a few days after

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