Marie Josephine Leopoldine Bracken, the common-law wife of Philippine national hero José Rizal, is born in Victoria Barracks in Victoria, British Hong Kong, on August 9, 1876.
Bracken is born to Irish parents James Bracken, a corporal in the British Army, and Elizabeth Jane McBride, of Belfast. After her mother dies shortly after childbirth, her father gives her up for adoption. She is taken in by her godfather, the American George Taufer, a blind, and fairly well-to-do engineer of the pumping plant of the Hong Kong Fire Department, and his late Portuguese wife. He later remarries another Portuguese woman from Macau, Francesca Spencer, with whom he has another daughter.
After the second Mrs. Taufer dies in 1891, Taufer decides to remarry again but the new wife turns out to be difficult to deal with for Bracken. She spends two months in the Convent of the Canossian Sisters, where she previously attended early years of school. She decides to go back only after Taufer calls at the convent’s door pleading with her to come back home as his third wife turned out to be a bad housekeeper. A few months later she has trouble again with the third Mrs. Taufer and haunts her out of the house.
Bracken later recommends that her blind adoptive father see José Rizal, who is a respected ophthalmologist who had practiced at Rednaxela Terrace in Hong Kong. By this time, he is a political exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte in southern Philippines. The family sails to the Philippines and arrives in Manila on February 5, 1895, and later that month Bracken and Taufer sail to Dapitan.
Taufer’s double cataract is beyond Rizal’s help, but he falls in love with Bracken. Taufer vehemently opposes the union, but finally listens to reason. She accompanies Taufer to Manila on his way back to Hong Kong, together with Rizal’s sister, Narcisa, on March 14, 1895. Rizal applies for marriage but because of his writings and political stance, the local priest Father Obach, will only agree to the ceremony if Rizal obtains permission from the Bishop of Cebu. Either the Bishop does not write him back or Rizal is not able to mail the letter because of Taufer’s sudden departure.
Before heading back to Dapitan to live with Rizal, Bracken introduces herself to members of his family in Manila. His mother suggests a civil marriage, which she believes to be a lesser “sacrament” but free from hypocrisy — and thus less a burden to Rizal’s conscience — than making any sort of political retraction. Nevertheless, Bracken and Rizal live together as husband and wife in Barangay Talisay, Dapitan, beginning in July 1895. The couple has a son, Francísco Rizal y Bracken, who is born prematurely and dies within a few hours of birth.
On the evening before his execution on December 30, 1896 on charges of treason, rebellion and sedition by the Spanish colonial government, the Catholic Church claims that Rizal returned to the faith and is married to Bracken in a religious ceremony officiated by Father Vicente Balaguer, S.J. sometime between 5:00 AM and 6:00 AM, an hour before his scheduled execution at 7:00 AM. Despite claims by Father Balaguer and Bracken herself, some sectors, including members of Rizal’s family, dispute that the wedding had occurred because no records are found attesting to the union.
Following Rizal’s death, Bracken joins revolutionary forces in Cavite province, where she takes care of sick and wounded soldiers, boosting their morale, and helping operate reloading jigs for Mauser cartridges at the Imus Arsenal under revolutionary general Pantaleón García. Imus is under threat of recapture, so Bracken, making her way through the thicket and mud, moves with the operation to the Cavite mountain redoubt of Maragondon. She witnesses the Tejeros Convention on March 22, 1897 before returning to Manila, and is later summoned by the Spanish Governor-General, who threatens her with torture and imprisonment if she does not leave the colony. Owing however to her adoptive father’s American citizenship, she cannot be forcibly deported, but she voluntarily returns to Hong Kong upon the advice of the American consul in Manila.
Upon returning to Hong Kong, Bracken once more lives in her father’s house. After his death, she marries Vicente Abad, a Cebuano mestizo, who represents his father’s tabacalera company in the British territory. A daughter, Dolores Abad y Braken, is born to the couple on April 17, 1900. A later testimony of Abad affirms that her mother “was already suffering from tuberculosis of the larynx” at the time of the wedding.
Bracken dies of tuberculosis on March 15, 1902, in Hong Kong and is interred at the Happy Valley Cemetery.