In the early 1930s, Father Nicephorus Diez-Tejerina, C.P. sat in the office of Father Theophane Maguire, then the editor of The Sign Magazine, a Passionist journal. With them was Father Damien Reid, C.P., associate editor. Over an 11:00 am coffee, Father Necephorus spoke of the tragedies of the Mexican Civil War, the blood-drenched altars, and the widespread vicious attack on the Church and its clergy. He blamed the burgeoning influence of the Masonic Order and, in sadness, foresaw the ruin of the Catholic Church in Mexico for the next half dentury. Father Theophane asked, “Can it happen in Spain?” Already uprisings against the Church had occurred there. “NO,” replied Father Necephorus, “IT CAN NEVER HAPPEN THERE!”
Father Nicephorus had taken his seminary studies along with Father Germanus Perez in Mexico and witnessed first-hand the tragedy of the moment. He was ordained at Immaculate Conception Monastery in Chicago, the Provincial House of the Holy Cross (Western) Province. When he was called back to Spain, he traveled by train to Hoboken, N.J. to reach the ship. He stopped at the Pittsburgh Monastery and at the Union City Provincial House, Saint Michael’s, along his way. Once in Spain, he was elected Provincial of the Madrid Province.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, it was essentially a police action to restore order. It was destined to become the last of the religious wars of Europe. Religion mingled with issues of politics, economics and institutional privilege. Religious men and women were hunted down like foxes, tortured and executed. One pastor was forced into intimate relations in public with his aged housekeeper and then both were shot. Jesuits, Claretians, Brothers of Saint John of God, Visitation Sisters and Teresians were disgraced, then met ultimate death. Others, including Carmelites, Daughters of Charity, Augustinian Recollects and, of course, countless diocesan priests also became victims.
In July 1936 Nicephorus, now Provincial, was conducting a Canonical Visitation in a small Passionist House of studies in Damiel (Ciudad Real). Word reached him on the night of July 21 that this Community was next. Rousing everyone from sleep, he gave them general absolution and Holy Communion. “Fratelli,” he said, “Gethsemane has come. I incite you to courage… Be citizens of heaven.” He encouraged as many as possible to don secular clothing. He divided them into four groups and told them to flee. Curiously, he arranged the thirty-some Religious into pairs, placing one older Religious with a younger scholastic or Brother. In the end, all four groups were caught, some on a train, others in another town and still others in the countryside. In all, twenty-six were executed; five survived to witness the degradation and martyrdom of the others. Sixteen of the victims were less than twenty-one years old. It was one year before the story was known worldwide. Father Theophane Maguire himself published the story in The Sign. Father Damien Reid told me that Theophane wept as he wrote the article, his tears falling on the paper. Father Damien’s eyes welled up as he recalled the incident. He was then in his 90s.
All of those slain were beatified in 1989 by Pope John Paul II. In an unusual gesture of solidarity, Doctor Robert Runcie, then Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, traveled from England to join the Pontiff for the ceremony. That action was unique, for the Churches of the Reformation do not normally recognize beatifications and canonizations. The occasion was an ecumenical recognition of a creeping secularism, materialism, agnosticism and even atheism affecting the Western World. All of this had its roots in the upheaval of the 20th Century. The two prelates together, in a dramatic gesture, sought to warn the next millennium and to stimulate faith in the primacy of Jesus in his Passion. The names of the executed are:
Group One: Father Germanus Perez, Father Philip Valcabado, Brother Marilio of the Child Jesus, Brother Joseph Oses, Brother Julius Mediavilla, Brother Joseph-Mary Ruiz, Brother Loren Proano, Brother Ancharius Benito and Brother Philip Ruiz.
Group Two: The Very Reverend Nicephorus Diez-Tejerina, Brother Joseph Estalajo, Brother Ephiphanius Sierra, Brother Alban Ramos, Brother Zachary Fernandez, Father Idelphonsus Garcia, Father Justinian Cuesta, Father Euphrasius DeCelis, Brother Thomas Cuartero, Brother Honorius Carrcedo, Brother Joseph-Mary Cuartero and Brother Fulgentius Calvo.
Group Three: Brother Peter Calvo, Brother Felix Ugalde, Brother Benito Solano.
Group Four: Brother John-Peter Bengoa and Brother Paul-Mary Leoz. All were told that their deaths were a boon to the Republic since their lives were superficial and they were parasites to the Republic. Now they are patrons of a re-Christianizing Spain. –
- Father Jerome Vereb, C.P.