By: Father Pedro Gómez, CM and Sister Lucrecia Díez, DC
(This article first appeared in Anales, Volume 120, #1, January-February, 2012 and has been translated and reproduced here with the permission of the editors).
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Sister Josefa Martínez Pérez
- 3 The martyred Sisters from Bétera
- 4 Sister Josefa Laborra Goyeneche
- 5 Sister Carmen Rodríguez Banazal
- 6 Sister Pilar Nalda Franco
- 7 Sister Isidora Izquierdo García
- 8 Sister Estefanía Irisarri Irigaray
- 9 Dolores Broseta Bonet
- 10 The Community at the Casa Beneficiencia
- 11 Sister Victoria Arregui Guinea
- 12 Sister Joaquina Rey Aguirre
- 13 The Community at the Asilo de San Eugenio
- 14 Sister Maria Rosario Ciércoles Gaston
- 15 Sister Micaela Hernán Martínez
- 16 Sister María Luisa Bermúdea Ruiz
- 17 Sister Martina Vázquez Gordo
We present thirteen Christians, twelve Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and one laywoman from Bétera who was a Daughter of Mary in the Miraculous Medal Association. These Christian women identified themselves with the people from the towns and villages and through a generous handing over of their lives to God served the poor in their various needs. With joy they lived out their vocation of commitment to God and of disinterested service of others. Their only objective was to expend their life on behalf of the children, the infirm, those in need and those suffering from any form of poverty.
These women were filled with God. Their ideal was to communicate God’s goodness to those in need. Their lifestyle was demanding and attractive: a community of love whose members lived the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. The source of their joy was rooted in their following of Jesus Christ and living the beatitudes with humility, simplicity and charity. Their reason for being a part of the Church was to continue the mission of Jesus Christ among the poor. This was, in fact, their only crime, the reason that caused them to be persecuted and martyred.
They approached their martyrdom freely and joyfully, convinced that martyrdom was the supreme act of showing one’s love for Jesus Christ and the clearest way of identifying themselves with Christ. In their minds and hearts they were most aware of Jesus’ words: If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20). They did not look for death, but after great suffering they accepted their death as a gift from God. They were sure that in giving their life, they did not lose it but rather gained the fullness of life. For this reason they did not defend themselves nor curse their brothers with whom they had lived and served but who now, because of a perverse ideology and a confusion of principles and values, wanted to kill them.
Their death was accompanied by gestures and words of forgiveness and joyful acceptance. At the same time this supreme act was embraced for a noble cause: to proclaim God as a God of love and life and forgiveness.
Here we want to highlight the positive aspects of their life. We present them as examples who can encourage all those who take seriously their life as Christians even when they are in the mdist of hostile and difficult situations. Indeed, the example of these women strengthens us as we continue our journey through life.
Sister Josefa Martínez Pérez
Her postulancy took place in the Provincial Hospital of Valencia where she dedicated herself to serve infirm elderly persons. On October 30, 1925 she entered the seminary of the Daughters of Charity of the Spanish Province located on calle Jesús, 3 (3 Jesus Street) in Madrid. Aware of the step she had just taken she reminded her family. I will not be able to write you often because I do not have much time to myself, but knowing that I am well is enough. I have come here to learn and to grow in holiness so that later I can live in this manner and be a good Daughter of Charity … every person, in their particular state in life, ought to fulfill their obligations.
In 1926 she received her first and only appointment: the Provincial Hospital of Valencia (a community of one hundred Sisters). She was assigned the section where the abandoned children from La Inclusa were lodged and later a ward where she cared for women with infectious diseases. From the time of her arrival at the hospital her faithfulness to the Rule was most obvious. She was pious and prompt and conscientious in caring for others. She related to the other Sisters with deference, humility and simplicity. The Sisters said that Josefa’s ideal was not to do great or extraordinary things but rather she wanted her everyday actions to be done in a great and extraordinary manner. She was organized and in the midst of many obligations was able to find time to study and obtain a degree in nursing which, as a response to her vocation, enabled her to serve the poor in a more effective manner.
Ten years after her arrival at the hospital she felt that bad times were approaching. She often repeated the following words: There is no reason for fear. We have to be courageous. Sisters, let us prepare ourselves because some of us will be martyred. The Sisters continued their everyday activity but Sister Josefa had this uneasy intuition.
On July 24, 1936 the Marxists took over the Hospital and the Sisters had to leave. Sister Josefa joined up with a Sister from Switzerland. Their clothing betrayed them and they were detained when they got off the train. After being searched they were allowed to leave. Josefa’s family was told of their arrival and the following day her parents brought her to Alberique. In her parent’s house in Alberique she ordered her life as if she were still living in community. She helped her sister who was expecting her fourth child and she taught the other children. In the early hours of September 24th her brother-in-law was shot because he was a Catholic and charitable toward others (including those who assassinated him). Another motive for his death was the fact that he welcomed the Sisters from Alberique into his home after they were forced to leave the schools and the Hospital. When he was arrested Sister Josefa offered to take his place stating that her brother-in-law had three children and was expecting a fourth.
When Josefa became aware of the fact that the communist committee intended to establish a small hospital in one of the houses in the village she offered her services to the head of the committee who rejected her offer.
On October 14th a group of the military arrived at their house to arrest her sister, Natalia and herself. Her sister had three small children in the house and was pregnant with a fourth child. Her husband had already been assassinated. In prison Sister Josefa spent many hours in prayer and with her arms extended in the form of a cross she expressed aloud her desire to see her sister liberated and her willingness to sacrifice her life for that of her sister. At one in the morning they, along with others, were taken from the prison. Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were placed in a truck. As Sister Josefa got into the truck she once again begged the commanders of the military to allow her sister, Natalia, to go free. They had compassion on her and Natalia was freed. All her life Natalia remembered the moment when her sister embraced her and told her, we will see one another in eternity. The truck traveled to the outskirts of Alberique and came to stop at Pont de los Gossos (Puente de los Perros) in the neighboring municipality and there everyone was sacrificed. Before being shot they were mocked and insulted … Sister Josefa was the last one to be assassinated and had to endure the rage that was directed at her because she was a Daughter of Charity, a virgin, a woman who had consecrated her life to the Lord. On October 15, 1936, at three in the morning, her terrible martyrdom came to a conclusion as she was assassinated.
The following morning the bodies were gather up and as a way of identifying the deceased some personal objects were given to the family members. Sister Josefa’s family received a handkerchief that was inscribed with the words “Sister 61”, some miraculous medals and a five decade rosary.
At the conclusion of the war their bodies were exhumed and Josefa was easily identified by her sister, Natalia. On July 16, 1939 the bodies were transferred to Alberique where they were received and honored among the forty-two martyrs of that town. Sister’s remains were claimed by the Daughters of Charity and brought by ambulance to the chapel of Our Lady of the Helpless in the Provincial Hospital of Valencia. A solemn funeral Mass was offered and the following days her remains were placed in mausoleum 103 of the Daughters of Charity in the general cemetery of Valencia.
The martyred Sisters from Bétera
The community there was composed of seven Sisters but two of them were spared this tragedy. On July 26, 1936 there were rumors that the Sisters in the Asilo were going to be removed. Some young people climbed onto the roof of the Castle and attempted to prevent this action from taking place. The communists, however, with the help of the Civil Guard, made the young men cease their resistance and they were fined. The Sisters resisted leaving the place that they viewed as “their town”, their house. Above all they did not want to abandon so many children. How is it possible that persons whom we have loved, educated, washed and nourished should now come here and treat us as though we did not exist?
That same day the Marxist committee seized the Asilo and the castle, took possession of everything that the Sisters owned and sent them away. They sought refuge in the house of a former student. Soon thereafter they were forbidden to dress in their habit and then on August 21 they were no longer welcome there and so were forced to leave Bétera. They traveled by train to Valencia without knowing where they would go when they arrived there. They spent the first night in the train depot.
They found lodging in the boarding house “El Gallo” and the owner placed them in two rooms on the second floor. The five bakeries in Bétera took turns sending the Sisters bread during the four months that they remained there.
Pura Ibáñez, a resident of Bétera, stated: Twice a week Dolores and I traveled from Bétera to Valencia to bring the Sisters food that had been donated by the people from the town. I traveled at night and slept in the Sisters house while Dolores traveled during the day and would usually spend the next day with them.
A former mayor of the Republic threatened Dolores and wanted to know where the Sisters were staying. Dolores cried but did not reveal their location. The ex-mayor, with a companion from Moncada, followed Dolores and discovered their whereabouts. The military in Valencia immediately arrested Dolores and the Sisters and brought them to the secret prison which was located in the seminary in Moncada. Because Pura collected food for the Sisters, the soldiers wanted to arrest her but she resisted … only when she passed out was she able to be brought to the prison. Pura’s house was searched, all her possessions were taken and her husband was also imprisoned, but a few days later he was freed. Despite all of this Pura continued to aid the Sisters. Sister Carmen had bad legs and whenever possible Pura brought her a brick that had been heated in the fire that the communists maintained on their patio … this brought relief to Sister Carmen.
In the early hours of December 9, 1936 the soldiers called the prisoners one by one in order to bring them to their place of execution. At first the Sisters were startled and they did not even dress … they were paralyzed with fear. Sister Carmen, who had bad legs, was unable to leave but the soldiers said: we will help you.
They were led to Picadero de Paterna where the soldiers trained on horseback … there they were assassinated, their faces riddled with bullets. Their only crime was that they were Daughters of Charity and the cause of their death was their desire to continue the mission of Jesus Christ.
As she requested, Sister Josefa was the last one to be killed. All were beaten mercilessly and Josefa’s voice was silenced as she prayed the Our Father: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Their bodies were brought to the town cemetery in Valencia. Before they were buried, pictures were taken of their bodies and these photographs were numbered for later identification. Two days later their bodies were buried in a common grave that became known as the Valley of the Fallen. From the day of their assassination all the people in Bétera considered these women to be true martyrs since the only motive for their death was the fact they they were women religious … and in the case of Dolores Broseta, the fact that she was a Daughter of Mary of the Miraculous Medal Association and had a close relationship with the Daughters of Charity.
Sister Josefa Laborra Goyeneche
On March 18, 1881 at the age of seventeen she entered the Company and did her postulancy at the Hospital la Princesa in Madrid. Her first assignment was the Hospice of Cuenca where she remained for nineteen years. There she cared for children and was always loving and dedicated to them.
In July 1900 she was appointed superior at the Colegio-Asilo in Bétera (Valencia). The people admired her for the manner in which cared for and loved the children as well as the elderly, the poor and the infirm.
In 1911 she was appointed superior at the Hospital de Murcia but there the complex responsibility of the hospital weighed upon her. At the same time she experienced problems with her eyesight and as a result, a few months later she returned to Bétera as superior. She was received with a great out pouring of love from everyone: the municipal government, the town council of Yerbas (now Montes) that supported the Asilo and the people. A band accompanied Sister Josefa from the train station to the Asilo.
Sister Josefa was an authentic Daughter of Charity: humble, charitable, loving toward the poor. With great discretion she distributed alms and if she saw some student who needed his/her clothing mended, she immediately provided that service. Father Taboada, a Vincentian Missionary, who knew her, said that her outstanding gifts could be summed up with the following three words: understanding, gentleness, prudence. She treated the Sisters with kindness and maternal love and was especially caring toward the elderly and the infirm Sisters. She had a great esteem for community life and expressed her desire in the following words: if we have to die, let us die together in community (the fulfillment of this premonition would soon occur).
On July 21, 1936, the house was attacked and the Community expelled. The Sisters resisted abandoning so many children who needed them and stated: How is it possible that they are doing this do us?
Finally the committee seized the Asilo-Castle and everything that the Sisters possessed. Then the Sisters were left to tend for themselves. They sought refuge in the house of a former student but two day later, on August 21, they were discovered there and obliged to leave the house. Previously the mayor published his order that no one was to provide the Sisters with shelter. The Sisters traveled to Valencia but had no idea where they would stay … they spent the first night in the train depot. The next morning they went to the boarding house “El Gallo” and the Sisters were lodged on the second floor. People who were providing assistance to the Sisters were followed and then the Sisters were arrested and brought to the prison that was located in the seminary of Moncada.
During these critical days in prison Sister Josefa felt responsible for the other Sisters and she encouraged them. Then as their names were called to be led to their death, she told the Sisters: We are going to die for God. Now we are in the Garden of Gethsemane. She requested to be the last one to be assassinated so that she might support the other Sisters and Dolores Broseta, a lay woman, a Daughter of Mary who was assassinated with them. Sister Josefa placed her life in the hands of God and died forgiving her enemies. On December 9, 1936, Sister Josefa was assassinated in Picadero de Paterna simply because she was a woman religious.
Sister Carmen Rodríguez Banazal
When she completed her initial formation she was assigned to the Colegio-Asilo in Betera (Valencia) where she exercised her ministry as a teacher. She also gave classes to older girls, teaching them to embroider and darn. She played the harmonium and directed the choir in chapel. Pious, observant of the rules and a hard worker, she conscientiously prepared her classes and catechetical instructions. She helped some families in their homes. When she became aware that a mother of some student had become ill she would visit the house and offer her assistance. She would bathe the children and bring them to the Asilo.
In 1935 she was named the superior of the local community and the following year, at the beginning of the revolution, she was persecuted in the same manner as her companion, Sister Josefa Laborra and the other Sisters. She was assassinated at the age of fifty-nine as she prayed and forgave those who were about to kill her.
Sister Pilar Nalda Franco
Pilar did her postulancy in the Hosptial de Santa Isabel de Jerez de la Frontera and on October 6, 1889, at the age of eighteen, entered the seminary. One of her formators was the servant of God, Sister Justa Domínguez de Vidaurreta, who gave classes in pedagogy and general culture.
At the conclusion of her initial formation she was assigned to the Hospital de Mondoñedo and a few years later she ministered at the Psychiatric Hospital in Leganés. In 1900, when obligatory schooling was extended, Sister Pillar obtained a degree in child education and was assigned to the Escuelas Católicas in Cádiz and then to Las Escuelas de Dos Hermanas (Sevilla). In 1906 we find her in Bétera (Valencia).
Sister Pilar was self-sacrificing and loving toward the poor and fulfilled her mission as a teacher in a dedicated and committed manner. In community she observed the rules and fulfilled her obligations. She was joyful and open and her compassion attracted everyone. Her warm acceptance of others provided her with a means for evangelization. Adolescents and young people were attracted to her and they approached her for extra-curricular activities in which she was most creative. After classes with the little children, she had a group of older girls whom she instructed in theater, typical dance and music … she was a very gifted musician.
On December 9, 1936 she was martyred in Picadero de Paterna with the other Sisters of her local community.
Sister Isidora Izquierdo García
Together with her sister, Irene, who would also become a Daughter of Charity, she studied at the Colegio La Milagrosa de Rabé de las Calzadas (Burgos) and lived there at the school. There, on every level, she received a good formation and through her contact with the Sisters, she heard God’s call. From a young age she experienced God’s call and decided to follow it. She did her postulancy at the Hospital San Juan de Burgos and on October 15, 1901, she arrived in Madrid and entered the seminary on calle Jesús.
When she completed this initial period of her formation she was sent to the Aislo in Bétera (Vanelcnia). Sister Isidora was exemplary in her behavior: observant of the rules, pious, simple, completely dedicated in her service of the poor and in assisting all the Sisters. She was a good teacher: kind toward the students she cared for them in a motherly manner and taught them to read and write and also instructed them in the catechism.
As a catechist for thirty-five years she prepared the children for First Communion and she did this with an unconditional handing over of herself. On the day that the children received their First Communion she rejoiced at being able to prepare a good meal for them. She was highly esteemed in the town because of her interest and concern for her former students. She was concerned about the problems and difficulties that they had to confront, visited them when they were ill and rejoiced with them in good times. Frequently men and women who had been taught be her would return and seek counsel from her. She also cared for the farm animals that provided the school with some of their food.
On December 9, 1936 she was martyred in the same place and under the same conditions as the other Sisters of her local community. She was fifty-one.
Sister Estefanía Irisarri Irigaray
Through her contact with the Sisters, she became a member of the Association of the Daughters of Mary, a group that was thriving in that area. As a member of the Association and with the guidance of her teacher she cultivated a life of prayer and service of the poor. It was in this environment that she heard God’s call to become a Daughter of Charity. She did her postulancy in the Hospital de San Bernabé in Palencia and was accompanied by her aunt.
On November 21, 1896 she entered the Company. After completing her formation she was sent to Bétera (Valencia). This was her only assignment and for thirty-nine years she taught children.
Sisters Estefanía was very self-sacrificing, patient, kind and loving toward the poor. In community she was exemplary in practicing those virtues that are proper to the Daughters of Charity: humility, simplicity and charity. She was accepting of all and always showed herself to be kind, compassionate and available to others.
Parents allowed their children to participate in the harvesting of oranges because they knew that Sister Estefanía would take care of them. Some individuals who knew her testified that her face expressed her interior holiness. She was also in charge of the laundry and had the responsibility in the municipality of winding the clock in the castle.
At the time of the persecution she and another Sister went to Concentania (Alicante) where she stayed at a cousin’s house. Seeing, however, the commitment that this involved for her cousin, she returned to Valencia to join together with the other members of the community. When she arrived there she was obliged to spend the night on a park bench where the communists found her and brought her to the police station. Even though she was dressed in lay clothing, the large rosary that the Sisters carried at that time betrayed her. She wore the rosary around her waist and under her skirt. This was considered a serious crime at that time and therefore she was detained. But when she was brought to the police station she was seen as a good woman and one of the women who was a member of the military said: Go and pray as your desire! Dolores Broseta brought her and the other Sisters to the boarding house where they were lodged. The Sisters embraced one another and filled with emotion they cried. They asked Sister Estefanía why she had returned and she responded that like Saint Estefanía (her patron saint) she also wanted to be a martyr. She had a premonition that the community of Bétera would be martyred.
In the same place and under the same circumstances Sister Estefanía was also martyred with the other Sisters on December 9, 1936 at the age of fifty-eight.
Dolores Broseta Bonet
At sixteen, when she concluded her education, she dedicated her time to helping the Sisters and also took care of her elderly mother. Her three brothers no longer lived in Bétera. In this environment she experienced the Lord’s call and decided to follow this call by becoming a Daughter of Charity. At the age of twenty-one she began her postulancy in the Hospital in Valencia but because of frequent hemorrhages she was unable to enter the Company.
The Sisters felt it would be best for her to return to Bétera and work in the Colegio-Asilo as a Daughter of Mary. She collaborated with the Sisters in caring for the small children and in teaching embroidery. After her mother died in 1925 she began to live at the Asilo and helped the Sister in many different way … she was also expelled and persecuted with the Sisters.
When the Sisters found refuge in the boarding house El Gallo, it was she who went into the streets in search for ways to attend to the Sisters basic needs. She frequently traveled to Bétera to receive the food that had been collected by the many people who had great esteem for the Sisters.
A former mayor threatened Dolores and wanted to know where the Sisters were staying. She cried but did not reveal their whereabouts. Then the former mayor and a close friend from Moncada followed Dolores during one of her trips and were able to locate the Sisters. The Sisters and Dolores were then brought to the secret prison which had been established in the diocesan seminary in Moncada.
A few day later on December 9, 1936, all of them were brought to Picadero de Paterna where they were assassinated simply because they were women religious.
The Community at the Casa Beneficiencia
In 1873, at the request of the Provincial government in Valencia, the Daughters of Charity arrived to take charge of this social-beneficent institution. The center had existed for one hundred years but needed better organization. In Valencia the institution was known as La Bene. The Sisters were received with open arms and much rejoicing.
The Sisters were very generous in fulfilling their obligations. In fact after King Alfonso XII and the Queen regent visited the center, they expressed their admiration in the following words: the places of refuge and shelter in many places have much to learn from the Casa Beneficiencia in Valencia. For many years the Sisters engaged in charitable work without becoming involved in the different political movements. Their only concern was to serve the children and the adolescents so that they would become honorable citizens. Generously the Sisters attended to the various needs of the children. Nevertheless there were people who objected to the Sisters administering the center. Thus when the religious persecution began in 1931 there was an attempt to set fire to the building. An individual who was residing there at the time testified: In 1931 when they began to burn convents in Valencia, a group approached the Casa de la Beneficencia with the intention of burning it down. Sister Joaquina confronted these individuals and convinced them to put aside their perverse proposition.
In 1936 the community in this house was composed of forty sisters who cared for five hundred boys and two hundred girls, all of whom were poor and the majority of whom were orphans. Sister Juliana Blanc was superior but was advanced in years and needed crutches to move about.
Even though the Sisters began to see dark clouds on the horizons of the church in Valencia, they continued their ministry with the same kindness and dedication. They did not give any importance to the events that were occurring throughout the country and yet they were persecuted in a very direct and real manner. Two Daughters of Charity from the house who had been born in Bilbao and were united in their service of the poor would be united in receiving the crown of martyrdom … this, despite the warnings of the Basque government to respect the life of its citizens.
Sister Victoria Arregui Guinea
In this environment she experienced a vocational call and faithful to this call she entered the Company on March 17, 1921. She spent her time of postulancy in the Provincial Hospital of Pamplona and the Seminary in Madrid.
After completing her initial formation she was assigned on September 28, 1921 to the Casa Beneficencia in Valencia and gave classes in embroidery. She was an artist with the needle and thread and in that house many adornments were made for Churches throughout Spain as well as in other countries. She taught many girls to embroider in an exquisite manner. With her gifted abilities and her kindness she was an excellent teacher.
Sister Victoria was kind and affable; she was never angry nor spoke unkindly of anyone. She was simple, wholly committed to the children and observed the rules.
At the time of the persecution she was expelled with the other Sisters and with Sister Joaquina she sought refuge in Foyos (Valencia). Together they went to prison and together they were assassinated … the only difference being that Sister Victoria was more timid than her companion and accepted silently her death and martyrdom. After receiving absolution and Communion from Father José Ruiz, a priest and martyr, she died like her companion, shouting: Long live Christ the King! She was forty-two.
Sister Joaquina Rey Aguirre
When she completed her initial formation she was assigned to the Casa Beneficencia in Valencia. There she exercised her ministry during the next ten years as a teacher and educator in the schools and the workshops. She also accepted the role of supervisor and thus guaranteed the proper functioning and development of the pedagogical and professional activities of the house.
Joaquina fulfilled her ministry in a responsible, serious and dedicated manner, helping in whatever way she could the superior and the other Sisters in the local community. When she was caring for the boys she would encourage them in the practice of sports. She was a soccer fan and her brother played soccer. She enjoyed teaching the boys how to play soccer on the patio of the center. When the boys would ask her questions about this sport she would respond in a manner that revealed her skill in this sport … she often played soccer with them.
She had a strong constitution and could appear to be stern but underneath all of this was a great heart, a heart of tenderness and charity. In her interaction with others she was simple and loving and compassionate toward everyone (and this was contagious). This enabled her smooth over any roughness.
Her courage served her well in dealing with the situation at the house in Benicalap where the Sisters had sent clothing but an order from the communist committee led to the seizure of all the clothing. Sister Josefa, who accompanied Sister Joaquina, stated that the communists had taken down the crucifix and threw it on the ground. Sister Joaquina bent down, picked up the crucifix, kissed it and placed it on a table. The military officials told her: leave that where it was! She responded: One has only to look at the destruction that has been caused … and then ask, what is accomplished by all of this?
In July 1936, during a period of fifteen days, the military was making preparations to take over the house. The Sisters felt as though they were prisoners in their own house. They were not allowed to go downstairs to pray in the chapel, now could they leave or enter the house. Sister Joaquina accompanied the military as they went about some of their business and every day she would bring them food. The communists asked her to remain there and work with them but she stated that she preferred to continue being a Daughter of Charity and wanted to serve the poor. Since they were lacking personnel the director of the center told the military who were there: As long as these religious women are here be careful that no one treats them disrespectfully. During this time of anarchy and persecution, no one paid attention to those words.
On July 25, the feast of the Apostle James, the chaplain Father Ramón Sancho Amat celebrated the final Eucharist and encouraged them to be courageous like the Apostle. The following day, with no concessions, the communists forced the entire community of the Daughters to leave their house. Two by two they began to seek shelter in the house of friends. Sisters Joaquina was the last one to leave the house and when she had handed everything over to the military she experienced great pain as she abandoned the children. With the other Sisters from the community she found refuge in the neighboring town of Foyos, in the house of family members of one of the other Sisters. They were discovered there and she and Sister Victoria Arregui were told to report to the communist headquarters. There they and two priests who had celebrated the Eucharist clandestinely (Father José Ruiz and Father Antonio Bueno) were sentenced to death because they were religious. This was their crime and the cause of their death.
Sister Joaquina defended herself with sound arguments before accepting her death sentence. Before she was assassinated against the walls of the cemetery of Gilet she snatched the rifle away from her executioner who tried to violate her before executing her. One of the priests who accompanied her in her martyrdom told her that she should not lose this opportunity to enter triumphantly into heaven. She immediately reflected on her actions, gave the rifle back to the solider, and publically asked forgiveness for her cowardice. She then asked for absolution for Father José, forgave her persecutors and accepted death as she cried out: Long live Christ the King! This took place on the morning of October 29, 1936.
Soon thereafter the bodies were exhumed, identified and transferred. The members of the communist committee buried their remains in a common grave in the cemetery of Gilet. After the war, the remains of the Sisters were easily identified since their body and clothing had been well preserved. They were transferred to Foyos and placed in temporary niches until they, together with three priests and eleven laypersons (assassinated because they were Catholic), could be moved to the Pantheon of the Martyrs in the parish. On March 13, 1996 the ecclesiastical Tribunal that requested the exhumation of the remains of the martyrs, together with the judge/delegate of Archbishop Francisco Vinaixa Monsonis, the pastor and family members of the martyrs, the grave diggers, the coroner, members of the funeral association and the public at large proceeded to recover the remains. The funeral director transferred these remains to the Colegio de San Juan Bautista in Valencia where the bodies were cleaned, placed in new coffins that were then sealed. Finally they were transferred to the Casa de San Eugenio where they were placed in a small mausoleum beside the remains of the other Sisters. We await the resolution of the Church with regard to the authenticity of their martyrdom and yet from the time of their assassination they have been viewed as true saintly martyrs.
The Community at the Asilo de San Eugenio
The Asilo of San Eugenio in Valencia was established in 1885 as a private beneficent institution that would care for orphaned and poor children. From the time the Daughters of Charity began to administer this work they frequently had to overcome great difficulties, especially financial problems.
During the Second Spanish Republic the Asilo was threatened on several occasions. The presence of the Sisters seemed to disturb many leftists who wanted to eradicate all religious ideas from the children’s education. Thus during the first week of July bombs were placed around the building with the intention of destroying it but people from the neighborhood convinced the individuals who were plotting this destruction to desist their activities. Friends of the Sisters from the neighborhood argued that such an act of destruction was unjust and would be a great crime if carried out. There the Sisters cared from 522 children, some of whom lived there and others traveled back and forth from their homes each day. These allies of the Sisters further argued that the Daughters of Charity were not involved in partisan politics but rather were performing a beneficial work since they also assisted the mothers of the children who had been abandoned.
In 1936 there were 250 children living at the center. These included both boys and girls, the majority of whom were orphans but all these children were cared for with love and self-sacrifice by the twelve Sisters who formed the local community. Sister Ignacia Ferrer was the superior. Rosario Olmos, who was at the center, said that these Sisters were mothers to all the boys and girls who at that time numbered 250.
Despite the reactions of the neighbors who supported the Sisters and the children, religious persecution quickly became a reality in the community at San Eugenio. Beginning on July 18, 1936 the persecution became more intense with the passing of each day: the house was searched, there were endless interrogations and false accusations were made which concluded on July 25 with the expulsion of the Daughters from their house. The building was taken over by the local communist committee. Divine Providence allowed the Sister’s testimony of faith and charity to shine forth. The Lord would choose three of them to give the greatest testimony of love by offering their own blood.
Sister Maria Rosario Ciércoles Gaston
In 1892 She did her postulancy in the general hospital in Madrid and there she felt reaffirmed in her vocation through her contact with so many poor persons who she cared for, as well as through her direct contact with the reality of suffering and misery. At the age of nineteen she entered the seminary and when she concluded her initial formation she was assigned to the Escuelas de la Purisima in Varcelona. One year later she was sent to the Colegio de San Vicente de Paul in Barbastro and then to the Escuela de Educación Primaria de la Milagrosa in the neighborhood of La Guindalera in Madrid.
In 1920 she was assigned to the Colegio Asilo de San Eugenio in Valencia. In each place she engaged in her ministry as organist, a music teacher and also taught professional crafts. She taught carpentry to the young boys at San Eugenio and she was very skilled in working with wood. The young men in her classes left school well prepared as semi-skilled workers. She taught them how to use the motorized machines that she had acquired. She was also responsible for the garden and the bird coops.
As an organist and a musician she directed a choir that became renowned as a result of invitations to sing at religious and civil celebrations. Sister Rosario always accompanied the children as an organist and director. She was very energized but was able to dominate and control this temperament. The children were attracted to her because they saw her as a true mother who was concerned about them and cared for them. She was also a skilled pianist and as stated above she was also skilled in working with wood, but above all she knew how to live and communicate the art of balancing all of these things with the love of God. It was for this reason that so many students rejoiced in her music and carpentry classes. She was totally committed to her ministry as an educator.
Like many people from Zaragosa Sister Rosario was devoted to Our Lady of the Pillar and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Through music and song she inculcated her students in both of these devotions.
The time of more intense persecution came in July 1936 when all the Sisters were forced to leave their house. The Sisters were scattered and the community of the Asilo in Valencia no longer existed. Sister Rosario traveled with two other sisters to Puzol (Valencia) to the home of one of their family members. While they were there they were watched and threatened by the members of the communist committee. A priest had sought refuge in the same house and each day he clandestinely celebrated the Eucharist. When the members of the committee became aware of this they decided to put them to death. On August 17, 1938 the three Sisters and the priest were brought before the committee.
Sister Rosario attempted to defend herself and the other Sisters from this unjust treatment. She spoke strongly and firmly to the communists but was unable to obtain freedom. She then understood that God awaited her and was about to gift her with martyrdom. She also encouraged the other Sisters to remain strong in their total surrender to God. The military had them spend the night cleaning the offices of the communist committee located in the Casa del Pueblo (House of the People). The following morning, August 18, 1936 they were taken to the field where they were first martyred morally, that is, every class of abuse was inflicted on their virginal bodies. All of this took place under a lemon tree near the cemetery of Benavides (Valencia). Then they were physically martyred, their bodies riddled with bullets from a machine gun. Sister Rosario was sixty-three years old and at the time of her martyrdom had been a Daughter of Charity for forty-four years.
Sister Micaela Hernán Martínez
She did her postulancy in the Hospice of Burgos, a center that provided for the needs of the poor and the marginalized of the city and the surrounding area. At the end of her postulancy, November 1901, she entered the Company. She was twenty-one years old. The director of the seminary was Sister Cecilia Alvaro and one of her formators, who was also a professor of Church History and the Catechism of the Church, was the Servant of God, Sisters Justa Dominguez de Vidaurreta.
At the conclusion of her formation in the seminary she was sent to the Provincial Hospital in Albacete where she developed her ministry as a child-care provider in the orphanage located there. She cared for the younger children with the loving tenderness of a mother. A few years later she was assigned to the Asilo de la Infancia in Jereza de la Frontera and there she took on a new responsibility of caring for the beggars and the poor in the Soup Kitchen of the Divine Savior. Because of her academic preparation which she received in the school in Saldaña she was sent to the Escuelas de Polano (Santander) where she ministered for a number of years as a teacher.
In 1930 she was sent to the Colegio-Asilo de San Eugenio (Valencia) where she taught the children. There, as in the other places where she served, she was very happy among the youngest children whom she cared for and taught with much love and kindness. Many of these children were orphans and needed her warm kindness, which she shared with them in a very natural and spontaneous manner. At the same time she was very patient when she taught them.
Sister Micaela was an exemplary Sister. She was willing to do what she was asked. She never refused any service that she was able to provide. She had a great esteem for her vocation and for the Founders and was faithful to the Rules of the Company. Filled with a love of God she was able to communicate this love in a very natural way to the children and their family. In those final years a detached retina made it difficult for her to see.
When the time of her martyrdom came during the persecution of 1936 she was fifty-five years old (thirty five years in vocation as a Daughter of Charity). She was assassinated on the on same day, August 18, 1936, and under the same circumstances as Sister Maria Rosario Ciércoles.
Sister María Luisa Bermúdea Ruiz
Her parents were concerned about providing Maria and her sisters with a good education. Sister María had a sister, two years younger, who would also become a Daughter of Charity (Sister María Asunción Bermúdez Ruiz). Both women were educated in the school of the Daughters of Charity in Santiago, Compostelo. It was there that they cultivated a love for the poor and experienced God’s call to continue the mission of Jesus Christ among the poor. They agreed to give their patrimony to the Congregation of the Mission and thus the Missionaries developed works of evangelization on behalf of the poor. Maria Luisa did her postulancy in the Asilo of San Blas in Madrid and on August 30, 1917 entered the Company. Sister Ursula Tablado was the director of the seminary and the Servant of God, Sister Justa Domínguez de Vidaurreta, was a professor of Church History, the Catechism of the Church and the life of the Founders.
After completing her initial formation she was sent to those houses where children were educated. She had a special gift in dealing with children and had specialized in this field of study. She was an excellent teacher. She was kind in her ministry, caring in her relationships, accepting of the students and compassionate toward the children as well as their parents. She liked needlework and was an exquisite embroiderer … after class she dedicated time to teaching needlework to the older girls.
These were the places where she ministered: the children’s residence Santa Eulalia in Barcelonia (1918), the Child Jesus Orphanage in Logroño (1920), the Charity House in Zaragoza (1921). At this time she became ill and had to spend some months recovering in the Casa San Cayetano in Madrid. After a period of rest she was assigned to the Colegio-Asilo de las Mercedes in Madrid (1922) and in 1931 she was assigned to the Colegio-Asilo de San Engenio in Valencia. There she was in charge of the sewing room for girls. Sister Luise was kind and compassionate and as a result she suffered greatly … she became deeply concerned about any need of the poor. In community she showed herself to be pious, faithful the Rules of the Company and responsible in fulfilling her obligations.
During the persecution of 1936 the twelve Sisters who formed the community received an order from the communists that they would have to leave the house on July 25th. Men and women who were members of the committee that was evicting the Sisters tried to learn in the course of one week all that was involved in the work at the center and then took control of the Asilo. Once they moved into the center, they took possession of everything and forced the Sisters to leave.
Sister Martina Vázquez Gordo
Martina, from the time she was a child, showed herself to be intelligent and bold, compassionate and open. Her mother died when she was young and as a result Martina felt obliged to help her father in the pastry shop. As she engaged in this labor and worked behind the counter, she revealed her sense of responsibility and her joy. Friends who knew her during her youth testified that she had a boyfriend in Toro (Zamora) but counseled by her pastor she broke off this relationship because it did not appear to be something that was beneficial for her development. At the same time her father fell from his horse and was brought in serious condition to the General Hospital in Valladolid, a hospital that was administered by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. There for the first time she came to know the Sisters. In contact with people who were suffering and experiencing the ministry in which the Sisters were involved, she felt called to the religious life. She then decided to put aside her plans for marriage and to be faithful to God’s call if her father recovered.
Martina viewed the recovery of her father as a sign of God’s love for her. Her father, a widower, could not understand why his oldest daughter would leave him alone with his business and with having to care for five young children, two boys and three girls (two other children had died). Martina continued to pray and waited. She prepared her younger sisters to help their father in administering the pastry shop and made a decision to enter the Company. Later, one of her sisters would enter the Convent and live the life of a contemplative. Why did Martina not do the same? She had been assisted by her pastor and the Sisters at the Hospiral and was able to overcome her father’s objections. In September, 1895, at the age of thirty, she began her postulancy in the General Hospital of Valladolid.
On February 26, 1896 having completed her postulancy she entered the seminary on calle Jesús in Madrid. Martina did not find it easy to follow through on this call from God … she spoke about this with one of her nieces. She had doubts about the authenticity of her call and experienced powerful trials in this matter that disturbed her interior peace. There were many difficult moments and she wanted to abandon the path that she had begun to travel. But she was able to reflect on these events and said: I have to battle the devil! With the help of God’s grace she was able to conclude this period of initial formation and received her first assignment to the Hospice in Zamora where she was given responsibility for the laundry and the kitchen, something which she had never done but her love for the poor led her to become involved in this ministry in a selfless manner. In fact, she continued to minister in this manner for twelve years.
Then in 1908 she was appointed superior of the recently established Colegio de la Milagrosa located in the same city. There she became aware of the fact that people did not want to send their children to this new school because they felt the education there was qualitatively inferior. In a very discreet manner she entered one of the men’s clubs and engaged some of the men in conversation, attempting to convince them to enroll their children in the school. These men were play billiards and one of them, in jest, said to Sister Martina: If you can make a cannon, I will send my son! Sister Martina took the cue stick, shot and made a cannon. The school was filled as a result of this. Sister Martina became very popular and the school’s reputation began to grow and spread.
In 1914 she was sent as superior to the hospital and the school in Segorbe (Castellón) where there were many material needs and many debts. She began to improve the conditions at that beneficent institution. She began by procuring adequate nutrition for the infirm, rearranging the dormitories, classrooms and various departments at the center. In this work she used some of the income that she received from her family while at the same time requesting the collaboration of some wealthy families in order to improve the physical condition of the buildings.
In order to confront the situation of hunger that afflicted many people she established a soup kitchen, “Gota de leche” (A drop of milk) for under-nourished children and a small consultation center for mothers who were nursing their children. She was also able to open a center for the transient poor who came there every day after the celebration of the Eucharist. Besides helping the men with their various material needs she also tried to find work for them.
Later, in coordination with the mayor, she created the Charitable Board of Segorbe that provided assistance in sustaining the nursing home and the hospital for the elderly. Sister Martina’s charity was contagious. On more than one occasion the wealthy men of this area approached the merchants and businessmen requesting their assistance so that Sister Martina would have the means to provide for the many people who approached her and were seeking help from her. With all of this work she did not neglect the cultural and promotional dimension of her ministry. She supported the teachers and also at various times taught courses in the school, for example, sewing, culture and religion.
Between 1918-1923 Sister Martina served as Assistant on the Provincial Council and resided in the Provincial house in Madrid. Then in 1923 the Spanish troops met with disaster at the battle of Annual. Many soldiers were wounded and there was a great need for nurses in North Africa. In response to the King’s request for help, Sister Josefa Benegoechea, the Visitatrix, responded: Your majesty, not twenty-four Sisters, but forty-two Daughters of Charity will leave tomorrow and Sister Martina will lead this battalion of peace and calm. Thus, as superior in “Doker”, Melilla (1923-1926) she was responsible for the administration of the military hospitals.
Sister Martina did not hesitate to become involved. She cleaned floors, cared for and listened to the wounded soldiers and gave orders to the military when the situation required this. She was convinced that in all of this she was continuing the mission of Jesus Christ. She frequently stated: The poor and the soldiers are the people who are going to lead me to heaven. On one occasion a truck arrive at the Hospital of “Doker” in which there were wounded and dead soldiers. She helped remove these soldiers from the truck and encouraged some of the men who were thought to be dead. Those who were driving the truck said: You are truly our mother! When she saw that there was not sufficient space for so many wounded soldiers she remembered that the military officials in Melilla had their own club which could resolve their situation. She spoke with the officials and told them: I need your club to become a hospital in order to care for the wounded soldiers. One of the officials opposed this idea. Sister then phone Don Juan da la Cierva, the war minister, and told him: They do not want to give me space in their club and I have no place to care for so many wounded men. Tell me, your Excellency, what I should do! The minister sent a telegram to Sister Martina appointing her Captain General and giving her the authority to do what she felt was best. When the officials at the club received news of this appointment, they placed themselves at her service and helped her set up the necessary beds in the club so that she could attend to the infirm and the wounded.
A short time later Queipo de Llano arrived at the club and asked: What has happened here? The officials told him about Sister Martina and he said: I want to meet her. As they entered the hospital he met Sister Martina (though he did not know it was her) and asked where he might find Sister Matina. She responded: You don’t know her? Ask for her here because she is not far from here! Upon meeting another Sister, he asked the same question and was told: You have just spoken with her. At that Sister Martina turned around and smiled at Queipo de Llano who, surprised, said: I admire her … I truly admire her! We would need many more pages in order to recall the many emotional events that occurred during the war. When the war was concluded Sister Martina went to Mount Gurugú where the Muslims had placed their cannons. She threw a handful of miraculous medals on the ground and said: If some day I can, I will return to this mountain and place here a statue of the Miraculous Medal. One of the Muslim leaders gifted her with a cloth of precious silk in order to make a cloak for the Virgin of Henar, the patroness of Cuéllar (the place where she was born). This cloth is preserved in the museum of the shrine.
In 1926 she returned with renewed energy to the hospital and the schools in Segorbe and continued to be attentive to the needs of the people. She knew the people and was aware of their needs and therefore attempted to consolidate what had already been established and she also wanted to extend the outreach of these various services. One of the eye witnesses from that era stated: Sister was very concerned about providing for those persons who were most poor.
Sister Martina was very firm, open, courageous, creative and had a great sense of humor. She was able to confront difficulties with optimism and hope and was not discouraged when faced with problems. She humbly asked forgiveness when she offended someone. In 1933 she was relieved from her role as superior but continued to serve the poor in Segorbe.
As time progressed she began her journey toward martyrdom. She felt that the situation was becoming more difficult and there was a movement against the Church. On July 25, 1936 Sister Martina feared that the previously announced desecration of the house would be carried out. She gathered the Sisters together in the chapel and they consumed all the hosts. The following day, July 26th, the military invaded the hospital. Armed, they told the Sisters that they had to leave by 4:00pm … if they did not leave, the buildings would be fired upon and bombed. They abandoned the building and were flanked by four soldiers who led them to an uninhabited house of some former students. They were locked in this house. At different times the soldiers would enter to see if anyone had escaped. Though they were now living as prisoners, the people who knew them and loved them passed them food through the windows. Sister Martina had a premonition about what was going to occur and she said: I am going to be martyred! At the same time she encouraged the other Sisters: We have to be strong; the Lord will not fail us! Let us pray and ask the Lord for strength!
They remained in this house from July 26 until October 3. It was in this place that they had cared for so many people who were in need. The day before her martyrdom, October 3, 1936 she confessed in writing to a priest who lived clandestinely in the house across the street. The communicated with signs in front of the window and in this manner she received absolution.
At 9:00pm on October 4, 1936 the soldiers came for her. She was resting because she was ill. The Sisters told this to the soldiers but nonetheless the soldiers were determined to take her. Sister Martina dressed in her habit, embraced each Sister and told them: we will meet in heaven! Some of the Sisters wanted to accompany her, but they were not allowed to do so. She was placed in a truck that traveled along the road to Algar (Valencia). Understanding their intentions Sister Martina said: You are going to kill me and so there is no need to take me far away. They made her step out of the truck and offering no resistance she asked them to wait for one moment. They told her to turn her back to them, but she refused saying: To die with one’s back turned is cowardly. I want to die facing you like Christ and also like Christ, I forgive you. She knelt down and prayed devoutly. She removed from her pocket a small vile of holy water and blessed herself, kissed the crucifix and said: If I have offended you in anything, I ask forgiveness and if you kill me, I forgive you … when you want you can fire your weapons. With her arms open and holding the crucifix in the fingers of her right hand, she professed her faith: I believe in the words of Jesus Christ: whoever professes me before others, I will acknowledge before my Father. She then received the first bullets that pierced her neck and face. She was still alive and able to say: My God, have mercy on me! Covered in blood she then fell into a ditch. The soldiers who assassinated her had previously been served by her in the soup kitchen that she had established.
Thus, at the age of sixty-eight and after having served for more than thirty years as a Daughter of Charity, Sister Martina gave up her life. The following morning her body was buried in the cemetery in Algar. When the war was concluded her remains were exhumed, identified by the Sisters and brought to Segorbe together with forty-five other bodies. These remains were viewed in the cloister of the Hospital and the following day a funeral Mass was offered. It was very emotional to see the white coffin of Sister Martina carried to the cemetery on the shoulders of the Civil Guard.
In June 1959 at the request of her family, her remains were transferred from Segorbe to Cuéllar (Segovia). A niece stated that Sister Martina spoke about dying as a martyr and that she wanted, if it were possible, to be buried at the feet of the Virgin of Henar. There, behind the altar in the shrine of Our Lady of Henar, her body was laid to rest as an offering of love.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM