The Life of Venerable Santiago Masarnau

by | Feb 1, 2021 | Formation, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

On January 21, 2021, The Vincentian Family received good news: Pope Francis had recognized the heroic virtues of the founder and the first president of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Spain, and declared him Venerable.

We offer some brief insights into his life.

1805. Santiago Masarnau Fernández is born on December 10th in Madrid; his parents are Santiago Masarnau Torres (Copons, Barcelona) and Beatriz Fernández Carredano (Omoño, Santander). Their marriage produced three children: Vicente, Dolores and Santiago.

1806. His father is appointed secretary of the Royal Knights of Córdoba, under the authority of the Count of Miranda, (the city in which the family settled).

1808.  His mother, Beatriz, dies in Córdoba. Soon thereafter, as a result of the French invasion, the family moves to Grenada. Santiago begins to reveal hius gift in musical composition and interpretation and recieves lessions in those disciplines.

1814. Fernando VII returns and the Masarnau family settles in Madrid. The following year, his father is appointed secretary municipality of Palacio, a position that had been held by the Count of Miranda. He also received the title of Lord Seervant of the Royal House. Santiago continued his musical formation and also began studies at the “‘Dª María de Aragón”. Later, between 1820-1822, we would study mathematics at “Reales Estudios de San Isidro”.

1819. At the age of 14 and in recognition of his musical gifts, Santiago receives the title: Honorary Lord Seervant of the Royal House.

1823. In circumstances that are unclear, his father falls out of favor with his protector, the Count of Miranda and King Fernando VII. At the same time, through a Royal Order issued on November 11, 1823, Santiago loses his honorary title.

1825. Santiago Masarnau had decided to continue his musical career and went to Paris in order to complete his studies. A short time before his departure, his sister, Dolores, dies. In Paris Santiago came to know and interacted with man Spanish exiles, among whom was José Melchor Gomis. Together with him and Madame Josefina Laborde, Santiago formed a musical group and the moved to England. In London, Santiago received lessons from the famous musician, Cramer. During these years, his beliefs were founded on philophical principles and did not involve an authentic Chrisstian commitment (although he fulfilled his formal obligations as a Catholic).

1829. Santiago returns to Madrid and soon thereafter his father dies. He was deeped saddened and became disoriented.

1833. Santiago Masarnau returns to France and later, takes up residence in London. That year in Paris, Frederic Ozanam and seven companions (all young university students) established the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. In order to achieve sanctification, the members of this group dedicated themselves to the practice of charity and do this through visiting the homes of the poor..

1834. After the death of Fernando VII, the “Royal Statute” is proclaimed in Spain. Santiago returns to Madrid and gives classes at the Conservatory and writes in “El Artista”  (the Artist) and also gives concerts.

1837. Santiago returns to London but encounters there a very distinct environment and decided to go to Paris. There he dedicated his to time to the composition of music and to giving music classes,. During this time he encountered Frederico and Pedro Medrazo who were residing in Paris.

1838. During Lent, Santiago Masarnau experienced a profound change in the manner in which he lived his faith. His first biographer referred to this change as a “conversion”. A general confession was followed by the reception of communion on May 19th in the parish of Our Lady of Loreto … this marked a definitive change in his lifestyle.

1839. After a brief time, during which he was a member of the Archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart of Mary, he entered the Conference of San Luis d’Antin de París and served as treasurer. In this manner he was able to unite charitable action on behalf of those most in need (a ministry that he never abandoned) to his intense spiritual life which involved prayer, participation in the sacraments, spiritual reading, etc.

1841. In Paris Santiago meets Juan Donoso Cortés, and the witness of Santiago’s life brought about a conversion in the life of this extreme politician … this fact stated in a letter (dated July 28, 1849) that Donoso wrote to his friend, Alberich de la Blanche, the Marquis of Raffin.

1843. Santiago Masarnau returns definitively to Madrid. His brother, Vicente, wanted him to serve as Vice-Director and professor of music at the school that he established on  C/Alcalá nº 27. Isable II bestowed a royal title on Santiago. Santiago’s development of his spiritual life was his primary concern. At the same time he engaged in charitable activity in various places in Madrid: a hospice, the Santa Isabel House of Mercy. His friends in France exhorted him to establish the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Spain … and thus with prudence and tenacity he confronted the various difficulties that hindered said establishment.

1849. On November 11, Santiago Masarnau establishes the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Spain. The co-founders are Vicente de la Fuente y Anselmo Ouradou. Within a short period of time Pedro Madrazo joined the group.

1850. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul obtains ecclesiastical approval in the Archdiocese of Toledo … at that time Madrid was part of that archdiocese. Later, the Society would be recognized by the other dioceses in Spain.

1851. The Royal Order of the Ministry of Grace and Justice gave civil approval to the Society. In 1856, the Society would be recognized anew by the Ministry of Government. On December 8, the Society held its first General Meeting. The Society then experience a spectacular growth in Spain. 1856 marked the beginning of the publication of the Society’s Bulletin and was gifted with the presence and the support of the Archbishop of Cuba and tdhe Confessor of the Queen: San Antonio Maria Claret.

1866. Santiago Masarnau was made a Gentleman of the Royal House and given an annual stipend of 1,000 escudos. He wrote the Queen and thanked her for the title that she had bestowed upon him, but renounced that title because “he dedicated all his time to the work of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and could not rescind his commitment to that task”.

1868. Through a Decree dated October 19: All Association known as the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul are to be dissolved. The civil government will seize all documents and funds. This Decree was signed by Romero Ortiz, Minister of Grace and Justice. Don Santiago Don Santiago receives this hard measure with his usual equanimity. Some authorized voices are raised in defense of the Society, including that of Concepción Arenal. During this difficult period, Masarnau and his most faithful collaborators continue their charitable work in a quiet and discreet way.

1875. With the reestablishment of the constitutional monarchy in the person of Alfonso XII, a Royal Order provides for the legal reestablishment “of the pious society of Saint Vincent de Paul”.

1882. His health failing, Don Santiago resigns his position as President of the Society in Spain. He is succeeded by D. Luis de Tapia y Parrella. On December 14th, surrounded by friends and the poor, Santiago died at the age of 77. Thirty-three years had passed since the Society was established in Spain. Numerous works about his virtuous and exemplary life were published by individuals who had known him for many years.

1905. On the occasion of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Santiago, and extensive and complete biography was published. The author of this work is distinguished writer from Mallorca, Jose Maria Quadrado.

1996. The remains of Santiago are moved to the cemetery of the Sacramental de San Justo al Templo de la Sociedad, c/ Verónica 11, Madrid.

1999. On June 5th, the diocesan process of the Canonziatdion of the Servant of God, Santiago Masarnau, is begun.

2000. The diocesan phase of the canonization process is concluded.

2009. The historical experrts of the Congregation for the Cause of the Saints approved the Positio.

2021. On January 21, 2021, Pope Francis promulgates the decree by which Santiago Masarnau is declared “Venerable”.