Father Ireneo Rodríguez González (1879-1936)

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

God, our Father, you are rich in mercy and peace and you blessed your priestly son, Ireneo and made him an instrument of harmony and unity. Through his intercession may we also become instruments of peace and unity in the world. We pray in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Childhood and adolescence:

Ireneo was born on February 10, 1879, in Los Balbases (Burgos), during a period of good times for Spain. One year before (1878), King Alfonso XII married Doña Mercedes (January 23, 1878) in the midst of popular applause. In just a few

Martyr Ireneo.jpg

years the King would die prematurely, a few days before his twenty-eighth birthday (November 25, 1885) and the Palace of El Prado would be invaded by cholera and consumption. Ireneo grew up in midst of his parents, Mamerto and Cristina, modest farmers who were dedicated to their work and not involved in the political situation. They breathed the peace and the prosperity of Spain.

Los Balbases, an ancient town, has a rich artistic legacy that can be seen in the two gothic churches that were built there: San Esteban and San Millán, located in different neighborhoods. Two days after his birth Ireneo was baptized in the parish church of San Esteban and through the expressed desire of the pastor there he was given Saint Scholastica as his intercessor (Saint Irenaeus, martyr in Rome, headed the list of male saints for February 10th and Saint Scholastica headed the list of female saints for the same day). As can be seen the calendar of Saints had a great influence on people. Thus there was no need for any further talk, the neophyte, that is, the new born boy, would be called Ireneo and his patroness would be Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict.

Irenaeus and Scholastica, these two saints would have a profound influence on this future missionary as he developed and exercised his ministry as a Vincentian. Ireneo, which means peaceful, seemed most appropriate since Ireneno’s ideal was to be an instrument of peace and unity in all the different ministries that were entrusted to him. Indeed, he would flee from heated discussions. Some biographers underline his goodness and kindness and his spirit of reconciliation and others emphasize his compassion and ability to relate to people, “always wanting to serve others”. He was attracted to Saint Scholastica because he saw her as the ideal student who wanted to be close to the Divine Teacher, the One who reveals the love of the Father. Indeed, she was a simple and humble Christian woman who was given the gift of knowing the kingdom, a secret that is hidden from the learned and the wise of this world.

Ireneo’s baptism in the parish of San Esteban indicates that his house was in the parish confines of that Saint who is known as the first martyr of the Church. During the same year of his birth, on October 19, 1879 to be precise, the Archbishop of Burgos visited the parish and Ireneo was then confirmed. Pope Leo XIII had recently been elected as the Pastor of the Universal Church and years later Ireneo would comment on that Pope’s social doctrine as explained in the encyclical, Rerum novarum.

At the age of twelve Ireneo was enrolled in the Colegio Apostólico that the Vincentians had opened in 1888 in Arcos de la Llana in the former palace of the archbishop. There Ireneo had the opportunity to undertake the first stage of his studies in Latin and the humanities under the direction of Father Inocencio Gómez. Ireneo was one of the first students from Burgos to study at the apostolic seminary there before entering the Internal Seminary. Father Inocencio was also from Burgos but he had entered the Congregation after he had been ordained (at that time many other Missionaries entered the Congregation in the same manner)

When Ireneo had completed his studies in Arcos de Llana he went to Tardajos and there the school had also been established in the buildings that were formerly the Episcopal residence. There he continued his studies in the humanities until he had completed the third year of Latin. Father Manuel Casado, a former professor in Arco was the superior there. Several hundred young men would study at Tardajos and many of them would become highly esteemed members of the Congregation of the Mission.

He had not yet completed his studies and yet was unable to do so in Tardajos and so was sent by his superiors to Marguia (Álava) which from 1888 functioned as a school similar to the one in Tardajos … the difference however was that the aspirants to the Congregation were living together with other young men from that area. Ireneo’s example attracted other young men from the town to opt for the priesthood. In fact at that time the best vocational recruitment was done by the students in the apostolic school who spoke about their studies and their faith with other young men from the neighboring town.

Entrance into the Congregation of the Mission:

At the age of eighteen Ireneo requested entrance into the Congregation whose Internal Seminary was located in the neighborhood of Chamberí, Madrid (calle García de Paredes). There were forty-five young men who along with Ireneo entered the Internal Seminary in 1895-1896. A number of these young men would become outstanding in the practice of virtue and in their commitment to the mission, Missionaries such as Father Domingo Villanueva, Father José María Fernández (founder of the Mission in Calcutta, India [1922] and martyr during the religious persecution [1936]), Father Enrique Sáenz, Father Santiago Senderos and several others.

The Director of the Seminary was Father Ramón Arana Echevarría (1889-1902), a gifted communicator of his enthusiasm and love for the person of Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor, the simple, and the humble of heart and equally gifted in communicating his love for the apostle of charity, Vincent de Paul. Father Ramón, through his kind words and his relationship with the students was able to create in them an enthusiasm for the ministry of the popular missions, an apostolate in which he had ministered for many years. He spoke with the students about his experience and his conferences were filled with lively anecdotes and experiences from his pastoral ministry. His lifestyle and simple speech enabled him to gain the trust of the seminarians.

As customary, at the conclusion of the second year of the Internal Seminary, Ireneo professed his perpetual vows on June 3rd, 1897 in the presence of the visitor, Father Eladio Arnaiz. In that same house on calle Garcia de Paredes, Ireneo studied three years of philosophy and four years of theology … studies that capacitated him for the mission that was being developed in the seminaries in the Philippines. The year 1903 was a very important year; he was ordained a deacon on October 28 and a priest on November 1. He would now begin a new stage in his life during which time he would dedicate himself to the formation of the clergy in the Philippines

Travels by land and sea:

After ordination Ireneo spent another month in Spain and at that time was filling out the necessary paper work in order to travel to the Philippines on December 12, 1903, as a member of the twenty-seventh expedition of the Vincentian Missionaries. The thought of traveling over the ocean made him realize that he was about to enter a new world and a new culture. In 1904, he arrived at the Seminary of Cebu; in 1907, he was ministering at the seminary in Manila; in 1910, in the seminary at Naga; in 1912, he returned to Manila; in 1917, he was in São Paulo; in 1921, he was in Madrid recovering from an illness; in 1922, he was in Manila for a third time; in 1923, he became ill and returned to Madrid; in 1926, he was in Málaga; in 1927, in Havana, Cuba, and, finally, in 1931 in Guadalajara, where he would spend his final days before going to the eternal homeland … but only after professing his faith and his love in front of the Communist mob that martyred him along with his three other confreres.

The mission in the Philippines confirmed him in his vocation as a formator of the clergy. In addition to teaching in the various seminaries he was the spiritual director for the seminarians and interacted with the diocesan clergy; he was also spiritual director of many lay men and women and was a confessor. His ministry of forming the clergy contributed to the establishment of the wonderful work that the Congregation of the Mission was able to accomplish in the Philippines.

In Spain and in Cuba Father Ireneo preached popular mission which produced many fruits. Once again his ministry was characterized by simplicity and affability and respect for all people. The Spanish dioceses of Toledo, Astorga, Ávila, and Badajoz became witnesses to the many seeds that were sown through the tireless zeal of Father Ireneo.

Illness visited him and at times became his frequent companion during his time in the tropics. There were many times when his illness became so severe that he had to suspend his ministry and cancel some of his commitments. In 1926 and 1927, while preaching missions in the Diocese of Toledo, he became ill and had to be hospitalized in Puente del Arzobispo, where the Daughters of Charity administered a small hospital. But peace and conformity with the will of God guided him and gave him encouragement in the midst of adversity and in dealing with his physical limitations. Certainly, we can see that he was a Missionary who was striving for holiness as he fulfilled the mission.

We live in alarming times:

At the end of 1931 Father Ireneo returned from Cuba and was missioned to the Colegio Apostólico in Guadalajara. As the days passed during the year 1936 and in anticipation of the Marxist revolution, the community at the seminary in Guadalajara traveled to Murguia (Álava) in order to provide greater security to the young aspirants to the Congregation. Only Fathers Ireneo Rodríguez, Gregorio Cermeño, Vicente Vilumbrales and Brother Narciso Pascaul remained behind in order to guard the seminary. Frather Ireneo, as interim superior, replaced the true superior, Father Gregorio Sedano. In this case, Father Ireneo’s willingness to remain at the seminary was a generous response to the urgent need to care for the faithful and attend to the commitments that he had accepted as pastor and confessor at the parish, as Director of the Miraculous Medal Association, advisor to the Ladies of Charity and also advisor to the Conferences of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. A deep sense of responsibility and pastoral zeal guided his actions. His enthusiasm and devotion to Our Lady of Miraculous Medal, whose novena he preached, strengthened the hearts of the faithful. In gratitude for the many blessings that he received in his home town of Los Balbases, he donated a statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and to this day that statue is preserved.

A witness has assured us that the person who denounced and threatened the priests and the brother of the community in Guadalajara was an innkeeper with the nickname “El Chinas” who had a hatred for anything that smelled like wax or a cassock. Father Ireneo had done nothing that would have warranted the death sentence being inflicted on him. On April 29, 1936 Father Ireneo wrote: We live in alarming times but up until the present time we have only received threats. Tomorrow Father Cermeño will sleep outside the house and then we will see what happens on May 1st. Everything seemed headed toward a tragic outcome.

On July 26th, 1936 the three priests and the brother along with other priests and religious and lay people committed to their faith were arrested by members of the militia and imprisoned at the Prisión Central located on calle Amparo. In all three hundred outstanding Christians from this region were arrested and among these persons were twenty-one priests and religious who were placed in a separate cell. The Vincentian Missionaries could have hidden themselves and could have found refuge in a safer place in Spain but they opted to continue their ministry and thus they placed their trust in the Lord.

It should be easy to imagine the deprivations and the hardships that these individuals experienced in prison. There was never enough food and at the times the prisoners experienced great hunger. In October the prisoners’ mattresses and covers were taken from them and in November, when it was very cold, their overcoats were robbed from them. Despite these physical sufferings and fears they remained faithful in their profession of their faith and their love. They were encouraged by the words of Saint Paul: For if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him (Romans 6:8). According to Julián Figueres: Father Ireneo’s life in prison was a true sacrifice and one of Christian resignation. He encouraged the other prisoners to follow his example. Father Ireneo and the other priests absolved many of the prisoners from their sins and exhorted them to remain calm and to avoid thinking of vengeance.

According to some of the eye witnesses, the priests and the religious led an exemplary life. They prayed and soon after their death one witness stated: The prison officials were very edified by them. Another witnesses stated: One day when I entered the dormitory where the Vincentian Missionares were imprisoned (Fathers Ireneo Rodriguez, Cermeño, Vilumbrales and Brother Pascual) together with other priests and religious I saw one of them praying the rosary … it was Father Ireneo. He was praying the rosary with the other priests and religious who were locked up in the same dormitory with him. I had surprised them in the middle of their prayers and they were startled. Father Ireneo told me, “we are praying the rosary.” I told him: ”You can pray however you want and you have nothing to fear from me but be careful about the communists and the members of the militia who often come to this prison.” In prison Father Ireneo honored the name that he had been given at baptism and was peaceful and calm and communicated this peace to all those who conversed with him. These individuals in turn imitated him and also tried to live with the same peace and calmness.

On December 6, 1936 the danger of death increased when a group of communists, who had been stirred up by the militia of that area, assaulted the prison in order to kill all the priests and religious and lay Catholics in reprisal for the bombing by the National forces. The assault began at 4:00pm. An angry mob approached the prison shouting: kill the prisoners! The women also cried out: Bring us the prisoners so that we can cut them apart with our scissors! From various sources we have been told that first, the Marxists locked the dormitories so that the prisoners could not defend themselves nor escape to the streets. Then one by one the prisoners were taken out of the dormitories (accompanied by a member of the militia) seemingly to be tried and sentenced. In reality, they were each shot at point blank range as they approached the scaffold that had been erected for their execution. Most of the prisoners were executed in this manner.

In a gesture of heroic charity, Father Ireneo and another priest offered their life in order to save the lives of the other prisoners, especially those who were parents, but their executioners were filled with hatred for the faith and turned a deaf ear to their plea, thus rejecting their compassionate charity. They were then placed in front of the prison walls and shot; their bodies were left on the ground. The first to be executed were the twenty-one priests and religious including the Vincentian priests and Brother Paúl. It also seems that Father Ireneo and Brother Pascual were among the first victims who were executed on December 6th, 1936. A short time later it was confirmed that these persons were executed simply because they were priests and/or religious and because their executioners hated the Christian faith. Their reputation as martyrs and holy people spread rapidly through the streets of Guadalajara.

The anger of the members of the militia increased and armed with pistols they riddled the bodies of anyone who appeared to still have some life. Many of their victims were still breathing when they thrown onto a truck. They were then buried in a common grave in a place called La Dehesa, on the side of the Chiloeches Road … there many of the bodies were burned and reduced to ashes.

[This biography, which can be found in Spanish on the website of the Madrid Province (http://www.paulesmadrid.org/), is an adaptation of the work done by Antonio Orcajo, CM and published by Editorial La Milagrosa, Madrid in the year 2012 under the title Misioneros Paúles Mártires de la Revolución Religiosa en España: 1934-1936 and translated into English by Charles T. Plock, CM].