CERVERA

  1. The Community and its relationship with the Town Council

When speaking of Cervera it has been mentioned with regard to almost all the Claretian martyrs outlined so far. This gives an idea of the importance which this city had in the life of the Congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The clear reason is that from 1887, the Claretians established their residence in the building of the former University founded by King Felipe V. The building, was large and majestic, and was located in the upper part of town. The University was closed in 1842, by decree of Espartero.

The building was so large that it was always able to accomodate a very large community, thus there were several sections, such as, the Novitiate, a school of Philosophy and Theology, Postulancy, the headquarters of the General Government and later the Provincial Government.

On July 21, 1936 the community consisted of 116 religious, distributed as follows: 30 Priests, 51 professed students and 35 Brothers. Some lived and worked on the farm named Mas Claret, some six kilometers from town. In addition, there were 63 pre-postulants, which would be distributed between their families. A group of students had left for Barbastro and other locations. Of the 116 religious, 67 were martyred, or gave their blood for God.

The Superior of the community was Father Jaime Girón.

The situation of the community in Cervera wasn’t always easy, actually quite the opposite. The causes were numerous, among them was that they were situated in the same building, which at times was like a town hall. In 1916, there was an act of conciliation between the groups, but the problems remained. In 1922, everything was open to discussion, such as Father Federico Codina Picasso recounts:

“Once again our University of Cervera is at odds with the city council due to the protective work of the Secretary of Marcellin Domingo.

Accidentally, as the Superior came to share information concerning the Claretian’s being tenants of the University, etc., and the fee of some 500 pesetas per year.

To defend themselves, our Priests have a notary copy which was  recorded by a Royal Order in which it proves that the University is not our property. Such an order, I may say, does not provide that the town council; and the Delegation of Finance within this City have not been able to find it.

It would be worthwhile to search for it in the Ministry of Finance in that yesterday we wrote to Fr Postius, but because of the postal strike we have been upset completely.

Who knows if V.R. could do something?

The Royal Order of May 8, 1887, infers the transfering the University of Cervera in usufruct to the municipality of that city.”[1]

In the end, someone from the Municipal Archive needs to make themself useful with R.O.[2]

 

The Republic: Since the advent of the Republic in 1931, the situation became worse for the Claretian community “above all, in the furious sectarianism of a Railway Center, and where frequent ralley’s were held with ungodly and blasfermas conferences which always ended up attacking God and Religion. Their threats and inducements to the assault of the residental centers of the priests, who were there as bastions and defenders of one or the another. This led to days of real distress for the priests and religious, to the point of forcing them on more than one occasion to take prudent precautions to avoid serious trouble.”[3]

The same Father Codina, being Superior of Cervera, wrote to Father General, Nicolás García on July 25, 1933:

“Finding that we have to yield, in the manner indicated on future action render the loss of any type of complaint. We empower the greed of the powerful Local Leftist who are committed to run us out of Cervera. The day doesn’t seems far away, and the Town Council is the rightful owner. What do our sincere friends think, who are few in this situation, of stressing the needs and weight of an average selfless person like Mr. Razquin.”

The dealings with the Town Council were necessary, but resolved little, because the higher authorities have their own projects. On August 9, 1933, Father Codina wrote again to Fr General, introducing the possibility of us having to leave the building:

“Last night they finally twisted the arm of the City Town Council into accepting the foundations proposed by General Government, and gladly subscribed appreciating each and every one of the ends. If they don’t suspect themselves, the individuals in the Municipal City Council, that is to say, give the last word, for as soon as it’s announced to take place there will be a the visit by Gasol, Barnes (brother of Minister) and other advisers, who will come settle our conflicts. It would somewhat resemble what took place with the Piarists Fathers and at the Cathedral with the Christian Brothers. […]

According to them, we can find ourselves between a rock and a hard place with the following dilemma: either leave with compensation, or outright violence. The first case (people say more likely) What compensation seems to come from the Queen? Here in various councils they tried this possibility, we have pointed out how to limit the amount of 700,000 ptas. (fact estimate on repair work and consolidation and residence, above the injury done fixing building whose lease we have enjoyed more than in the limitations that were stipulated in the foundational contracts).”

But during these dealing with the Municipality, the terms were changed overlooking the priests and the foundation of the corporation, due to the pressure exerted by the Leftists. It is the case that the missionaries used a portion of the building for a school. The director of the new Institute of secondary education was informed that the Generalitat had imposed the inauguration of this Institute as well as other of Catalonia and the Minister of Culture said that in the case of refusing the University to give up the local field workings, the Generalitat would take responsibility, which in plain language means that it would send local delegates accompanied by public force to evict what is appropriate at this time.[4]

 

1934: Revolution of Asturias and rebellion of the Generalitat of Catalonia

In October 6, 1934, when the Revolution broke out of Asturias and the rebellion of the Generalitat in Barcelona proclaiming the State of Catalonia, the City Council of Cervera, who empowered the revolutionaries (supplying), gave orders to Father Jaime Girón, to leave the University in 24 hours. No less, the movement failed in Barcelona that same night, thus not to run.

In May of the following year, it seems that things were going well. On May 25, 1935, Father Giron the local Superior expressed these sentiments to Fr Philip Maroto, Superior General: “We are in peace and even have very good relations with the authorities.” But the political situation did not improve and they would feel the need to leave the building. As Father Giron wrote to Father Ramon Ribera in November of that year to informed him “in addition, it’s already of a general opinion in the province that this house of Cervera is becoming a hinderance and is detrimental to the progress of the same with their enormous expenditures of all kinds that increase daily to become an unusable property and many of its facilities, and more without Cervera has no economic advantage and object, or any other kind.”

 

1936: Political pressure to leave the building

In 1936, the overall situation worsened after the general elections in February, but in Cervera it took a particular bias which directly affected the community.

The alarm also came to the Postulancy after the general elections in February of 1936. By then he had already raised the need to abandon the building of the former University to which the farm (Mas Claret) was attached. The Provincial Government at the request of the local government approved the sale of some land plots from Mas Claret, but it was decided not to sell everything, as requested, because it involved the closure of Cervera, of which the Provincial Government on February 27, 1936 stated: “It is something that could be considered above all in the case in which we will be forced to leave the College of Cervera, or abandon voluntarily, when taking into account that the current students could be placed in other schools with less expense. In the sentiment indicated it is recommended by the General Government for approval by this Provincial Government.”

The political situation worsened. So describes Father José Ribe, Prefect of Postulants, in a letter dated March 23, to Fr. Barnabas Rami.

“Here during the first week we were overwhelmed with several letters of parents claiming their children, but there were only two families who took them away and have not returned. For now, its better they remain outside until the horizon changes. Right now all are enjoying peace of mind; we went out for a walk etc., but as the day begins… we can prepare the environment.”

In April of that year we received a serious notice on how to take certain precautions. Father Julio Leache narrates to Expectation his brother in a letter dated April 11, 1936:

“A few days ago the 140 (more or less) communists wanted to take control of the houses in Cervera. They tried to take control by popular election in a show of hands by the right wing to take control of the Town Hall and then force us to vacate the University in a few hours.”

Fr John Prats described the instability of those living through these terms:

“We here in Cervera we are calm right now, before the postponement of the municipal elections we were frankly worried and not without reason, in that things seemed quite dark; at the moment it seems that the convenience of the leadership has been sealed but all this could change in a few hours; may God have us in His hand.”[5]

There was still even more optimism. The student Theophilus Casajus, guided by Father Prefect, wrote to his parents on May 2, 1936:

A few days ago the Town Council was changed and we lost those individuals who would protected us. Now we have one from the Left who at this time is behaving very well; we will see what happens; until now, we have endured merely minor discomfort; if it were not for the news that we have, we would think that we are in the best position in the world.

On the 18 of that same month, the excursion of the children in the school was set for Andorra. The intention for the excursión was to seek a building where the students of Cervera could stay. They thoroughly studied the condition of life in those places. The project fell through because it wasn’t up to him and God had other plans. To fugitives from the war that passed through this route to France said to the people: “This is the house that they were going to rent for you.”[6]

The situation, however, was not idylic. A few days later, the 26 of this month, Father Giron, Superior of the house, wrote to Father General, as follows:

“A few days ago against our Town Council, an Order and somewhat frightening, destroyed all the contracts from one day to another, and then… God will say. The intention is to run us out of the house. By next year, if we are left in peace, we hope to be able to open schools.”

On June 6, 1936, Father Giron had to appear in the Town Council at the request of the civil authority and they commanded him by order to vacate the building before the 10th of the month. Of course, he shared all this with the Provincial Government. The situation did not improve, if not the opposite.

Father Giron replied that such an order was contrary to the contract of 1887, the Municipal Statute, which does not grant such powers to the Municipalities, to the law of tenancy and the law of Confessions and Congregations, “In his virtue I believe in the right and duty to formulate by V. S. hoping that it will recognize the importance of justice, at the same time to be willing to take it forward in the case of contrio, that would be for the good relations that we have always tried to maintain with that Corporation.

I make this appeal which is expressly authorized by M. R. P. John Postius, the Attorney General of the Congregation and Attorney-General of the same with who should henceforth be understood in this worthy Corporation, knowing that resides accidentally in Madrid, Buen Suceso 22.”

On the 6th, Father Postius intervened before His Excellency Don José Espana, Counselor of the Interior in recalling that the eviction order was given by the Mayor of Cervera, on the basis of orders given by the Generalitat of Catalonia and of the Government of Madrid, which was contrary to the rules which had been in force.”The unusual announcement, the illegal agreement and the severity of the same are not hidden to V. E. although the agreement did not violate the existing contract from that of 1886, between the Community and the Town Council… it is clear that it violates the Municipal Statute, the current law of Confessions and Congregations, and the law of tenancy with the aggravating circumstance to evict a community legally registered in the Ministry of Justice, of over 200 individuals in the school year.

Most of them, to come from different provinces, even nations and encounter several seriously illnesses. Then to be evicted in this way and much less to the domain of a farm believing it was a perfect situation. If you add to this the veiled threats, it might be translated into realities against the orchard and against the people, highlighting the absurdity of such an agreement and the need for the urgent protection of V. E., so that we feel safe, without need to go to His Excellency the Minister of the Interior.”

On June 17, Father Giron was summoned to Barcelona by the Commissioner of the Interior of Spain. At eight in the evening, he met with Mr. Magre and the Mayor, thus leaving the matter in the hands of Fr Postius and the Commissioner.

On June 19, Father Giron wrote again to Father General concerning the sale of the lots of Mas Claret, and reported the following:

“I am in Barcelona, called by the Minister of the Interior of the Generalitat; They want to remove us from the University, at all costs, and soon I fear that we will lose the lawsuit. Concerning this case, there is an urgent need to settle on Mas Claret on good conditions since it will not affect us here with the changes that necessarily are exploitating us.”

After all these dealings, Father Giron, in response to the verbal order, wrote to the Mayor of Cervera, Don Domingo Puigredon, that the Superiors “have responded and pray that you give me in writing, the above-mentioned and others willing to communicate. They believe this is such a serious matter and the Superiors wish to be treated legally and with proper documents.”

Father Giron saw that it would be favorable to leave such a large building because as constituted the community, it didn’t favor the formation, finances or the discipline. This is what he wrote to the Secretary-General on July 15, 1936:

“The question of this house is in statu quo, it seems however, doesn’t mean they want the thing or leaving it to be resurrected some day. The M.R.P. Juan de Queralt (Jian Postius) has taken it to heart not to leave the house. Not to oppose the Superiors, it appears that we want to leave this building due to the frequent conflicts, which makes the students nervous in the College and is very bad for their formation along with the poor hygienic conditions: humidity, cold, without water, and locally uninhabitable many times of the year….

In addition, here they seem to bothered us and now especially with contributions and perhaps the use of water etc. etc.”

According to the student Ignacio Ting Pong Lee of Cervera on July 20, 1936 the communist mayor of Cervera decree a general strike, which prevented him from entering the town with the car he was driving with the milk for the breakfast from Mas Claret. With the shops closed and deserted streets, this made Cervera, the city of the dead.[7]

 

  1. The siege of the ex University and dispersion of the community

 

The Municipal order in October 1934, had been previously mentioned concerning the eviction of the University, which was not executed by the failed military. In the month of July 1936, the situation changed completely because in Barcelona and in Lleida there was the triumph of the Marxist Revolution. On July 21, 1936, the President, Mr. Companuys authorized the seizure of the religious buildings and on the same day in the morning, the building of the former University was surrounded by armed militia, of which Father Superior gave orders not to approach the windows thus avoiding any possible misunderstanding. That same day at four in the afternoon the Mayor of Cervera telephoned the Superior with the order to leave the former University within one hour. This order was a means to hinder the Leftist faction of the City Council to carry out its intention to murder the religious. This may have been the reason why the more vocal members took a truck toward Barcelona and when they return did not find them in the place.

The members of the “New City Council” met in one of the rooms of the former University, since the missionaries were forced to abandon the school, thus they proceeded to the seize the building. The minutes, signed by all present, relates that the seizure includes the furniture and everything in its interior, and that the inventory along with everything be declared as part of the Municipal heritage of Cervera.[8] On September 1, the local committee of the Antifascist Defense of Cervera understood another document which stated that the building seized by them become the possession of the people.[9]

Before Father Superior gave orders to his missionaries, the building was surrounded by armed militia. Some didn’t seemed to understand the scope of the order, or appeared reluctant. The militia dealt with them first:

Hurry up! In a hurry! If not, you’ll see whats waiting for you…

They consumed the Sacred Species in the tabernacle, or the consecrated hosts from the various chapels. The missionaires had to leave their habit for secular clothes and presented themselves before the gate of the orchard, as Father Giron decided to leave there rather than the main door to avoid more publicity. Two resisted leaving, but a new order from the Superior came and they left their cassock the next day. Before leaving they were searched carefully to see if they were carrying guns. They had two records.

The first search began with the Postulants, that hadn’t done anything. Then they immediately moved to the students, who were searched more diligently. A Chilean had a camera that he feared they would confiscate. “True that a camera could be used for many solutions! I will try to make it happen. Give it to me when it is my turn. I stood with the Kodak in hand.

What is your name? It was a friend who has the list of the Community.

Ignacio Ting Pong Lee Gill, I answered. The good man became entangled with the name (and with reason) and looking through the list he could not be found.

Let me look at the list, I said, and I will searched for me. Here it is? You write Lee but it’s pronounced Li.

They would inscribe a cross with a the pen on the side of their last name. … This mark was a happily strip without any inconvenience.

These valiant defenders of the common life didn’t want money, and what would they want to if all trade in Cervera was carried out by means of bonds?

It was at the end of the search when one of the communists cry:

Everyone in a row and against the wall.

A sense of panic ran through the bodies of everyone. Many faces lost their color. Why would they place us in a row and in front of the wall looking for weapons? So many judging with words coming out freely. One next to me said:

Here lets shoot all of them.

Another mans legs were shaking like leaves that the wind stirs in autumn and he felt such weakness that he had to sit on top of a suitcase.

Fortunately our enemies forgot about the Postulants who were on the other side of the square and didn’t bother them. Again the meek lambs passed between the claws of the wolves to be a little less that flayed. This time they took absolutely everything.

The priests with the breviary and other books, and all any writing that was worthwhile, in many cases, with years of patient and thorough work as that of Father Julio Leache whose manuscript was taken which he had prepared for the press, and Father Luis Pujol part of his doctoral thesis in Sacred Scripture that he was preparing for the next year.

… The thing was at the end of this second shearing, as there were hardly any individual who had anything in their pockets like a razor, and even a large number without anything.”[10]

The revolutionaries asked Father Superior where the community would go. He answered, to the college in Solsona and, if it was not possible, the place closest to the French border.

At the door there were transfer buses waiting. Those boarding the bus were; 15 Priests, 44 Students, 25 Brothers and 63 Postulants. There were 21 who stayed in Cervera hosted in private homes. In the hospital there was also the sick and elderly. The following were taken in cars to the hospital: Father’s Heraclius Matute, Luis Jove and José Serrano; Students Jose Ausellé and Manuel Sole; Brothers Francisco Canals, Buenaventura Reixach, José Ros and Miguel Rovira. Half an hour later, about 5:30 pm. Father Pedro Sitges and Brother Ramon Roca[11] arrived. In Mas Claret there were another 11, who were captured by the militia.

The bus began moving towards Solsona according to Father Superior who believed it was a safe place. Yet there was a sense of uneasiness. On the bus there was a sepulchral silence until the student Lee Gill entoned the Sorrowful mysteries of the holy rosary, beginning what would be their passion. At the beginning almost nobody answered. The passed through San Ramon in absolute silence. On the outskirts, the bus came upon the cemetery. At a signal from the guide car the procession stopped. “Our dear Father figured it out. The association of these ideas: outskirts of San Ramon, Cemetery, Cars coming to a halt.

We’re ready, many cried, they’ll shoot us here.”[12]

It was by the entrance gate where they stopped the car. “Let’s kill them here,” shouted a heartless man. “I have seven bullets”. “Keep them, don’t miss the opportunity to use them,”[13] said another.

Half-way on the journey, those rounded up by the revolutionaries, where some wanted to kill them right there. Some women were shouting frantically, “take them to Solsona? Bundle them in four groups is sufficient to turn them into fuel for the fields.” The militia, as usual, boasted of cynicism. There was a militia member with a rifle and hand pumps who said:”You have the face of a fascist,” and threatened to throw a bomb.[14] After ruminations were sent to San Ramon, Convent of the Mercedarios, who sent them.

The next day, July 22, there was some peace and the Postulants were taken to their homes as the students José Loncán and Evaristo Bueria were taken to the hospital of Cervera.

 

Day 23. In the morning they were able to celebrate mass and some students renewed their Vows and two made their Perpetual Profession. Soon the situation changed as the word spread that the communists from a nearby village were coming to set fire to the convent. The Claretian Missionaries had to leave the convent and, duly authorized by the Committee, in groups of three they went to the estate of the Mas Claret. The fugitive arrived at the house but remained in the forest, spending the night in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. From there they could see the flames of the burning of convents, churches and other buildings.

 

At eight in the morning of the 24th; at Mas Claret a group of Communists arrived led by the Mayor of Cervera to record everything, but in reality to requisition and take everything of the missionaries. All was seized and they were forbidden to use their property even the food. An attempt was made by the foreign students to contact the Consulates of their country. The rest were divided into two groups where they could leave that same afternoon to take advantage of the darkness and the coolness of the night. Their farewell took place in the chapel, in which Father Felipe Calvo urge everyone to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of persecution: All students swore fidelity ratifying their oath by kissing the feet of the crucifix.

They were divided into two groups. The first group consisted of 15 religious, 14 arudents and one priest. The students were the following: Onésimo Agorreta, Amado Amalrich, Javier Amargant, Pedro Caball, José Casademont, Teófilo Casajús, Antonio Cerdá, Amadeo Costa, José Elcano, Luis Hortós, Senén López, Miguel Oscoz, Luis Plana, Vicente Vázquez. The priest was Manuel Jové, who would lead the group to Vallbona de la Monjas, his native town, but didn’t arrive, as this would be shared later. The second group was led by Father Jose Mir in the direction of Bellvis, his hometown. They hoped to find refuge as the storm of persecution passed by. The second group achieved their objective.

At about two in the afternoon, after lunch, the group continued their journey. The farewell was emotional:

Goodbye, until heaven. May it all be for the glory of God and the Congregation.

[1] Lérida, August 22, 1922, by Father Rosendo Ramonet.

[2] Lérida, September 9, 1922, by Father Juan Postius.

[3] Quibus, J., Missionary Martyrs, 2ª ed., Barcelona 1949, p. 136.

[4] Letter from Father Federico Codina to Father Nicolás García, Superior General, November 11, 1933.

[5] Cervera, April 14, 1936, a letter to his uncle, Antonio Catá y Simó.

 

[6] Pastor Redondo, J.,, Trajectory of a Martyr: Biography of the Servant of God Father Jaime Girón Puigmitjá, C.M.F., Madrid 1961, p. 250.

[7] Lee, I. Ting Pong, Ten Days of Communism in Spain:: July 21, 1936 – July 31, 1936, p. 2.

[8] The Declaration presenting the Univerisity to the Missionaries has been revoked.

[9] The posession of the property of the University has been transferred to the people of of Cervera and enforced by the Anti-Facist.

[10] Lee, I. Ting Pong, Ten days of Communism in Spain: July 21, 1936 – July 31,1936, pp. 5-6.

[11] Quibus, J., o.c., p. 174.

[12] Lee, I. Ting Pong, p. 6.

[13] Pastor, J, Madrid 1961, p. 259.

[14] Ibidem, p. 260.