John Prats Gibert

Born October 26, 1903 in La Selva del Camp (Tarragona)

Professed on August 15, 1921

Ordained a priest on December 22, 1928

Shot August 15, 1936 in Montmaneu (Barcelona)

 

Juan was born in the village of La Selva del Camp, within the province of Tarragona, on October 26, 1903 and was baptized in the parish Church of St. Andrew the Apostle on November 1, 1903. He would receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in the same Church on July 8, 1909.

His parents were Don Antonio Prats, a laborer, and Mrs. Milagros Gibert. They had eight children, and Juan was the sixth child.

He was an altar boy and recalled that even before dawn he would go to the Church accompanied by his sister Mary.

In the summer of 1916, he entered the Postulancy in Barbastro, but soon returned to La Selva. Later, he would present himself for the Postulancy in Vic to begin the course 1916-1917. His first Prefect was Fr Pedro Bertrans and in 1919, it would be Father Jaime Girón. He completed his studies of the Humanities with great achievement.

When he completed his studies, he moved to Cervera to begin the Novitiate, where the Master of Novices was Father Ramón Ribera. On August 14, 1920, he received the habit and began the Novitiate year. He made his First Profession on August 15, 1921.

He began the study of Philosophy in Cervera and excelled. He also received his courses in Theology in Cervera. The second course of Theology 1925-1926 was completed at the Diocesan Seminary of Barbastro. In July 1926, he was reassigned to Vic with the post as organist and at the same time studying Moral and Canon Law at the Diocesan Seminary. He obtained very high qualifications. At the same time, he was involved with some publications which were published by the seminarians from Vic. Here he received the first tonsure, Minor Orders and the Subdiaconate on March 24, 1928, from the hands of His Excellency Juan Perelló, the Diocesan Bishop. He received the Diaconate in Cervera on June 15, 1928, from the hands of His Excellency Emeterio Valverde Téllez, Bishop of León (Mexico), who had been exiled by the Mexican government of President Calles. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 22, 1928, from the hands of the Bishop of Barcelona.

On June 22, 1929, was declared useless for military service. It was news that he hoped for a long time of which he reported the information to his family. His move to Aranda de Duero was delayed, so as to remain in Barcelona a few days more. He understood that “in Aranda de Duero, the people still preserved in the midst of everything a strong faith and religiosity.”[1] At the end of September, he received the order of being reassigned to Rome for specialized studies in law. On October 8, 1929, he left Barcelona by train in the company of Father Goyeneche, with brief stopover in Marseille, and arrived in Rome at 10:00 in the morning on October 10th. His first impressions of Rome were quickly forgotten, because two days later he assisted in a Audience of Pope Pius XI which was granted to a Spanish pilgrimage led by the Cardinal of Toledo.

His studies of Law was impressive and he obtained the Law degree (24/30) on July 2, 1931. In a letter to his parents on July 14, he shared these thoughts with them: “The tests went very well thanks to God. I have obtained the second grade, best among my peers”.

From Rome, he continued to be aware of the political situation in Spain that worried him. His father said: “I prefer you not to return to Spain until the political situation was a bit more quiet, but Juan saw it differently, as has been mentioned in the first Chapter (letter of March 15, 1932).

He defended his thesis on July 15, 1932, and one month later undertook the journey back to Spain, taking a month in Marseille to assist as an organist. During this time he seemed to have changed his opinion:

“Here he receives bad news and impressions of Spain, to the point where he is experiencing certain fears; the Lord knows what I need and I won’t do anything other than to fulfill the will of my Superiors.”[2]

On September 3, he left Marsella for La Selva, and from there to Barcelona. On September 14th, he arrived in Cervera, his destination.

 

Professor of Canon Law

From the program in 1932-1933, he taught Canon Law and the particular rights belonging to religious. He placed special interest in the study of the Constitutions, its various schemes, because it was a matter that was very interesting to those in the community.

From the first year, he showed an interest in the publication of the thesis on the origin of the Catalan law in the Revista Jurídica de Catalunya, in Latin, and other items in La Paraula Christian, and some more submissions on the proposal by Father Larraona.

When he finish the course, he moved to Barcelona to work on the translation into Italian concerning the process of a miracle by Father Claret.

During 1934, he showed his interest in publishing a part of the thesis in the journal Apollinaris. He also devoted time to translate from Italian some works of Catalan literary characters. He was not an intellectual but rather was gifted at making work easily readable.[3]

 

Qualities. His Master of Novice was considered to be decisive, with tendency to the scruples, mindful, affable and very talkative, with an active imagination. Not always punctual.

He loved his vocation and had a great desire to be a priest, therefore in the letters to his family and friends, he requested prayers to persevere and be a holy missionary priest.

In his letters to his family, he manifested himself as a true apostle always giving spiritual advice.

He suffered and accept the long personal illnesses and the death of his two older sisters, Maria and Dolores (1934), and of his father (1935).

 

Shelter and martyrdom

Father Prats left Cervera with the greater part of the community on July 21, 1936, on the busses that the Committee had arranged for the transferred to Solsona, but being detained in Tora, they were taken to San Ramon. Having to leave the convent of San Ramon on July 23rd, Father Luis Pujol offered him a ride in the car of a friend, but Father Prats, chose to stay with Brother’s Francisco Milagro and Fernando Castan. On that day they moved to the small town of Gaba, entering the house of Salat for relief and to re-focus, because they thought it was a safe place. Father Prats also had intended to go to La Selva del Camp to be close to his mother and sister.

On the third day, the feast of St. James, the Reds arrived with the intent of burning the village Church, and Father Prats left for cal Martí, where he hid three days, because the Salat house was near the road, and from there to cal Mau, was another two days, and finally to cal Vinalets, which seemed to be a more secure place. But here they found him.

During these days he communicated with his benefactors about the situation and of his intention to return to La Selva, his home town. From his refuge he wrote to his family asking that they come looking for him. The letter arrived at the destination. His uncle, Mr. Antonio Cata and a cousin acquired the necessary passes and traveled from La Selva to Lleida and from there to Cervera, without any problem. But in Cervera it was necessary to get permission from the President of the Committee, who subjected them to a rigorous interrogation and, in the end, he gave them the pass. They went to Las Oluges, where they came into contact with Father Prats. At the Vinalets house the met with family members accompanied by a third party, the driver? Who possibly gave him away.

The family didn’t dare help him for fear that the three would be caught and Father Prats didn’t want to dress as a beggar, as they proposed to move to La Selva. He decided to prepare himself to accept the will of God. He prayed all he could with his breviary and rosary. His relatives returned on August 9th. On that same day, Brother’s Milagro and Castan went to Mas Claret because the Committee of Cervera had proclaimed that they would kill those who offered hospitality to any facist, religious or priests.

Father Prats, according to Don Fermín Gabarró, was at the home in Vinalets and was arrested on August 15, 1936, by the Committee of Sant Guim while he was eating. Seeing a car, Father Prats escaped immediately to hide in the Hayloft. The militia began searching, while some entered the house, Those outside saw Father Prats go towards the barn to hide and went after him. The family said there wasn’t a priest on the property. As soon as they aprehended him, they asked if he was a priest. He replied that yes, adding that he was religious of the Heart of Mary, and said nothing more.

He was taken immediately, without being tied up, to the car on the road, and from there to the Salat house. They believed there were other like the Brother’s Milagro and Castan. They called Mrs. Providence Trullols, the owner and asked her if she knew the priest. She said that it might be the priest who had passed through but that was difficult to see. Father Prats said:

Yes, I am, only it was difficult to see me.

They searched the house looking for the two others as they had been informed (the driver of the relatives of Father Prats?), during which they had the lady and the priest at gunpoint. The Father began praying the rosary. Why are you praying?

I pray for the good of all, he replied.

Another asked how old he was? He answered: 32 years old: Thirty-two victims.

Finishing gathering information, and seeing that they wouldn’t fit in the car, one of them said: place them in the trunk. The other didn’t agree, and offered to go on foot. Then marched to Sant Guim began. At the Hostal de la Panadella, the militia  stopped to eat. While the detainee jumped out of the car resting his head in his hand, as if he were dizzy and vomited. When the committee members came out, one said: What don’t you feel good? Another commented: he doesn’t look well, It soon will pass!

Arriving in Sant Guim, he was taken to the local Committee and was subjected to a brief interrogation. In his responses, he didn’t screaming as the other detainees. Father Prats asked them to place him at the disposal of the Committee from La Selva. Do you have money? They asked him, because before you go to town you have to turn everything over. He replied:

I have it hidden in cal Vinalets.

And they returned to cal Vinalets in search of the monies he had left to his relatives and distributed by the community. The owners of the house looked sad, but braver than resigned. He said farewell and goodbye, then returned to Sant Guim and the local committee led him to the church which was converted as a prison.

It was around 6 or 7 in the afternoon when they took him from the prison. They deceived him by saying that they were taking him to La Selva de Camp. He didn’t feel well and said,

Get in the car and it will soon pass.

He was taken to a field below Montmaneu. Here was Pedro Morera Companys, from the local committee. He was an eyewitness and shared that some two kilometers in the direction of Igualada they stopped the car. He said: What are you going to do? They answered him: We have a bird.

The militia said: Get out, we are already in La Selva, which was his hometown, but in reality, it was in a spot of La Panadella, on the road of Santa Coloma. They took him onto the road and shot him dead. Then burned his body. The Morera fainted when he saw Father Prats body. It was 10 at night on August 15, 1936.

Then the killers celebrated it with a good drinking binge.

The remains of Father Prats were collected in July 1939, from the place where he was martyrded.

[1] Aranda de Duero, September 24, 1929, letter to his parents.

[2] Marsella, August 20, 1932, letter to Father Joaquín Bestué.

[3] Pastor Redondo, J., Memories of our martyrs of Cervera, p. 11, APC 4 2 1102.