The estate of Mas Claret, which was also referred to as ” Mas Toni”, was a farm located 7 kms. from Cervera in the parish of San Pedro dels Arquells, belonging to the Diocese of Vic. There was a small number of religious from the Claretian community of Cervera who lived there. The purpose of running the farm was to produced food for the community of the former University and to be able to sell whatever was left to the community. This way they would help limit the purchases of produce and meat and to provide a place of rest for the terminally ill and those needing to heal. Its also provided work for people living in the vicinity.
In response to the needs of the house, Fr. Antonio Soteras, Provincial Superior, imposed a Schedule of different times, in accordance with the discipline of the community, one for the workers and those who were healthy and the other for the sick. The first would begin at 3:30 in order to comply with the morning prayers so that by 5:00, they might be in their place of work, while the sick rose at 5:30. In 1935, Fr. Giron eased the rigor of these schedules. He imposed two schedules, one for the holidays and another for common days. He believed that 4:30 would be a better time to get up, but keeping regulated all activities and breaks.
The use of the farm did not provide much relief for the missionaries because the costs of maintenance was substantial and the salary of the workers was increasing in such a way that after a few years they had considered selling the land or at least parcels of land. Coupled with this, they could see that the political situation was accelerating. On February 25, 1936, the local Government presented to the Provincial Government “that in the present circumstances, it seems fit to sell some hectares of Mas Claret, which will fetch a substancial amount of money, since we are facing the danger of loosing everything.
[…] That in principle it seems appropriate to dispose of the whole farm, looking for another solution for those who are ill and having to hire workers. It also appears that some of the thing of the property are disappearing and in particular appearing in Cervera.”
The Provincial Government approved the sale of some hectares, but they considered it premature to get rid of the whole estate.
On June 7th, the local Government re-emphasized the need to sell everything and sent a chart with the various parcels and the possible prices.
July 21, 1936: This community was composed of Father’s Manuel Jove, Superior; Manuel Font, Julian Pastor and Jose Mir. The students were Francisco Sola and Pedro Adern, who were recouperating, and Brothers Pedro Vives, José Ferrer, both who had been ill. Those in charge of the workers were Stephen Mestres, Narciso Simón and Francisco Bagaria. Their primary responsibility was for everything.
After the failed trip of the Claretian community to Solsona following their expulsión from the house and with the increased danger everywhere, many missionaries came out of hiding and were arriving at Mas Claret by the end of July and beginning of August 1936. They knew that throughout this region priests and the monks were being shot and those living at Mas Claret seemed to be overlooked to all these events which were happenings. But this farm didn’t provide any security. One could think it was a trap, but the problem was that they didn’t have anywhere else to go in the midst of so many challenges. A plan should have been developed in the community before all the problems started.
The announcements came soon. The first and most explicit was in a confidential tone from the driver of the Revolutionary Committee on July 23: “If you want to save your life, don’t stay here.” This notice was not ignored because that same day those who had come from San Ramon left town. From this group, many were able to save their lives. Sadly, the group of students guided by Father’s Pastor and Mir, would eventually be shot. Of all the things taking place, those at Mas Claret were promptly notified. After, those students under the care of Pascal and Sole would arrive with Donato Poquet. Father’s Ribe and Leache along with Brother Campo would arrive later. The students Elizalde, Miguel De Las Heras arrived a few hours later. Shortly after, Brothers Milagro, Castan and finally Dionisio Arizaleta made it to the farm safely.
On July 24, 1936, the Revolutionay Committee were on their way to seize the farm with the famous and vengeful Anarchists. At seven in the morning, they arrived with a truck and a car carrying red flags. When they were all on the property, the driver said:
This is the tower of the missionaries.
Where are those rogues walking? One asked. I don’t even see a ugly bird.
Where are they? Well… hearing mass!
This was the case. When they were walking out of the final mass, they recognized the presence of the untimely visitors. Father Manuel Jove went to meet them:
Good morning. May God…
What is that about “God…” Ps! !Health! Let’s get to the point. We come to…
Just say if there’s something we can serve you.
Serve us and something more. We come to seize this property. Times have changed, friend.
The times can, but justice, no.
They took inventory of everything; crops, machines, animals,… They even loaded in the truck a large and grumpy pig and gave a sharp order that no one leave the property without their permission. The religious were prisoners until they were murdered. And they were greeted with fist to their face by someone from the Committee who would arrive daily. A paradox of history is that the Missionaries were on their own property, but now in a prison guarded by the so called defenders of freedom! On August 1st, there were a few armed individuals called Escamots, which annoyed and threatened everyone and took Father’s Juan Agustí and Felipe Calvo to the Generalitat in Barcelona. After some interregations they were released. Brother Mestres was able to escape, even as they were shooting at him.
From August 15th, the missionaries were forbidden to pray in community. On the same evening, a truck arrived with the intention of gathering some provisions and the religious who helped them were subjected to ridicule and provocations against chastity with profanity and insinuations.
After this day, quite often the militias men and women would make the religious the object of derision, especially the young students… Which of these do you like most? And other things similar to those comments. In addition, they urged these young men to abandon the religious way of living and devoted themselves to explore sexual freedom. If these religious would change their lifestyle, then the Escamots promised to release them. But since they didn’t get what they wanted, the tone quickly changed.
In fact, shortly after it was the same Committee members which said to them;
That has to stop. Don’t wear cassock and say Mass, you know that you have only an hour of being friars. And therefore we will bring women to help you and so that you may enjoy life.
In the face of this threat the Fr. Julio Leache and Jose Ribe gathered everyone in a room and told them:
Up to now, the issues were treated and determined only by a few of us, but to search for a rule to follow in what we must do if they threaten you with women, we would like that all of you tell us your opinion. What should we do?
And unanimously, very suddenly as if they had been shocked by an electric spark, they all responded:
If women enters through a door, we’ll go out the other, even if they kill us. Manipulated by them, never!
The threat was repeated frequently and the missionaries always responded that women were not necessary. In mid-September the Committee began to complain that there were a lot of people. Insistently they would say: There are too many people.
In retrospect, the question aroses as to why they didn’t flee? The reasons given are; 1) a letter from Fr. Girón, who had a good relationship with those of the Committee; 2) the assurances offered by the Committee not to flee; 3) the difficulty or impossibility of escaping. Where to flee? Those who went to the countryside had found shelter but were living in fear. Almost all at Mas Claret were there because they had left the houses where they had been be welcomed. To go further away was a major problem for the sickly. These couldn’t be left to surely die. Father Ribe, always seemed to do what was contrary to him. Brother Francisco Bagaria, who was living there spoke about the question: “Fr. Leache, like everyone else had a strong desire to leave Mas Claret as soon as possible; but he discussed and reflected on the matter. Those who were healthy made a heroic act of charity so as not to abandon the sick.”
Another notice was posted dealing with the case of Brother Ramon Roca, who on September 13th, couldn’t be admitted to Mas Claret and was shot on the 23rd. After this, the residents in Mas Claret began to speak often of martyrdom, sensing that death would come soon. But more than death, they were worried about being subjected to similar experience that Brother Saperas had to go through. Fortunately, this did not happen with them.
So they placed their live in the hands of Divine Providence.
By mid-September, the Committee began to complain that they were too many living there and not enough work being done in the fields. One day they all gathered to divide up the work, assigning to each a group in order that when questioned by the Committee, everyone could respond that they were working. The threats were growing and becoming more and more insistent. While some priests already saw an ill omen, in a way Fr. Leache, said:
What are we are going to do. Praised be God. What we need to do is confess.
On October 13th, the driver of the Committee’s car called on Br. Bagaria and said:
If a car or a truck with militia arrive, you say that you are in charge and taking care of the farm. They are going to come, he said with assurance, to see if the people work. It’s evident that very few work. (There were security guards watching them every day).
Since then, waiting for a car or truck, in the farm they were not allowed celebrate mass and hid all the religious objects. This visit became a real threat during those days.
On the 18th, the missionaries who were in the hospital were murdered. The imformation was late in being shared with the those living at Mas Claret. On that day, the Committee’s visit was very quick: they loaded the canisters of milk and left. Only the driver told Br. Bagaria: Tomorrow they will come for the missionaries.
Hearing about this, Fr. Ribe gathered everyone in the library and distributed the work for the Committee to make sure that they were all very busy, so that no one would be taken away.
On October 19, 1936, it was a beautiful morning and everyone; the old and young, healthy and sick, went to work in the fields. Most of them were asked to do other types of work and this was very strenuous because many had never worked in the fields. One said:
Right now we should be taking notes with the pen or typewriter. Here we are having to stir with these forks the foul smelling manure of pigs; we’re doing this for the love of God, but not for the love of the Communists.
At about 4:30 in the afternoon, a car arrived with the driver, a photographer and a certain Juan Pedros, a railway judge with a rod and known to be a murdered. Br. Francisco Bagaria, who was milking the cows, told the driver:
You came very early today!
We came with a photographer to take a picture of everyone. There are so many people and every day there are some coming and others going.
At that momento Br. Francisco Bagaría Ayats lo separaron del grupo, como encargado de la finca que había sido y el Magí Tita, jefe de la ejecución, le dijo:
At that moment, the driver ordered Br. Simon to gather everyone together so that they could take the picture. The Brother called everyone, and this way none would escape. They were all in the courtyard where the Committee usually gathered.
Brother Francisco Bagaria Ayats separated himself from the group, since he was in charge of the farm and the Magi Tita, the head of the implementation, told him:
You don’t have fear, because you are not like the others. They won’t kill you… The others, yes. We will bring an end with this bad seed. Yesterday in the hospital and today with those here. I was scandelized and killed them.
Once they had everyone gathered by means of such deception (the orders with gun didn’t give rise to doubts), instead of taking the photograph, many militia members, more than thirty with weapons were ready. In addition, there were those workers on the property ready to use their rifles.
Soon the priests would see: Manuel Font, Jose Ribe and Julio Leache; the students: Francisco Simon, Francisco Sola, Antonio Elizalde, Eusebio de las Heras, Constantine Miguel and Emilio Pascual; and the Brothers: Francisco Milagro, Pedro Vives, José Ferrer, Dionisio Arizaleta, Juan Senosiain, Fernando Castan, Narciso Simon, Francisco Marco and Nicolas Campo, and Donato Rosendo Poquet. They went in groups of four deep in the center with two lines held by militia, on one side and the other, guarding them forming a chain. Behind were many militia forming lines. The missionaries were like meek lambs in the slaughter, without yelling but making the sign of the cross and the priests giving absolution.
All of those which I have referred to were shot at the farm with rifles and machine guns. The son of the photographer, called Garcelan, was fearlessly pounding on his the chest. The latter also served as a mockery to the tormentors, that after their victory, they served a round of strong drinks. They said, as if the blows on the chest were going to impact the bullets. Another added:
One that was wounded, as he fell was shouting:
Oh, my Mother, my Mother. I would have gotten a handful of burning straw and shoved it in his mouth and say:
Let’s see, now you’ll shut up.
After they cremated the bodies. A lady of the neighboring farmhouses saw some of what was taking place and could not errase the impression of the missionaries being shot. It made her sick for a year and a half.
According to the testimony of Brother Francisco Bagaria, the shooting was like a ritual:
“On the day following of the murder, I went to see the cadavers. They were still burning. They started the fire right after the murder. Many were squatting on the floor, some stretched and face up. The impression that I sensed apart of terror, was that they really died kneeling. They were buried there. Four militiants took charge of the fire during the days they were burning the bodies, which was from Monday evening, the time of the murder, until Friday early in the morning, in which the remains were buried. The militiants had already begun to dig the trench. On Thursday, in the afternoon they left and placed the workers in chage of the collectivity of peasants. They themselves took care of burying the missionaries. The following day this indeed proved to be the case.”
The Magi Tita said: We have done good work these days. Others commented: We need to celebrate.