Born September 10, 1883 in Baga (Barcelona)
Professed August 15, 1903 in Vic
Ordained a priest on June 13, 1911
Martyred September 5, 1936 in San Quirico of Tarrasa
He was born on September 10, 1883 in Baga (Barcelona), with the Diocese of Solsona and baptized the following day by the Vicar in the parish Church. The name given to him was Mateo Lorenzo Jose.
His parents were Don Mateo Casals and Mrs. Mª Dolores. They had nine children and Mateo was the third to the last. He had a strong devotion to the Passion of Jesus which he retained throughout his life. He liked the Holy Week events. It also gave rise to a priestly vocation. But it was cooled by the longing to be free and he look like a man wanting to work in the fields or the forest. He really didn’t listen to the advice of his mother who died in 1897. After he went to work at a loom. It was here where he experienced a transformation.
September of 1898: Guided by Fr. Domingo Rafort, Curate of the parish and after obtaining permission from his father, he entered the Diocesan Seminary of Solsona. The expenses were defrayed by his aunt Maria Mas, as his family were of humble means and couldn’t afford his studies. Therefore he wrote: I began studies with extreme poverty, since there was little that the family could provide. He completed the years of Humanities with encouragement from the Superiors, but found the regime of the Seminary difficult. After four months of summer vacation, or the life of the parish priest in an isolated locations made him question his vocation. Slowly his vocation in a religious community matured as he interracted with the Congregation of the Claretian Missionaries. It was Don Domingo who helped him.
On July 14, 1902, after having overcome the opposition of his family and friends and receiving some alms from good souls for the journey, he arrived at Calle Ripoll in Barcelona. There he took the train to Vic. He still felt uncomfortable until July 16th.
A month later on August 14th, he began his Novitiate under the direction of Fr. Mariano Fernández. In the Spiritual Exercises of January 1903, he made a decision for an austere life, especially when it comes to food. Later he offered hiimself completely to the Virgin Mary asking for her care. In the month of June, he saw the need to advance in virtue and simplicity. His intellectual and moral qualities were extraordinary, but his health was average. He was taken to a specialist in Barcelona, which examined him but found nothing. Joyfully he would make his First Profession on August 15, 1903 in Vic. That same day he received Tonsure from the Bishop of Vic.
That summer, he moved to Cervera to study Philosophy. In the third year, 1905-1906, he Prefect was Fr. Felipe de Jesús Munárriz. In July 15, 1906, he received the Minor Orders from the Vicar Apostolic of Fernando Poo. In 1906-1907, he began his first year of Theology. During his study of Theology, he continued with the illness of insomnia and headaches. Perhaps this might influence their academic performance but moral qualities and religious observance were admirable. He continued with his studies of Dogmatic Theology at Cervera and Moral Theology in Alagon (1909). In Vic, he received the Subdiaconate on May 21, 1910 and the Diaconate on September 24, 1910. The following year, after completing Moral Theology he was ordained to the Priesthood on June 13, 1911 in Zaragoza.
Then he was assigned to Aranda de Duero for the preparation for the ministry. In 1913, he was assigned to Alagon where he remained for a short time and was transfered to Solsona as Minister on August 18th. Shortly after he was also elected a sacristan. Three years later he would be named Professor of Contemplative Life. In 1919, he was named Consultor in the same house. He proved to be zealous for the salvation of souls through apostolic activities with novenas, tridiums, missions, spiritual exercises, sermons, lectures etc. in many places both near and far. He would also preach for religious communities.
Here he had to endure the events of October 1934, which commemorate (September 1, 1935). While giving Spiritual Exercises, he said: “Remember the dangers that happened on the night of October 6, how close you saw death and how God delivered you by a visible providence of such critical circumstances to you and others. Consequently gives thanks to God…”
He couldn’t forget these events and dangers. In spite of everything, he continued with his tireless apostolic activity as recorded in the house chronicles and with a multitude of occupations.
He was a very humble man, simple, kind and charitable. Hardworking and diligent in the performance of his duties. When he was very young, he showed a great desire for holiness. In the Novitiate, he was devoted to the Blessed Virgin. A man of faith and piety.
When they found his body after his death, the opinion attests: “with knees calloused of one who in life had been kneeling.” He was a very observant religious, exemplary and edifying. He had a great zeal for the salvation of souls. Many considered him to be a great preacher and assiduous in the confessional. He trusted the Holy Spirit to guide him.
When internalizing the events of 1934, he wrote in the Spiritual Exercises of 1935 and 1936, that death was not to be feared.
On other occasions, he expressed the willingness to give his blood for Christ, rejecting the possibility of escaping or to go unnoticed. In general, all the members of his community had developed the same understanding. Not only that, but he was convinced that he would die a martyr within short time.
On July 19th, he took refuge in the home of a friend. Father Casals went to Don José Vilaseca who resided on Calle San Juan.
In the morning of July 20th, most of the members of the community returned to the house to celebrate Mass and receive Communion. Father Casals decided to celebrate Mass in the chapel of the Little Sisters of the Poor, so he arrived at the house later. Mr. Roca took them biscuits and Fr. Casals asked about the situation in the town. Mr. Roca answer:
Father’s, don’t try staying here. I’ve seen hostile demonstrations and I advise you to take refuge in the homes of people you know.
Then Fr. Casals told each one to return and take refuge at the place they were the previous night. He returned to the Calle San Juan. He was there until August 4th, when a patrol of militia came looking for him and took him to jail. Apparently the patrol members were informed through a list of homes that fell into their hands, or they had cajole these addresses from the first detainees. This was most likely the reason because Brother Sole wasn’t on the list and they searched for his by name.
In the prison were other members of the community. The Claretians tried to follow community life with exercises of piety and the Rosary. It is said that Fr. Canals gave them Spiritual Exercises. All of them were aided by the relatives of other prisoners. One of them came to offer them a place to stay when they got out of prison. But Fr. Casals sensed that he was going to die soon.
On September 4, 1936, several patrol cars with orders from the authorities and local committee arrived close to mid-night. They dragged all the prisoners out of their cells and divided them into groups of four, three groups and the last only had three people because there were only 15 prisoners. They were put into cars and driven out of town. The prisoners, as they were passing through the streets were shouting Long Live Christ the King! Long live the Sacred Heart of Jesus!
According to the death certificate of Fr. Canals, he was shot by kilometer marker #17 of the Rubi road at five in the morning of September 5, 1936. The certificate said he died of traumatic shock from bullets. He was buried in the cemetery of San Quirico of Terrasa.