Meet the Newest Spanish Saints
Sixteenth-century Spain was a world power whose mighty navy expanded its commercial empire to newly discovered lands across the ocean.
During the Siglo de oro (‘Golden Century”), Spain also brought the Gospel to the Western Hemisphere and produced great saints like Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and Teresa of Avila, who reformed the Carmelites.
The Spanish Empire is long gone, but the Church in Spain has continued to bring forth saints. During his fifth pastoral visit to Spain May 3-4, Pope John Paul II will canonize five Spaniards who lived to see the second quarter of the 20th century. Here, in brief, are their stories.
José María Rubio Peralta (1864-1929), a Jesuit priest in the Spanish capital, was such an outstanding preacher and confessor that the local bishop called him “the Apostle of Madrid.”
José María was one of 12 children in a devout Catholic farming family. Upon completing many years of seminary studies, he was ordained for the diocese of Madrid in 1887. After two short parish assignments he began to teach at the seminary.
In 1906, Father Rubio made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, then entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Granada. After making his profession, he was stationed at the Jesuit residence in Madrid. There, until his death on May 2, 1929, he carried on a grace-filled pastoral ministry, which extended into the poorest barrios.
Father Rubio's simple preaching inspired devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament. Long lines of penitents waited outside his confessional. Pope John Paul II, in his homily at the beatification ceremony on Oct. 6, 1985, praised “his exquisite touch as a director of souls ... He spiritually formed committed lay people ... men and women of every social class, who in many cases came to be his collaborators in the works of assistance and charity inspired and directed by him.”
Ángela de la Cruz Guerrero González (1846-1932) founded a congregation, the Sisters of the Cross, to serve the poorest of the poor.
Ángela's parents, Andalusian peasants, had come to the city of Seville looking for good jobs; she, while still a little girl, had to work in a shoe factory. As a youngster she was drawn to religious life. When she was 15, she took private vows and devoted herself to charitable works.
In prayer, Ángela had a vision of an empty cross facing Christ crucified and was inspired to offer herself together with him “through poverty, self-denial and humility” for the salvation of souls. Father José Torres Padilla helped her to write a rule for The Company of the Cross, which was instituted in 1875. Its members “became poor with the poor so as to bring them to Christ.”
In 1876, the Sisters of the Cross tended the sick during an epidemic in Seville. By begging for alms and distributing them, Sister Ángela of the Cross created a bond between the poor and the rich.
The congregation thrived and was approved by the Holy See in 1904. Mother Ángela died on March 2, 1932, and was beatified in Seville on Nov. 5, 1982.
Father Pedro Poveda Castroverde (1874-1936), a diocesan priest and educator, was martyred during the first year of the Spanish Civil War.
Pedro was attracted to the priesthood early in his life. When his family could no longer afford to pay for his studies, he transferred to the diocesan seminary in Gaudix, where the bishop gave him a scholarship.
After his ordination in 1897, he served as a professor and then spiritual director at the seminary in Gaudix. He also did pastoral work among the poor, founding a school for the local cave-dwellers.
Throughout his priestly ministry Father Poveda carried on an education apostolate. Noting dangerous trends in the increasingly secular public schools, he founded the Teresian Institute in 1911 to train women teachers and provide them with sound religious formation. The institute spread throughout Spain and Chile. He also wrote influential books on pedagogy and spirituality.
Don Pedro Poveda was assassinated in Madrid in the uprising on July 28, 1936, after declaring: “I am a priest of Christ.” He was beatified Oct. 10, 1993.
Genoveva Torres Morales (1870-1956) overcame personal tragedies and hardship to found a religious community devoted to Eucharistic adoration and the care of needy women.
The youngest child of Catholic working-class parents, Genoveva was orphaned and lost four siblings by the age of 8. When she was 13, one of her legs had to be amputated; from then on she walked with crutches.
For years she lived in “Mercy House” in Valencia, a charitable home staffed by nuns. There she learned to sew, but her disability prevented her from entering the convent. At age 24, she began working to support herself and took lodgings in the city with two other women.
Under the guidance of her spiritual director, Genoveva founded the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Angels in 1911. The community took in elderly and neglected women. The sisters’ prayer life centered on nocturnal adoration and the rosary. The religious institute spread rapidly and received papal approval in 1953.
Despite her ailments, Mother Genoveva retained a cheerful sense of humor. She died at the age of 86 on Jan. 5, 1956, and was beatified Jan. 29, 1995.
María Maravillas de Jesús Pidal y Chico de Guzmán (1891-1974), a noblewoman by birth, dedicated herself as a Discalced Carmelite to the restoration of monastic life in Spain.
Maravillas was born while her father, the Marquis de Pidal, was the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See. As a young lady she turned down several marriage proposals, but her father would not allow her to enter the convent. After his death in 1913, Maravillas was advised to stay with her mother. Thus she was 28 when she began her novitiate as a Carmelite.
Sister María Maravillas de Jesús was one of four nuns sent in 1924 to start a new Carmel in the geographical center of Spain. She was appointed novice mistress, then Mother Superior, a position she would hold in various communities.
The Spanish Civil War sent her community on an odyssey. At one time, the sisters lived in an apartment in Madrid. Yet Mother Maravillas opened a new monastery near Salamanca during the war. Like St. Teresa of Avila, she had the charism of a foundress. Over the years, she founded 10 other Carmels, including a daughter house in Kottayam, India.
Mother Maravillas died in La Aldehuela on Dec. 11, 1974. She was beatified May 10, 1998.
During the first half of the 20th century, Spanish society experienced the upheavals of industrialization and armed conflict. The Church suffered terrible persecution. In those times of adversity, God raised up new saints, many of them from humble circumstances, to care for the needy, to train and guide lay Catholics, and to hand on Spain's heritage of holiness to succeeding generations. In canonizing the five new saints of Spain, the Holy Father has given the Church shining examples and powerful intercessors to help her in the New Evangelization.
Michael J. Miller translated New Saints and Blesseds and Married Saints and Blesseds for Ignatius Press.