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Society of St. Teresa of Jesus     
18080 St. Joseph Way       
Covington, LA 70435
          

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 A PAGE OF OUR HISTORY

                              
                            
 

      We live in an age of Chronicles.  What is the purpose of CHRONICLESTo gather facts about our LIFE and to know our history, which comprises daily events that are great because of the force of love with which they are made, or of extraordinary happenings, which energize our commitment.  We shall try, through the Bulletin, to approach some of their pages.

Community of Mora de Toledo, 1936

“If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you...” (John. 15: 20)

        It must have been around nine when the train arrived at the station of Algodor.  A miserable looking individual boarded the train.  She seemed to be more of a devil than a woman; her mouth opened only to blaspheme and to utter dirty and indecent words.  Her name was Encarna and she seemed to be about 20 years old.  She carried a rifle on her shoulder, a gun in her hand and headed a group of some 50 militia men.  “Who are you?” she asked, completely unashamed.  Mother Superior Carolina Erostarbe answered that we were teachers “Dance teachers! Down with them.  Stop the train!”  They forced us to get down from the train, amidst blows, especially to M. superior whom Encarna continued hitting.

        We passed to the other side of the station where we were to be executed.  Some of the travelers, who witnessed the spectacle, began to cry, seeing how we were treated.  M. Superior showed Encarna our passes, Encarna looked at them and exclaimed sarcastically; “From the Committee of Mora!  Well, if they are not careful, the same thing which is happening to you will happen to them.”  She had our luggage thrown down through the window.

        We were placed against the wall in a perfect line-up.  Encarna placed a group of 10 militiamen in front of us and another group by the empty spaces in front of us.  19 rifles pointed at us.  Encarna immediately started to search us and grabbing our clothes and tearing them with her strong hands; leaving us a terrible sight in front of that crowd.  As we were forced to raise our arms high and remained in that position for about two hours, we were unable to rearrange our clothes.  I looked at the sisters and felt my blood rising up to my face seeing them in that condition.  Encarna grabbled our scapulars and rosaries and stepped on them repeatedly.  She filled her fingers with our rings, and her pockets with our watches and pens.  She pulled off one of the sister’s glasses, saying that in a few minutes, she would no longer need them.  To another sister who was unable to remove her ring, she threatened to cut off her finger and did not do so only because on of the men hurried to bring soap and water to remove the ring.

        The superior was not young and her weak heart could hardly resist the series of emotions brought up, but if her physical strength was failing, her courage was not failing every one of us.  She lowered her arms when she could no longer keep them up, and I thought she would die before the bullets could be fired.  When she heard they were working on me and making pleasant promises, with an unexpected strength and with such a persuasive stress I will never forget, she said; “Daughter, don’t pay attention to them, just think you are going to die”.  We prepared ourselves to appear before God and upon seeing our lips moving, they told us, “Pray, keep on praying, because soon that will be of no use”.

        Meanwhile, a young man had approached us and by his looks, I understood that he had feelings that were different from his comrade.  During the noise, I had a chance to ask him why our passes had not helped us.  “Did you have a pass?”  “Yes, from the Committee of Mora, who accompanied us to the station.”  And where is it?”  “In that woman’s pocket” I could speak to him no longer, because they noticed and made him move away from us.

         When we thought we had reached our last hour, we were surprised by an order to go to the waiting room.  Undoubtedly, that young man told the authorities that we were not escapees as Carna had said, but that we were traveling legally.

         Next, they brought our luggage, boxes and other things they had taken from the train and one by one, they emptied them all, making a huge pile with a mixture of clothes, directories, shoes, holy cards, crucifixes stockings, music sheets, discipline etc, etc. in a terrible mixture.  A small holy picture of Fr. Pro at the moment of his being shot came up.  You can imagine how those men reacted and as if this was not enough, there was a poster on the elections of the rightist party, which exasperated them.

          After our friend Encarna took for herself everything that was new and good, she divided our clothes among the militiamen, they hung the discipline on the cannon and the cilices on their belts.  The same treatment did not happen to the Crucifixes of our Profession.  These were thrown down to the ground and amid horrible blasphemies were trodden upon and destroyed by the butts of their rifles.  Not one crucifix was left intact.

You will be treated thus because of Me, because they do not know the One who sent us. (John. 15, 22)

        No one spoke of what they intended doing to us.  Soon a bus came to get us, sent by the Committee of the People’s House of Aranjuez.  In it there were militia men who would accompany us led by one who was at the head of the group.  He wore a red shirt and looked very disturbed.  We occupied the center of the bus and were surrounded by Encarna and fourteen militiamen who never stopped singing during the trip.  The ground troops on duty stopped us four times on the way from Algodon to Aranjuez and requested that we be taken down so that they could use us as targets in their rifle practice.  However, thank God, the leader refused and we were able to continue our trip to Aranjuez, where the whole town had heard of our arrival and a crowd of hostile women waited for us at the gate of the People’s House.  Seeing this, the leader had us continue the ride until we were inside the compound.

        We were placed in an empty, dirty room, with a militia woman who allowed us to be insulted by anyone who wished to do so.  A large group of people entered the room and began saying all kind of insults, besides making us raise our fists whenever they wished.  At this time, our Encarna bid us farewell, and even had the nerve to tell the Committee that we could not claim our watches because, with our permission, she had smashed them all in front of us.
 

         Meanwhile, when soldiers marched around there a lieutenant seemed interested in talking to us, and finding out what had happened to us after our departure from Mora.  After this, he encouraged us saying, “Don’t worry, either they will send me away or you will reach Madrid, in spite of what they say”.  We all thanked God for sending us help in the person of that lieutenant when suddenly, shouts were heard in the street asking urgently far men to fight in Toledo and we saw our protector leaving.  So there we were again, alone and abandoned....

          That evening, at six o’clock, we received orders to get into another bus and go to the station.  The train was waiting, with the travelers who expected our arrival.  Upon reaching the station, the leader of the militia men called aside the one who was accompany us, when I, pretending I was looking for something among the luggage, heard him say: “When you reach the bridge, stop the train, make them all get down, check around the place and then finish with all of them.”  I did not need to hear more.  I notified the superior about what I had heard, and we all got ready to appear before God.  Therefore, we left Arajuz and every time the train slowed down before reaching a station, we thought it was the time designated for the end of our lives.

        It was about 2km. before Madrid when we were told to stay aboard, although all the other travelers would get down.  Once we were in Madrid, we were left alone with the militiamen and our Good Samaritan who, with an expression of compassion and indignation, refused to leave us alone with those men.  Finally, one of them told him:  “Comrade, your mission is over, you are not needed, you can leave.”  Therefore, he left and at that moment, the train started moving rapidly backwards, with only the militiamen, for quite a few kilometers and us.  There was no doubt; we were heading toward the fatal bridge.  The train stopped and we were told to get down.  They inspected our luggage that, by now contained piece of rosaries, scapulars and mutilated crucifixes.

         And then... Our return trip to Madrid.  It seems that the leader had received an order from the lieutenant who had helped us so much in Arajuz, to pretend he would do with us what he had been told to do, but made him promise he would take us back to Madrid alive.


You will suffer in this world but take courage, I have overcome the world. (John. 16: 33)

        Through the travelers who had preceded us, everyone had heard in the Madrid station what was happening, so they waited anxiously to see if we returned alive or not.  The crowd had grown so much that a double line of militiamen had been placed between the train and the Commissary of the station and it was between those two lines that the ten of us, more dead than alive passed.  I, myself, could hardly recognize the sisters.  After again giving our personal information, we went in for another private search.  The woman who questioned me made offerings tempting me if I stayed with them and became angry when I refused.  As soon as I could, I left her.  Another question arose. 

        What would they do with 10 nuns at 10:00PM in the Commissary?  There were several opinions among the militiamen.  “Put them in jail?  Put them in the hospital?”  We looked at them without batting an eye, wondering which opinion would prevail, one as unpleasant as the other.  Thank God, the headmen at the Commissary were very kind to us and told us privately that we could spend the night in the Director’s office, which would be prepared for us.  It would be too dangerous to be out on the streets of Madrid at night without any definite destination and exposed to any troops of militiamen.  Mother superior accepted the offer and we saw heaven opened to us.  They even brought us snacks from the cantina.

         The following morning we had to leave and did not know where to go.  They suggested a pension and gave us safe passes to stay in Madrid 5 days and then return to our families.  We unsuccessfully tried to contact M. Provincial but there was no answer from Goya or El Refugio and we were told not to think of seeking refuge in a religious school.  Finally we decided to get in touch with the doctor from Gaya so that through him, we could get in touch with M. Mary Teresa Rubio.  After suggesting many precautions, he promised to tell M. Rubio about our arrival.

        We had to leave the Commissary and search for a pension.  We were taken in a bus blooded from the previous killing and guarded by five men.  The owner of the pension refuse to admit us without authorization from the safety Direction, providing security for herself and for us.  She finally obtained it. 

        We were so terrified that we refused to be separated in two groups so we decided to remain, the ten of us in one room, on two beds and three mattresses.  Therefore, night came; the superior’s heart had suffered too much, so she suddenly had something like a heart attack, which really scared us.
 

        Because of my nervous excitement and the stifling heat, I was unable to sleep, so I sat near the balcony.  When everything was quiet, at 1:00 o’clock in the morning, a car stopped in front of the pension and with great fanfare, a group of militiamen stepped out.  Then one of them spoke and said, “Comrades, shoot from behind, near the wall, I will direct the combat”.  As nothing else was said and the street was very quiet, I thought that the death sentence could only refer to us, so I awoke the sisters.  When we were all convinced that there would be firing, we thought that our hour had come, so we began to dress.  Mother was impressed and said only “My daughters ... my daughters,” and started counting us one by one, as if in a dream.        


          One of the sister said our coming here was an ambush.  We stepped out in the hall way and saw the rooms empty, the doors and windows wide open, all of which confirmed our thoughts of this being prearranged and prepared.  We heard the men climb the stairs, and ring the doorbell.  They discussed something and then left.  We remained anxious until daybreak and then the owner of the house told us that they had caught a Fascist.

         At 9:00 o’clock that morning, M. Provincial arrived, after being called by Dr. Tenas.  We gathered around her and told her about our odyssey and she listened, impressed and in tears.  With her comfort and encouragement, we no longer felt alone in Madrid.  Two days later, four sisters went to the cities where their families lived, and the rest of us placed ourselves in decent home as maids, so that, after lasting the quintessence of terror, hunger, sleeplessness, cold and humiliation, we were brought by Divine Providence back into the arms of our beloved Society.


María Altolaguirre,stj                                                                       (Translated by Sr. Odette Daigle, stj)
October 1937

 

 

 


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Page last modified: 07/29/2008
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