First Steps of the Restoration in Spain
The vicar general of the Order, Father José María Rodríguez, wanted to restore the Order in Europe. For that, he needed a Mercedarian convent and a few exclaustrated religious who were determined to return to the convent.
With Father Benito Rubio Alcaine’s cooperation and the help of benefactor Marquis of Lazán, with the corresponding ecclesiastical and government permits, Father Rodríguez was able to inaugurate solemnly the restoration of the Mercedarian Order at the convent of Santa María de El Olivar on August 10, 1878. The community had 13 religious, the oldest was 72 and the youngest, 60. This happy event marked the start of the restoration of the Order of Mercy in the Province of Aragon and in Spain.
Generalate of Father Peter Armengol Valenzuela
This distinguished Mercedarian religious was born on July 5, 1843, in Coipué, a small town of the Province of Talca (Chile). His parents were José Ignacio Valenzuela and María de las Nieves Poblete. He was baptized under the name of Laureano which, while he was in the convent, he changed to Peter Armengol. He attended elementary school in Gualleco and secondary school in Talca. He entered the Order in Santiago where, in 1861, he received the Mercedarian habit and started his novitiate. He made his first profession on November 14, 1862, and took his solemn vows on February 10, 1866. On March 28, 1868, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Rafael Valentín Valdivieso. When his superiors noticed his extraordinary capacity for studying, his prodigious memory, his love and unusual ease with languages, they provided him with eminent philosophy, theology and foreign languages professors and then, they sent him to Rome to pursue his theological and linguistic studies.
In 1871, as secretary, he accompanied Father Benjamín Rencoret who was going to Ecuador as apostolic visitator. To deal with affairs of this province, Father Valenzuela went to Rome in 1876, and returned as vicar provincial. When he refused to accept Ignacio Ventimilla’s impositions, he was expelled by the dictator and went back to Chile. On January 30, 1880, Father Peter Armengol Valenzuela was elected Master General of the Order. At the time of his election, he was 37 years old and he was the superior of the convent of Valparaiso (Chile). There he embarked for Europe on May 26, accompanied by Father Clodomiro Henríquez. They arrived in Rome on July 28, 1880. With the community gathered on July 31, Father Liborio Senmartí y Salvans read the decree of approval and confirmation of the election of Leo XIII. Father Valenzuela took the constitutional oath kneeling before Father Magín Bertrán, the interim vicar general. Then they went to the church to intone the Te Deum. The new Master General spoke of charity which was to rule among religious and of his hopes for the future of the Order. Finally, he appointed Father Clodomiro Henríquez as secretary general.
The government of the Masters General of the Order from Rome started with Father Valenzuela whereas previous masters had governed from Spain. The panorama of the Order in Europe was distressing since few and rather aging religious were left in three convents, 9 in Saint Adriano, 5 in Cagliari and 12 in El Olivar. There was no novitiate, no income or material resources. Besides, there were some exclaustrated religious in different places. America there were the following Provinces: Quito-Ecuador with 7 convents, Peru with 4 convents, Chile with 11 convents and Argentina with 4 convents. All told, there were around three hundred religious.
Convinced that the fundamental task of his mandate was the restoration of the Order, Father Valenzuela devoted all his energy, intelligence, experience and love to this mission. As the first step, he opened novitiates and study houses for the formandi. With strategic insight, he established the Rome novitiate in Saint Adriano Convent, then one in El Olivar in Aragon and first, one in Conxo and later another one in Poio in the Province of Castile. For the role of formators, he sought the best religious of the Order. He had the following fathers come to Europe and especially to Spain: Clodomiro Henríquez, Pedro José Ferrada, José Liñan de Ariza and Agustín Pérez from Chile; Miguel Tovar and Mariano Flores from Peru; Bernardino Toledo from Argentina; Guillermo Bravo and Peter Armengol Castro from Ecuador. In addition, to achieve a fundamental improvement in the formation of new generations of friars, it was necessary to renew the structure of Mercedarian religious life by updating the 1692 Constitutions.
Saint Adriano Convent and its Novitiate
All of Father Valenzuela’s activity had the convent and the church of Saint Adriano, in the Roman Forum, as its center. At first, procurators general were living in Santa Rufina convent in Rome. By a bull of April 8, 1589, Sixtus V granted the use of the church, house and orchard of Saint Adriano to the Order in perpetuum. Then Procurator General Francisco Torres and the other religious moved to the house of the Roman Forum which became the see of the procurators general of the Order. Popes Sixtus V (1590) and Paul V (1603) ordered Masters General Francisco Salazar and Alonso Monroy, respectively, to have all provinces of the Order send money to repair Saint Adriano which had to be maintained for the whole Order since it had been given to the Order. At the time, the Order included not only the four Spanish Provinces but also the Province of France and the 8 Provinces of America. Paul V asked that the Roman convent be given 4,000 gold escudos assessed in the following way: Lima, 1,000 escudos; Cuzco, 1,200 escudos; New Spain, 500 escudos; Chile and Tucumán, 300 escudos; Castile, 4,000 reales and Andalusia, 4000 reales. The Provinces of Aragon, Valencia and France were dispensed because they were so poor.
The 1664 Granada General Chapter decreed that it would remit the fourth of the spolium of the Indies to help the Rome convent. The 1723 Granada General Chapter established that the amount needed to provide for the needs of Saint Adriano be shared among the four Provinces of Spain and those of Mexico, Guatemala, Lima, Cuzco, Quito, Chile, Tucumán and their doctrinas. In 1770, the Calatayud Chapter decreed to stop said contribution on the part of Spain since from that time on, few religious from the Spanish Provinces would go there.
From a juridical aspect, when Pope Clement VIII established the Province of Italy (1603), he separated the Italian convents which belonged to the Province of Aragon and he left Saint Adriano Convent as the house of the Province of Italy. This situation continued until the end of 1785 when, by a papal bull of August 3 of the same year, Saint Adriano was declared the Generalate College and placed under the authority of the Master General. When on June 16, 1875, don Aurelio Ibarra came to Saint Adriano to take it over to follow orders from Madrid, Father Rodríguez saved the convent by stating to the official that the Spanish government had never contributed anything to said convent which was maintained by the Mercedarian convents of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Argentina.
On December 20, 1883, Father Valenzuela obtained from the king of Italy that Saint Adriano convent be civilly recognized as Hispano-American Convictorio.
The novitiate was inaugurated in Saint Adriano in December 1880. The first master was Father Clodomiro Henríquez. In 1882, he was replaced by Father Francisco Sulis from the Sardinia congregation and called especially from Cagliari to Rome for that post. In the course of 10 years, 37 religious made their profession in this Roman novitiate and 29 of them were Italian.
Continuation of the Restoration in Spain
In August 1880, soon after he assumed his post, Father Valenzuela wrote to the general commissary of the Province of Aragon, Father Benito Rubio Alcaine, to reject the resignation that the latter intended to send: “Your assignment has been given to you by Our Blessed Mother. We must think about opening a novitiate in El Olivar as soon as possible because for us, each passing day means a delay of many years.” Then in the summer of 1881, he traveled to Spain to negotiate the opening of Conxo and El Puig and went to El Olivar. He observed a good atmosphere. Father Valenzuela named Father Antonio Lafuente superior and Father Fabián Lisbona, novice master. To set up the novitiate, he left financial help with Father Benito Rubio whom he confirmed in his responsibility and he ordered the opening of the novitiate. It was inaugurated on September 24, 1881, with six young men. Since there were seven priests and one brother in El Olivar, he sent four religious who were at Saint Adriano to strengthen the community of the new novitiate. From the convent of El Olivar, cradle of the restoration of the Order of Mercy in Spain, the Province of Aragon reappeared with the recovery and opening of the former convents of Lérida (1886), San Ramón (1897), Palma de Majorca (1905), Santa María de El Puig (1921) and with the foundation in Santa Marta church of Barcelona (1901).
After leaving El Olivar, Father Valenzuela went to Valencia to attend to the convents of El Puig and then, to Madrid. He realized that the Spanish government was not going to give its authorization for the El Puig and Conxo convents. Yet, he traveled to Santiago de Compostela to speak with the archbishop. Both agreed to set up a small community without the government’s authorization, in Conxo. There they received the enthusiastic collaboration of elderly Father Antonio Moya and with Fathers Magín Bertrán and Buenaventura Boneta, they would initiate the restoration in Castile. The Master General sent the last two fathers to Conxo and opened the novitiate whose first novice, lay brother Juan Vales, received the habit on May 21, 1882. Later, two secular priests and various youths would enter the novitiate. Father Magín Bertrán, named vicar provincial of Castile and novice master, had invested a substantial sum of money in repairs. Father Valenzuela sent him 10,000 duros [a duro = 5 pesetas], part of the expropriation of the orchard (2,151 square feet) of Saint Adriano realized by Rome city hall.
The Master General returned to visit this house in 1882, when he gave norms for the El Olivar novitiate and again in 1885 and 1888, always showing a special concern for formation. By 1888, the Conxo community had grown and it had 5 priests, 1 deacon, Fray Adolfo Londei, an Italian and a philosophy instructor, 9 professed students, 3 novices to the priesthood, 2 lay brothers with solemn vows and 1 novice to the brotherhood. Mercedarian religious had to abandon their own Conxo convent which had been converted into a sanatorium for mental patients for Galicia by the bishop of Santiago de Compostela. After various attempts to find a new house, they finally selected the monastery of Poio (Pontevedra) after they succeeded in having the town council build their new site for which they had to pay 7,000 duros. Thus, the first floor of the former Benedictine monastery became available on June 17, 1890. But, since it was also a parish, they had to wait for the pastor’s death to be able to move in after restoring the part of the building which was in ruins. The Master General who was determined to have the new community of Castile established in Poio, sent them 12,500 pesetas from Rome and later, an additional 12,500 pesetas. This became the formation site of the new personnel of the Province of Castile. With them, it became possible to open convents in Sarria, Herencia and Verín and later a residence in Madrid.
In 1887, the Master General, who was concerned about the formation of religious, instructed Father Félix de los Ríos to open a novitiate in La Paz, a house which was part of the Province of Peru. At the 1893 General Congregation of Rome, the congregation or commissariat of Bolivia, independent from Peru, was created on June 21. Father Manuel Argüello was appointed general commissary. He was succeeded by Father Félix de los Ríos who was responsible for establishing the Sorata College. Between 1910 and 1912, Father Policarpo Gazulla Galve was appointed. He was a writer and a great polemicist who had the opportunity to defend the rights of Mercedarians publicly in the press. Nevertheless, in 1912, the Bolivian Congress approved the closing of the La Paz convent, the Sorata College and the expulsion of Mercedarians from Bolivia. Politicians had their eyes set on the property which belonged to the Order: the La Paz convent had a large estate near Lake Titicaca and the convent had to be suppressed for the government to take it over. The last conventual vicar of the suppressed encomienda, Father Dionisio Russi, put on record that when the La Paz convent was closed, it had 12 religious: 1 Spaniard, one Italian, 2 Chileans, 5 Bolivians, 2 Ecuadorans and 1 Argentine.
Years later, on April 11, 1939, Mercedarians returned to La Paz. In 1948, the provincial of Peru, Father Víctor Barriga, obtained from the president of Bolivia a decree which guaranteed the legal existence of the Order in that republic. In 1953, the La Paz convent was annexed to the Province of Castile. Lately, once again, it is part of the Province of Peru.
Vice-Province of Concepción, Chile
Along with the congregation of Bolivia, the vice-province of Concepción was established (May 25, 1893) with the former convents of Chillán and Concepción. Father Cayetano Mora was the first commissary. He opened a novitiate in Chillán on December 8, 1895, with 8 youths receiving the habit. Since this vice-province did not have a large staff, the Master General strengthened it by transferring religious from other provinces: three from Chile; Fathers Manuel Burgos Castillo, from Bolivia; Julio Elizalde from Peru; A. Cabrera from Ecuador; Adolfo Rezza from Italy; Juan Iglesias from Spain and Brother Pietro Menichini from Italy. Pietro was an exemplary and very congenial religious. He lived over 30 years in Cato near Chillán, a farming property of the Order, which he converted into a garden. He is buried in the cemetery of the city. In 1911, the Holy See decreed the union of this vice-province with the Province of Chile. In 1920, Father Inocencio López Santa María reorganized this vice-province with four convents and in 1922, he inaugurated the novitiate in San Javier.
Concern for Restoration in Mexico
The 1857 Mexican Constitution seized all the assets of the Church and it even abolished ecclesiastical privileges. The Order of Mercy, with its abundant personnel and its great convents of the previous century, had become a desolate province reduced to six religious around 1900. Under Porfirio Díaz’ tolerant government, the Order recovered the houses of Toluca, Merced de las Huertas and Lagos de Moreno.
In 1903, Father Valenzuela instructed Italian Father Antonio Giuliano, who happened to be in the United States, to go to Mexico and to start the restoration of the province. Young Father Giuliano agreed with Vicar Provincial Gil Tenorio to visit the archbishop to request the return of the church of Arcos de Belén. It was granted and Father Giuliano took care of it for four years. In 1906, Father Antonio asked the Master General to send more religious to Mexico. Fathers Rafael Annechiarico, Rosalino Prosperi and Brother Angelo Urbani arrived in October. Father Giuliano himself went to Italy and in 1908, he brought back Father Martino Compagno and Subdeacon Fray Alfredo Scotti. In 1911, Fathers Giacomo Lassandro and Emilio de Matteo also came from Italy.
In 1907, religious from the Province of Castile began to arrive: Pascual Miguel, Jerónimo Alvarez, Agustín Salcedo, Casiano Salcedo, Adolfo Rodríguez, Miguel Hortas, Antonio Félix Cadaveira, Manuel Tarrío, Enrique García, José Martínez and Benigno González. Fathers José M. Gómez and Nicolás Paracuellos came from the Province of Aragon. Ecuador was another province which was generous with Mexico. In 1910, it sent Fathers Domingo Cabezas, Juan R. Roldán and José Tovar.
Liberalism, in vogue at the start of the century, persecuted the Church once again by expelling foreign and especially European clergy. In 1915, Italian Mercedarians were expelled from Mexico and they took refuge in the United States. Fifteen years went by (1930) before the Order made another attempt to restore the Province of Mexico. Father Alfredo Scotti participated in this new effort. Years later, he would become Master General of the Order.
Sicily Vice-Province and Sardinia Commissariat
The discalced Mercedarians of Sicily also suffered from political attacks of the nineteenth century and from laws suppressing religious in Italy. They totally disappeared from the vice-province of Rome. In the discalced Province of San Ramón of Sicily, very few religious remained but they were not strong enough to rise again. In these conditions, Father Michele Curto and nine brothers asked the Holy Father to allow them to be incorporated in the first Order, with the condition that the Province of San Ramón of Sicily would stay (1900). Father Valenzuela gave his approval and the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars granted the indult of union on September 27, 1900. On July 25, 1901, the Master General named Father Curto vicar provincial of the vice-province of Sicily with the convents of San Cataldo and Módica. Around 1903, the Master General began to send religious personnel to Sicily from Rome.
In Sardinia, it was necessary to reestablish communitarian Mercedarian life at the Cagliari convent where a few exclaustrated, in charge of taking care of the sanctuary, were in residence. Father Valenzuela sent Father Adolfo Londei who, after completing the canonical visit, reestablished communal life in this old convent of the Order (1902).
When Father Peter Armengol Valenzuela arrived in Rome, the Order only had two convents: Saint Adriano and Cagliari with a few exclaustrated religious. On March 19, 1881, the Master General acquired Nemi, a former Franciscan convent put up for auction. It cost 25,376 lire. Later, on August 22, 1889, for 49,000 lire, he bought the Orvieto Palace from Countess Faustina Mazzochi There he set up the convent and novitiate. With the help of a few benefactors, in 1894, he opened the convent of San Vito dei Normanni; the Ponzano Romani convent in 1897 and in 1901, he started the foundation of Carpignano in Avellino. With these houses and quite a few young religious, who had been in formation in the meantime, Father Valenzuela reconstituted the Province of Italy under the name of Roman Province in 1907.
When he reestablished the province, the Master General requested from the Holy See that the Saint Adriano Convent be incorporated in the new entity while keeping its status of Generalate College.
The Province of Peru
In the last twenty-five years of the nineteenth century, there were four convents in the Province of Peru: Lima, Cuzco, Arequipa and La Paz. This was all that was left from two prosperous provinces after convents had been suppressed and property confiscated. The Master General obtained the consent of the apostolic delegate, Mariano Meceni, to reestablish the Province of Peru with the existing convents in Peru and Bolivia. Father Aparicio del Castillo, a religious with a lot of experience in government, was the first provincial (1881). Father Manuel Argüello was named provincial in 1884.
In 1891, Father Valenzuela designated to that post Father Nicanor Velásquez who presided over the first provincial chapter (1892). Again, Father Valenzuela named Father Argüello who participated in the 1893 General Congregation in Rome where he represented the Province of Peru. During Father Argüello’s absence, Father Miguel Tovar would govern as vicar provincial until 1919. This religious restored to the Peruvian convents their traditional educational nature which had been an important apostolate of the Province of Peru. After a few years, in 1926, the province held an ordinary chapter at which Father Alberto Escaler was elected provincial.
Father Valenzuela Is Reelected
The Protector of the Order, Cardinal E. Howard, who was well aware of the positive results of Father Valenzuela’s work to restore the Order, presented to the Holy Father the desirability of prolonging the government of the Master General on the basis of the bull Nuper pro parte. On May 1, 1885, Leo XIII accepted Cardinal Howard’s petition. The decision was communicated to the Order in a decree from the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars on May 8, 1885. The origin of the prolongation of the government of Father Peter Armengol Valenzuela is the following.
In 1891, in a circular for which he was responsible, the procurator general, Liborio Senmartí, proposed to the provincials that the Order should humbly ask “the Roman Pontiff to deign to confirm, for another 12 years, the actual Reverend Father Valenzuela so that he might successfully carry out the initiated restoration.” By August 26, the procurator general had all the answers and all the provincials were in agreement. Within two days, the Sacred Congregation implemented the Holy Father’s will and responded favorably to the Order with a decree in which we read the well-known words: “regant qui regunt,” let those who are governing, govern.
General Congregation of 1893
Once he had been confirmed in the post of Master General of the Order, Father Valenzuela convoked provincials to the General Congregation in Rome. The provincial or a delegate, designated by the definitorium, was to attend.
On April 11, 1893, for the first time, provincials of the entire Order met in Rome, exactly sixty years after the last Huete General Chapter. Those in attendance were: Master General Peter Armengol Valenzuela; Manuel Argüello, provincial of Peru; Clodomiro Henríquez, provincial of Chile; José León Torres, provincial of Argentina; Daniel Reyes, provincial of Quito-Ecuador; José Giantrapani, commissary general of Sardinia; Pascual Tómas, delegate of the Province of Aragon; Buenaventura Boneto, delegate of the Province of Castile; Ramón Colongioli, delegate of the Province of Italy and Liborio Senmarí, procurator general.
Father Valenzuela’s discourse to the Venerabiles Patres, written in elegant Latin, provided guidelines for the work which was to be undertaken: an urgent need to give new Constitutions to the Order.
The Congregation lasted 48 days. It held 20 plenary sessions and 23 in committees. In that project, provincials corrected various points, they suppressed some and added others. After lengthy discussions, especially in reference to the purpose of the Order and the formulation of the fourth vow, the text was unanimously approved. Pope Leo XIII approved the Constitutions on April 22, 1895. The corresponding decree was issued by the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars on the following May 11. The new Constitutions would be called Roman.
Contents of the Constitutions
The Constitutiones coelestis, regalis ac militaris Ordinis Redemptorum B. M. V. de Mercede denuo ordinatae et a SS. D. N. Leone XIII confirmatae include a foundation, ten distinctions or parts and an epilogue. In nine chapters, the foundation establishes the principles or fundamental elements of Mercedarian religious life. Each distinction touches on various aspects of the Institute: admission of candidates and their formation; instruction of the professed; vows and divine worship; regular observance; humanities; ministries; chapters and elections of superiors; government of the Order; temporal goods; sisters, tertiaries and participants; faults and penalties and separation from the Order. The Constitutions conclude with an epilogue on the interpretation and dispensation from the laws.
It should be observed that, differently from the previous ones, these Constitutions do not include the section on the redemption of captives, a theme which is only taken up in the third chapter of section VI dedicated to ministries. The ministry of the missions and youth education are incorporated in the activities of the Order.
In these Constitutions, rather extensive considerations of a theological and spiritual nature accompany the norms. The desire of consecrated people to approach God can be seen in these considerations.
The Constitutions insist on the need for the Order to become an organized community in which authority is strong and centralized. The local superior must not exaggerate his authority and set himself up as an arbitrator or master a convent’s goods independently from major superiors.
Convents are the proper place for religious. They are to live there in community and without interference from lay people. There Mercedarian friars must strive toward perfection by a life of austerity with strict observance of ecclesiastical and constitutional laws. Above all, they are to live in authentic fraternal love.
On the other hand, the Constitutions are not a cold legislative code but they actually become an authentic manual of Mercedarian spirituality. In them, we can find the spiritual richness of the Order which, from the time of its foundation, has been preserved through previous legislative texts.
They are works which sharpen the new image of the ideal Mercedarian whose life aim is outlined in the new Constitutions. They are serious and doctrinal works, very useful for religious formation.
Rituale et Euchologium coelestis, regalis ac militaris Ordinis Redemptorum B. M. V. De Mercede, (1893). Aid to foster the community’s prayer and devotion.
Caeremoniale coelestis, regalis ac militaris Ordinis Redemptorum
B. M. V. de Mercede, (1898). The Order really needed this work which is why compendiums were prepared in Spanish and Italian.
Mercedarians Instructed in the Duties of their State (1899). A fundamental book for Mercedarian religious formation. It is also used by many non-Mercedarian priests.
Mercedarian Hymns and Psalms with Original Songs Related to the Order (1883).
Rule and Constitutions of the Third Order Sisters of Our Blessed Mother of Mercy (1883). A work dedicated to the Mercedarian Sisters of San Gervasio of Barcelona.
Rule and Constitutions of the Sacred, Royal and Military Order of Redeemers of the B. M. V. of Mercy, Adapted to the Nuns of the Same Institute (1897).
De intemeratu Deiparae Conceptu in Ordine ipsi sub titulo de Mercede dicato (1904), a work with a Marian content, useful to know what the Order has done in defense of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
Father Valenzuela published all these works in Rome. In addition, he wrote important letters, sermons and poems.
Father Valenzuela’s Last Years
After governing for 31 years, Father Valenzuela undertook the return journey to Chile with the gratitude of the entire Order for his work of Mercedarian restoration and an impressive list of honorable positions which the Church had entrusted to him while he was in Rome: Consultant of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, member of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Provincial Synods, member of the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law, member of the preparatory Commission for the Plenary Council of Latin America, Bishop of San Carlos de Ancud, appointed on June 30, 1910 and consecrated on July 24 in the church of the Colegio Pio Latino Americano [South American College] by Cardinal Antonio Agliardi, Chancellor of the Holy See.
The Vatican had Father Valenzuela, who was already a bishop, continue to govern the Order until October 1911, when he passed on the position of Master General to his successor, Mariano Alcalá Pérez. A few days later, Father Valenzuela said, “I set out for my homeland after an absence of thirty-one years and five months during which, by heavenly will, I ruled the Order in Rome.” During his government, he saw the opening of 40 convents and the Order had a thousand religious. Father Valenzuela took his secretary and esteemed collaborator, Father José Inglés Blasi from the Province of Aragon, to the Ancud Diocese. Father José accompanied him until 1914, when they both traveled to the ad limina visit. Upon returning to his insular diocese, he traveled with his new secretary, Mexican Mercedarian José María Esparza, who accompanied him during the last years of his government in that diocese. Father Valenzuela governed his flock as a bishop until December 22, 1916.
Appointed Titular Archbishop of Gangra by Benedict XV, Bishop Valenzuela withdrew to the Santiago convent where he devoted himself to his youthful passion: languages. In 1918, the University of Chile published his Glosario etimológico, a two-volume dictionary of Araucanian and of other widely used native American languages. He also wrote an unpublished Essay of Comparative American Philology to Contribute to the Monogenesis of the Language and of the Human Race. He was working on the second part of this work when death took him by surprise on July 10, 1922. Fray Francesco Cristofori accompanied him to the end. After seven years of faithful service, Fray Francesco went back to Italy. Monsignor Valenzuela’s body lies in a prominent place in the Mercy Basilica of Santiago.
Masters General of this Period
After examining the votes, sent in sealed envelopes, by the provincials and delegates, by a decree of August 3, 1911, the Congregation of Religious declared Mariano Alcalá Pérez Master General elect of the Order. He took office on August 24, 1911. The same Sacred Congregation also appointed councilors who would form the new government of the Order with the Master General. They were: Ramón Serratosa, Armando Bonifaz who renounced, Nicolás González, Peter Armengol Reyes, Cándido Schirillo, procurator of the Order and Francisco Gargallo, secretary general.
Master Alcalá started to work and among his initiatives, we should recall the publication of the Official Bulletin of the Order of Mercy whose first issue appeared in July, 1912. He had grave problems as superior of the Order. The difficulties started in and through Saint Adriano College. The Roman Provincial Curia was operating there and the priests who were assistants general forming the general council were also living there. Father Alcalá tried to separate the Generalate College from the Roman Province but the province did not have another house in Rome. In the process, there were feelings which led to unexpected results for everyone. In September 1912, the American assistants general and the procurator general resigned before the Sacred Congregation. On November 5, 1912, the Sacred Congregation declared that Saint Adriano did not validly belong to the Roman Province and that it was only the Generalate College, according to a decree of August 2, 1785. On December 19, 1912, the Roman provincial government was dissolved by the Congregation and a new one was named with other religious. At the request of the same Italian religious, on January 15, 1913, the Sacred Congregation appointed an apostolic visitator for the Roman Province. He was French religious Jules Sabaut from the Betharram Institute. By decree of July 29, 1913, this religious ceased in that office and Dom Mauro Etcheverry, O. S. B. was named apostolic visitator for the whole Order. The apostolic visitator went to all the Italian houses and, finally, on November 29, 1913, the Sacred Congregation appointed another provincial government. The apostolic visit was continuing in Spain and by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of March 14, 1914, Father Mariano Alcalá was removed from the general government along with the rest of the councilors who accompanied him.
On the same day, Father Inocencio López Santamaría was named vicar general ad nutum Sanctae Sedis while still continuing in his position as apostolic visitator. In that same year, as apostolic visitator, Father Inocencio López Santamaría started to visit the communities and Provinces of America. This lasted until September 1916. After the apostolic visit ended and authorization was given to hold the 1919 General
Chapter, Father Inocencio López Santamaría was actually elected Master General of the Order until 1925.
The 1925 General Chapter elected Juan del Carmelo Garrido Blanco, from the Province of Argentina, as Master General. In a circular, he presented the program of his government which would be vigilance in observance and in carrying out the projects prepared by the chapter, projects which would be based on the Constitutions. He governed for twelve years.
Father Garrido Blanco was followed by Father Alfredo Scotti, named by the Holy See in 1937, when it was impossible to hold a general chapter due to the Spanish Civil War. Because of the Second World War, Father Scotti could not hold a general chapter either until May 1950. This chapter was held in Rome, starting on May 5, with 21 members present and the Cardinal Protector of the Order, Clemente Micara. Father Scotti presented a report on the situation of the Order in Europe: in Spain, the Civil War had seriously affected the Provinces of Aragon and of Castile in which 27 religious died and various convents were destroyed. In addition to that, the Second World War had also dealt a blow to Italy.
In their reports, provincials pointed out that the Order was improving in terms of observance as well as in the religious’ preparation. In Spain, the houses destroyed by the Civil War had been repaired and religious were working diligently in the new foundations of Puerto Rico and Brazil. The chapter became aware of the need to renew the Constitutions and Father Scotti was reelected Master General.
In 1956, Father Scotti’s successor was Father Sante Gattuso who was living in Le Roy, New York. However, because he was sick, he was unable to come to Rome and stayed in North America for two years. In his absence, Father Eugenio Marianecci acted as vicar general. In a December 25, 1956 circular, the Master General presented the directions of his government: growth of the Order, new Constitutions and a new see for the general curia. In the absence of authority, in a decree of May 31,1958, the Sacred Congregation left Father Gattuso as Master General and it entrusted the government of the Order to the general council ad nutum Sanctae Sedis. Then, the council elected the assistant general, José Francisco Hinojosa, as vicar general. He governed until May 1959, when Master General Sante Gattuso assumed the post. The work of Vicar General José Francisco Hinojosa with the general council can be summarized this way: naming a commission to write the project of the new Constitutions, acquisition of a house for the general curia in La Magliana district of Rome, subsequently considered inadequate, and the foundation of the International College of Philosophy (CIF) in Argentina. Father Hinojosa and his council made all these desires, expressed in general chapters, a reality.
When Father Gattuso reassumed his post, the Sacred Congregation canceled measures of a transitory nature. Father Gattuso was especially interested in providing a new house for the general curia since in 1924, the historical Saint Adriano convent had been expropriated by the Italian government due to excavations which were been realized in the Roman Forum. With the money from this expropriation, a property was bought less than 10 miles from Rome, on Via Torre Gaia. The new curia see was built on that estate and it was inaugurated on December 14, 1965. In 1986, Master General Domingo Acquaro transferred the general house of the Order to Via Monte Carmelo in the Aurelian district.
At the end of Father Gattuso’s six-year term, the Chapter General started in Rome on April 26, 1962. During the chapter, the new schema of the Constitutions, prepared under the direction of the general council, was approved after 31 study sessions.
At election time and after several votes, no candidate reached the constitutional majority, that is to say, half plus one vote to be elected Master General. Under these circumstances, Cardinal Mícara received a communiqué from the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious stating that the capitular fathers were to proceed to vote again and each one was to write three names on the ballots. These were to be sent to the Congregation for Religious, which would have provided the counting and after considering the results, it would have communicated the name of the Master General of the Order. With the names proposed by the chapter, the Congregation not only communicated the Master General’s name but it established the entire government of the Order with the following religious: Bernardo Navarro Allende, Master General and the assistants general: Sante Gattuso, procurator general, Juan Parra, Luis Acquatías, Antonio Ibarrondo, Agustín Vega, Antonio Rubino, secretary general. Fathers Parra and Ibarrondo did not accept the position. The Sacred Congregation named two new assistants: Fathers Pablo Mateo Conde and Eleuterio Alarcón Bejarano. In addition, the Sacred Congregation appointed Father Sante Gattuso as vicar general of the Order.
Reform of the Constitutions
At that time, one of the concerns of the general governments of the Order was the reform of the Constitutions.
After the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law (1917), the Roman Constitutions began to be questioned. This crisis developed slowly and it was perceived in the major superiors’ opinions and in the general chapters after 1919. This chapter, like the 1923 chapter, declared it wanted to preserve integrally the texts of the Roman Constitutions in all that was not to be corrected or amended because of the provisions of the
Code and of the general chapters.
The 1931 General Chapter requested the preparation of a compendium of the Constitutions for novices and lay brothers. Two years later, Father José León Pérez Castro translated them from Latin into Spanish. They were published in 1933, under the title of Compendio de las Constituciones de la Real y Militar Orden de los Redentores de la Bienaventurada Virgen María de la Merced. In addition, the chapter gave the general curia power to name a commission to adapt the Constitutions to the new Code of Canon Law and to make the corrections and opportune additions according to the new ecclesiastical legislation. In 1948, Father Scotti asked Father Luis Acquatías to write a project of new Constitutions. The 1950 General Chapter rejected the proposed project and asked for another one to be prepared. The new general government prepared that text according to the indications of the chapter which sent the text to the provinces a few months before the 1956 General Chapter. Since the provinces did not have time to examine it, the chapter entrusted the task of reforming the Constitutions to the new general government by appointing a commission of three religious.
When he was Master General, in December 1956, Father Sante Gattuso sent a circular to the Order dealing with the topic of the new Constitutions. He stated that a commission to examine the new text of the Constitutions should be named and make the necessary modifications according to the provisions of the Holy See and the Code of Canon Law. On June 25, 1958, Father José Hinojosa named the commission to write the new Constitutions and convoked it for September. This commission was constituted by the following fathers: Ramón Iribarne, Fernando López and Carlos Oviedo Cavada. Under curial direction, the commission started its task on October 3, 1958. It submitted its work on April 3, 1959. Upon examination of the project, the 1962 General Chapter approved it asking for the revision of a few points.
Appointed Master General, on November 3, 1962, Father Bernardo Navarro assigned a commission made up of Fathers Sante Gattuso, Eleuterio Alarcón and Antonio Rubino to revise the new Constitutions project. The commission’s task was to revise and reorganize the text according to the chapter’s considerations. In a letter of December 23, 1966, addressed to the Master General, the Sacred Congregation authorized the observance of these Constitutions “until the next special chapter general.” The Constitutions were published in 1967, and they were valid ad tempus.
In the twentieth century, the Order has been concerned with exercising apostolic activities more in harmony with its charism and also imparting it in parish ministry which had increased considerably.
In a circular, Vicar General Inocencio López Santamaría summarized what the Order was doing: “colleges with abundant fruits, the poor and the uneducated are evangelized. Religious are working in jails and visiting prisoners. Children are taught in catechesis everywhere. They look after abandoned children.”
At the 1950 General Chapter, a debate on the present significance of the fourth vow was initiated. The Master General exhorted some religious to write about this important theme.
On May 6, 1951, Father Scotti sent a letter to the religious of the Order inviting them to an in-depth and serious study of the vital problems of the Order and, in the first place, about the obligation, outreach and achievement of the fourth vow at the present time. He added: “we dare to submit prison ministry to your study as the specific substance of the exercise of the fourth vow in our own day.”
On August 31, 1960, in a letter to the whole Order, Father Sante Gattuso expressed some thoughts about the fourth vow: “especially in view of the strange and certainly painful fact that it [the fourth vow] appears to some as a relic which has no reason to exist in our time and should therefore be eliminated or have its activity reduced to determined fields.” The Master General then added: “the fourth vow is not to be touched, our Father did not limit his redemptive activity and that of his sons to the rescue of Christian captives. Instead, he extended it to all the activities closely related to the fourth vow and necessary to a more accurate and complete observance of the same.”
Because of these concerns manifested by the Fathers General, the Order follows the redemptive instinct and it strives to instill a Mercedarian focus to all its apostolic activities, seeking to fulfill its fourth vow in a way adapted to the here and now.
On April 4, 1918, on the occasion of the Centennial of the foundation of the Order, Benedict XV addressed a letter to Vicar General Inocencio López where in reference to Father Gilabert, he stated that “no work of charity was ever foreign to the Order.” After recalling his great devotion to the Blessed Virgin of Mercy, he returned to captivity and stated: “times have changed but today there is a worse type of captivity, servitus animarum, errors and sects which are invasive.” In a letter from Secretary of State Domenico Tardini, on September 23, 1960, Pope John XXIII wrote: “The Order inherits a vast and holy mission and it continues today in its task in good spirits and a generous involvement.” And quoting Benedict XV, the pope reaffirmed: “today’s slavery is greater and worse than the slavery of seven centuries ago.”
In 1934, following Father Valenzuela’s approach, Father Manuel Sancho maintained that the goal of the fourth vow was aimed at saving souls, its primordial purpose. The redemption of the body is only the means for the redemption and salvation of souls. He compared the redemption of captives with the charitable work in which the Order is engaged today. He summarized his thought saying: the essence of the vow remains and this is why the Order continues.
In the second half of the century, the Mercedarian fourth vow started to be viewed in a different light and insightful investigations appeared on the subject.
In 1951, Father Juan B. Herrada Armijo published a study entitled El cuarto voto de redención en la Orden de la Merced. The author intended “to give a broad sketch of the historical evolution of the fourth vow and to probe its nature in order to see its theological outreach, the main points proposed and the juridical and moral conclusions which derive from it.”
Others also contributed: Bienvenido Lahoz, El voto de sangre y el marianismo mercedario (1952); Carlos Oviedo, Materia del voto de redención (1955); Mario Tallei, Puntos de vista sobre nuestro cuarto voto de redención (1956); Jerónimo López, En torno al cuarto voto mercedario (1956); Denise Aimé-Azam, Le quatrième voeu: Notre Dame de la Merci et les captifs (Paris-Geneva, 1958); Antonio Rubino, L’Ordine della Mercede e il voto di redenzione (1961); Joaquín Millán, El voto mercedario de dar la vida por los cristianos cautivos (1975); Eleuterio Alarcón Bejarano, La profesión religiosa en la Orden de la Merced. Estudio histórico-jurídico sobre la profesión y el fin particular de la Merced (1975); Pio Pablo Donnelly, Cautivos cristianos para la Orden de la Merced (1978).
In search of how to fulfill the fourth vow of redemption in their contemporary praxis, Mercedarians have come up with a series of initiatives oriented to doing works to benefit others.
In intimate communion with the spirit of the fourth vow, in 1947, Father Eugenio Marianecci of the Roman Province founded The Pious Union of Prayers to the Blessed Virgin of Mercy for Those Who Suffer because of their faith under communist régimes. After the encyclical of Pius XII, Ingruentium malorum of 1951, this initiative was canonically approved by the Rome Vicariate and blessed by the Holy Father. Father Alfredo Scotti expanded this work to the entire Order in a letter of November 13, 1952.
In 1963, Father Pío Pablo Donnelly started a movement in Rome for the Church of Silence arousing great enthusiasm in the Order which he visited with that purpose in mind. This movement was the origin of the institution of the International Crusade of Mercedarian Charity in 1964, by Master General Bernardo Navarro.
These two experiences about the redemptive mission have the following in common: they emerge from the signs of the times which coincide with the concern of the religious to channel the vital forces of the Order; both have as their primary goal praying for Christian captives imprisoned in situations contrary to the Gospel. The Order responded enthusiastically to these initiatives.
On the other hand, all provinces manifested their concern to determine and to do some social work of human promotion which would better express the redemptive charism of the Order in harmony with the needs of the places where religious are ministering.
The teaching ministry, in which the Order had been engaged for a long time, was one of the values incorporated in the Roman Constitutions.
The 1919 General Chapter contained two resolutions which, in time, were going to give fruits in some provinces. One states: “The chapter wants our students, who are inclined to teaching, to study theoretical and practical pedagogy for at least one year.” The other demands that “schools to educate the poor be opened in every convent.” This preoccupation springs from the duty to live the redemptive spirit.
The Roman Constitutions showed special concern for missionary activity which the Order exercised effectively, especially in America. Subsequent general chapters insisted on developing this apostolate more intensely.
In 1920, Father Inocencio López Santamaría accepted for the Order the Prelature de Bom Jesus de Piauí and he proposed Father Pascual Miguel, the provincial of Mexico, to the Holy See. This religious was a great apostle and a self-sacrificing pastor of his diocese. He knew how to face poverty, climatic adversities and the great shortage of priests for Piauí which was also poor spiritually.
Master General Juan del Carmelo Garrido proposed Father Ramón Garrido as prelate of Piauí. Appointed titular bishop of Podalia, he took over the prelature on October 2, 1927. However, the climate affected his health and he had to resign in 1928.
The diocese was without a bishop for almost three years. Pius XI designated the former Master General of the Order, Inocencio López Santamaría, as titular and prelate of Bom Jesus del Piauí. He was consecrated bishop on August 31, 1930, in the church of the Poio convent. He arrived in Rio de Janeiro on January 5, 1931, and he got to his destination four months later. The new prelate worked hard and in a spirit of sacrifice: pastorally, he was concerned about forming priests and he collaborated in the foundation of the Mercedarian Missionary Sisters of Brazil. In 1950, he asked the chapter, gathered in Rome, “for the mission to be given in perpetuum to a province.” The chapter decided to entrust it to the Province of Castile.
On December 17, 1961, the Holy Father, John XXIII, divided the mission and created the Prelature Mission of San Ramón, South East of Piauí. Mercedarian Amadeo González Ferreiros became its first bishop.
In the twentieth century, interior missions were carried out by the provinces. Thus, they were fulfilling the precept of the Constitutions. By the year 1923, the Province of Quito had initiated the missions of Manabí, an area which at the time had about 1,500 square miles and 70,000 people. In this vast territory, Mercedarians founded missionary parishes in: Manabí, Jipijapa, Sucre, Paján and Puerto López. They were served by Ecuadoran missionaries and they had a good social projection toward the community.
In the course of the century, some religious developed a prison ministry especially, in the Provinces of America. They were chaplains who provided religious assistance in terms of Sunday Masses and missions every once in a while. The Third Order collaborated generously in this apostolate inside and outside penal enclosures.
Through the commission of the apostolate, the 1950 General Chapter recommended that the main work of our religious should be: “Evangelizing the poor, bringing consolation to people overwhelmed by spiritual problems, visiting those in prison, assisting the poor living in the cities’ outskirts because Our Lord came to seek sinners and the needy.”
In the Province of Aragon, Father Bienvenido Lahoz was the charismatic initiator of prison ministry as a redemptive service to the marginalized, in harmony with the spirit of the Order of Mercy. For 20 years, from 1939 to 1959, he served the prisoners of the model jail of Barcelona as a first-rate chaplain. In 1941, in Barcelona, he founded the Pía Unión Redemptive Work of Our Lady of Mercy for Prisoners and in 1945, he created the magazine Mercedarian Work, a publication of the Pía Unión and at the time, the only journal in Spain dedicated to prison ministry. Following Father Lahoz’ footsteps and example, from 1939 to 1965, the following fathers were prison chaplains: Angel Millán and Francisco Reñé in Barcelona; Manuel Gargallo and Ignacio Ibarlucea in Venezuela. In Palma de Majorca, the Province of Aragon founded the Pía Unión Redemptive Work of Our Lady of Mercy for Prisoners.
In Italy since 1934, the Rehabilitation Center for Former Prisoners was operating in Naples. It lasted until the end of the Second World War when a bomb destroyed it. After the war, in that province, Father Ovidio Serafini promoted a movement of opinion and social action for the needy with the support of Provincial Domenico Maldarizzi. In 1950, the Roman Province initiated assistance for prisoners’ children in San Felice Circeo. In Florence, as of 1956, he also took over the direction of the Rehabilitation Center for people released from jail, called O.A.S.I., (Opera Asistenza Scarcerati Italiani). From Florence, it expanded to Padua. Over the years, this type of social work spread to other parts of Italy.
In 1952, Father Ramón Coo Baeza was working as chaplain in the Santiago (Chile) Penitentiary with the help of the Third Order. In 1953, he founded the Saint Peter Armengol Home dedicated to rehabilitate former delinquent youths. In 1958, Father Coo, Chaplain General of Chilean Jails, organized the first Latin American Congress of Penitentiary Studies. The Congress took place in Santiago. Mercedarian delegates from Argentina, Venezuela and Chile attended. In 1958, Father Coo also founded the Latin American Penitentiary Movement.
In 1962, the Mercedarians of the Province of Aragon held their First General Assembly of Chaplains of Venezuelan Prisons in Caracas. Father Guillermo Ripoll, Chaplain General of Venezuelan Jails organized the assembly. The movement to help prisoners continued to develop in the Order. The Province of Aragon even made helping prisoners its prioritized option and “primordial apostolate,” according to its Statutes.
Formation was carried out by following the mandates given in the Constitutions for the stages of postulancy, novitiate and study years. It included all that might contribute to the formation of religious in various aspects of their human, spiritual and intellectual life.
Superiors have always had a special concern about matters dealing with ecclesiastical studies. In addition to courses in philosophy, theology, Church history, canon law, Sacred Scripture and liturgy, the 1931 General Chapter required students to take a complete course in Mariology and, for at least a year, a course on the history of the Order. The same chapter expressed the need to build an international college for the formation of students in piety and humanities.
From then on, interest for the better formation of young religious gained greater momentum among provincials who saw the urgency to provide the infrastructure needed, with adequate pedagogical elements. Thus, all the provinces constructed modern buildings with facilities like lecture halls, a chapel, a library which had to have all the books necessary for a complete cultural formation. At first, the whole program of priestly formation was taking place in these centers. However, it soon became evident that students at the philosophy and theology stages should attend Pontifical Universities.
Through its study Commission, the 1950 Chapter recommended to: “a) adopt official programs in elementary and secondary education; b) add studying the classics prior to philosophy; c) attend Pontifical Universities from time to time and d) send young priests to public universities.”
Ever since Saint Adriano College came to an end, the Order always aspired to have an international college where students could go for their religious and intellectual formation.
To satisfy these aspirations, in part, on December 15, 1958, together with his council, the vicar general of the Order, José Francisco Hinojosa, decided to establish the International College of Philosophy at the Leo XIII College which served as the formation house of the Province of Argentina in Córdoba. For the time, students from the Provinces of Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina were to attend. There were great hopes for this first experience in a common and shared endeavor. But, unfortunately, the new general government deemed it advisable to suppress the college. Students had to return to their respective countries.
Another new and valuable instrument for the formation of religious of the Order was the Ratio institutionis et studiorum. The apostolic constitution, Sedes sapientiae, of May 31, 1956, was an extremely valuable element which Pope Pius XII, in his wisdom, handed over to religious families. It served the Order of Mercy basically to orient the elaboration of its norms in which principles for the formation and study regimen of religious in formation are indicated.
The Ratio is an authentic legislation in matters of formation and studies. At the same time, it serves as an instrument of interior renewal. It encompasses all the formation stages from postulancy to the third probation and all religious, clerical and apostolic study plans. The first five years in the priesthood end with a second novitiate which has been conceived as a short and intensive seminar lasting at least three months.
On May 24, 1960, the Sacred Congregation of Religious approved the Ratio cum laude, ad experimentum.
In keeping with a constant tradition, the Order has always been interested in promoting the specialization of its religious already ordained to the priesthood in various branches of knowledge and, in particular, in sacred sciences. This is why religious have attended universities or church or civil research institutes in their own country or abroad.
These religious, who have been especially trained, have mostly dedicated themselves to teaching in universities where they occupy various chairs. There they have distinguished themselves and they have shown a path in promoting culture. Although it goes back a long way, it should be emphasized that from the second third of this century on, there have been many Mercedarian professors at the University of Salamanca where they have held prominent positions. Distinguished professors have made its lecture halls famous and they continue to do so to this day.
Many of these educators and other religious devoted themselves to research and reflection and their works have been published. We only mention a few of them, Martín Ortúzar, a Salamanca professor, expounded his thinking, following Saint Thomas, in several publications: El ser y la acción en la dimensión humana (Madrid, 1961), Prenotandos del conocimiento natural de Dios (Madrid, 1962) and countless articles, mostly published in the journal Estudios. Bienvenido Lahoz cultivated theology and philosophy in depth and, among other things, he authored: Hacia un nuevo orden racional (Madrid, 1951-1952), La actividad divina ad intra (Madrid, 1952-1953) and El destino humano y el realismo introspectivo (Madrid, 1963). Vicente Muñoz, a Salamanca educator, with further training at European and American universities, consecrated himself mostly to the study of logic for which he gained well-deserved international prestige. He wrote Lógica matemática y lógica filosófica (Madrid, 1961), De la axiomática a los sistemas formales (Madrid, 1961), La lógica nominalista en Salamanca (Madrid, 1964). We should note his care in promoting Mercedarian theological and philosophical thinking as in the study of their cultural institutions in many historical works: Obra teológica del Padre Jerónimo Pérez (Madrid, 1962) and La obra lógica de Pedro de la Serna (Madrid, 1966).
Other professors taught at public universities: Victor M. Barriga taught Latin and paleography at the Arequipa National University; Manuel Orellano taught philosophy at the Córdoba University; Eleuterio Alarcón taught law and Antonio Neira taught sociology at the Santa María University of Arequipa. Monsignor Carlos Oviedo Cavana, Dean of the Theology School and law professor and Monsignor Juan B. Herrada Armijo, theology professor had chairs at the Catholic University of Chile where they were formed. Brother Serapio Flaminio Ruiz, a professor at the Saint Peter Nolasco College of Santiago, was an eminent entomologist who published the fruit of his investigations in various national and foreign scientific journals.
Mercedarians have made important contributions in the cultural development of the Order, especially in the field of theology. Many of them expertly participated in Mariological Congresses held in Rome in 1950 and 1954 in honor of the Immaculate Conception. There they explained their thinking about the privileges of the Virgin Mary in erudite works which constitute volume VII of Alma socia Christi and the two volumes of La Inmaculada y la Merced.
Recently, the Mercedarians of Castile have organized a Congress in which Spanish religious have presented works on the Mercedarian presence in America. In Santiago (Chile), from November 6 to November 9, the Historical Institute of the Order held the First Mercedarian International Congress on The Mercedarians in America. In addition to the members of the Institute and religious, several prestigious intellectuals and lay researchers from Latin American universities also participated.
Since the end of the last century, the Order has worked to promote several periodical publications. The best-known are the following: Revista mercedaria and Dios y Patria in Argentina; Los hijos de María (1904) and Senderos in Chile; Alborada mercedaria (1918) in Arequipa and Lumen in Lima; La Merced in Ecuador and Vida terciaria in Mexico.
In Italy, L’Eco di Bonaria has been published since 1908 and Redenzione started in 1947. This journal dealt with religious themes related to the defense the faith for 10 years and La Mercede began to be published in 1954. In Spain, Obra mercedaria and San Ramón y su santuario, edited by the Province of Aragon, were started. The Province of Castile published La Merced and since 1945, Estudios, a journal devoted to contemporary culture themes.
The Order always had religious dedicated to history. They are the ones who preserved and transmitted to new generations the vast Mercedarian documentary heritage which is today a reliable source of the most recent studies of the Order’s history. Perhaps official motivation and organization were lacking since each historian was prompted by his vocation and love for the Order.
In this century, there has been growing interest to know Mercedarian history. Motivated by the celebrations of the seventh centennial of the foundation of the Order, and starting from it, there emerged a group of scholars and investigators involved in searching, analyzing and publishing sources for the Order’s history.
The origins of the Order had to be studied in their original and authentic sources. Father Faustino Gazulla was a distinguished researcher who, after lengthy investigations, published La Orden de nuestra Señora de la Merced. Estudios histórico-críticos (1934), La redención de cautivos en Africa (1934), Refutación de un libro titulado “San Raimundo Peñafort fundador de la Orden de la Merced” (1920). The Manual de historia de la Orden de nuestra Señora de la Merced, by Father Guillermo Vázquez Núñez, (1931) was very important. Unfortunately, the second volume was almost integrally lost on the presses during the Spanish Civil War. This author also wrote several historical monographs on people or events in the Order.
Here we should also mention Father Ramón Serratosa Queralt (+1961) as promoter of contemporary critical historiography in the Provinces of Aragon and Castile. Fathers Gazulla and Vázquez received guidelines and help from his works, some published and others unpublished.
Concerning Mercedarian history in America, especially at first, Father Peter Nolasco Pérez Rodríguez’ work is outstanding. As a result of his research in the Archive of the Indies, he published Religiosos de la Orden de la Merced que pasaron a América (1924) and Historia de las misiones mercedarias en América (1966) besides other Mercedarian historical works. Father Policarpo Gazulla Galve edited Los primeros mercedarios en Chile in 1918. On the other hand, Father Víctor M. Barriga, a distinguished researcher, published Los mercedarios en el Perú en el siglo XVI (1931-1954) in five volumes and Mercedarios ilustres en el Perú (1943-1949) in two volumes as well as many other historical works. Father Joel Leónidas Monroy also published El convento de la Merced de Quito (1935-1943) in three volumes and other works on Mercedarian history in Ecuador. In Argentina, Father Bernardino Toledo published the Historia de la provincia de Santa Bárbara de Tucumán, 1594-1918 (1919-1921) in three volumes. Eudoxio Palacio and José Brunet were diligent researchers and promoters of Argentine Mercedarian history.
In every province, the celebration of the seventh Centennial of the foundation of the Order was the occasion to publish commemorative books, monographs and all kinds of articles dealing with Mercedarian history, spirituality and hagiography. The publications on the occasion of the canonical crowning of the images of the Virgin of Mercy in different countries were of a similar nature.
Also worthy of mention is the Bibliografía mercedaria (1963-1968) in three volumes which Father Gumersindo Placer submitted for printing. In this text, we find works written by Mercedarians or works written by other authors on the Order.
The Bulario Mercedario del siglo XIX is another valuable help for the history of the Order. It was published in Santiago (Chile) in 1974 by Mercedarian Archbishop, Carlos Oviedo Cavada, now Cardinal of the Church.
The liturgical-hagiographical theme has been the object of studies in diverse publications. Illustrious writers have shown constant interest in the lives of Mercedarian saints. On the devotional theme, the most representative authors are Fathers Francisco Sulis, Serapio González Gallego, Pedro Liñan de Ariza, Serapio María Niubó Puig, Heraclio Pérez Mujica, Carlos Reyes, Emilio Silva Castro, José María Romo, Miguel Luis Ríos Meza and Víctor Barrios Hidalgo.
Father Amerio Sancho Blanco wrote the Menologium Ordinis Beatae Mariae Virginis de Mercede redemptionis captivorum (1925) where, as an example for future generations, he recorded the memory of holy men and women who were outstanding by their faith and sanctity.
New Foundations and Situation of the Order
The Tucumán Province of Argentina expanded the Order to Uruguay: on January 19, 1896, it established a convent, a church and later on a college in Montevideo.
The Province of Castile expanded in Brazil in 1920, and it set up eight houses on that vast territory. In 1927, the Province of Aragon established a Mercedarian presence in Puerto Rico. In 1929, this foundation went to the Province of Castile which expanded on the island with seven houses.
After an attempt to become established in Canada, with religious who left Mexico, in 1921, the Roman Province founded the first North American Mercedarian residence in Youngstown (Ohio) and then religious went to Cleveland in the United States where they now have five houses.
After eighty years of Mercedarian absence on Venezuela, in 1955, the Province of Aragon came back again and there are now five houses.
In 1962, after 133 years of forced absence, the same province went back to Guatemala. From the beginning, religious took care of the Guatemala Central Penitentiary.
The postwar years witnessed an increase in personnel in the Order and provinces founded several houses in their respective nations.
The vice-province of Our Lady of Buenos Aires was formed in Argentina with the convents of Mendoza, Maipú and Buenos Aires in 1931, under Father Garrido’s government.
In 1953, at the request of the procurator general of the Order, Jaime Monzón, the Sacred Congregation of Religious eliminated all the vice-provinces by incorporating them in the respective provinces.
According to a report published in the Bulletin of the Order, in 1954, there were eight provinces: 604 postulants, 61 novices, 184 professed of simple vows, 82 professed of solemn vows, 16 lay novices, 37 lay professed of simple vows, 82 lay professed of solemn vows, 440 priests, 45 parishes, 15 secondary schools and 45 schools.
At the end of the Council in 1965, the Order was established in 16 nations with 113 houses. Its religious personnel was as follows: 653 postulants, 65 novices, 223 professed of simple vows, 132 lay professed of solemn vows and 596 priests.
Religious Persecution in Mexico
From 1911 until 1932, there was no peace and religious life became impossible in Mexico. The Mexican revolution stood out by its implacable and bloodthirsty nature, its looting and death. At the time, there were clerics who, if not expelled, were hanged, shot or ‘disappeared.’ Even thousands of Mexican people were assassinated: it was an authentic situation of martyrdom in Mexico.
By 1920, the houses of Lagos de Morelia, Celaya and Querétaro had already been lost. Convents were sacked and transformed into schools, barracks and stables and archives were set on fire. Many other convents also disappeared in the same way. Given the situation of insecurity and threat, Father Alfredo Scotti had to hide and he even changed his name to Antonio Sánchez.
Because of the situation in the country, in 1921, the Master General asked Father Scotti to leave Mexico for Toronto. But Father Scotti chose to stay in Mexico and he was appointed vicar provincial.
There were missions and bishops were grateful to the Mercedarians for these services. Catechesis was interesting. In fact, in Belén of Mexico City alone, under Father Scotti’s leadership, more than 1,000 children were attending. In 1921, the government began distributing textbooks in schools. Prepared by the Public Education Secretariat, these books were intended to stir up hatred of religion among children at a very early age.
Faced with the lack of religious, in April 1923, as provincial, Father Scotti asked Rome for the opening of a Texas novitiate. At the same time, he made it known that the Province of Mexico was ready to pay formators who would be sent there. In 1933, there were 13 students, most of whom had already studied at other seminaries. Among them were Fathers Fernando L. Díaz, Leopoldo Armengol, Agustín Gómez and Félix Téllez. Their leaders were: Fathers Alfredo Scotti, Adolfo Rodríguez, Nicolás Paracuellos, José Gómez, Miguel Hortas, José Esparza, Ruperto Luna and Enrique García.
When it became possible to live more at peace and there was more respect for the people, a religious longing to experience the need to be close to God started to be felt: “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” Vocations started to flourish almost spontaneously in Christian families. Before this vital urgency, the province opened a novitiate in Puebla in 1931, when Father Scotti was provincial.
In 1937, Father Adolfo Rodríguez was named provincial and he governed until 1949. He admitted a large group of young men to the novitiate. In 1942, with the cooperation of Fathers Fernando L. Díaz and Leopoldo Armengol Aburto, he opened a center for postulants in Toluca.
Father Fernando L. Díaz was the last provincial appointed from Rome. He governed from 1949 until 1965.
The Spanish Civil War
A period of instability started in Spain in 1930. Civil war was brewing due to a series of mistakes which polarized the most important political forces into two antagonistic factions. The 1931 electoral triumph of the republicans inaugurated the republic in Spain, thereby eliminating the former Spanish régime. A collusion of liberals, socialists, Marxists and masons imposed the 1931 Constitution which was nothing less than a frontal attack against the Church and religious orders.
The General Chapter was held in Rome in May of that year. The provincials of Spain, Fathers Tomás Tajadura, Alberto Barros and Martín Ortúzar attended. They reported about the grave situation, the difficulties
they were experiencing and their intention to keep going in spite of the dangers which were looming. The whole chapter expressed fraternal solidarity for Spanish religious. At the same time, in moving words, they offered their broadest, generous and possible cooperation and, if it should be necessary, the convents of the entire Order.
Unfortunately, adversity did not stop there. In 1936, civil war broke out and the Church paid an enormous tribute to these unleashed forces of evil. Church institutions, temples, convents and colleges were suppressed and other properties were expropriated, plundered and destroyed. Yet, the greatest sacrifice of the Spanish church was the violent deaths of hundreds of faithful, seminarians, religious and priests.
The Mercedarian Order had its share of religious killed in odium fidei. In the Province of Castile, 18 friars, well-known for their virtues, culture and governing skills, gave their lives out of fidelity to God, the Church and the Order. With 19 religious, equally virtuous and learned, who were assassinated during this persecution, the Province of Aragon reopened the pages of its old and dense martyrology in this century.
Venerable José León Torres. He was born on March 19, 1849, in Lubaya, a town of the Province of Córdoba in Argentina. His parents were Gregorio Torres and Margarita Rivero, a modest and virtuous Christian family. He entered the Order of Mercy in 1863, at the convent of the city of Córdoba. He received the habit on October 30 and began his novitiate. He took his temporary vows on November 1, 1868, and his solemn vows on June 8, 1871. He was ordained a priest on April 27, 1875. When he was still very young, he started to hold responsible positions in his province: novice master, vicar provincial, provincial, vicar general and visitator general. Aware of his excellent qualities, Master General Peter Armengol Valenzuela appointed him provincial, a post he held for four terms. During his government, he was always concerned about expanding the Order; he recovered the former convent of Santiago del Estero and worked very hard to reopen the Tucumán convent; he set up new foundations in Buenos Aires and Montevideo; he promoted communal life by his steadfast example; he developed cultural life by starting the publication of the Revista Mercedaria in Córdoba; he visited convents always providing wise norms for religious life and saintly advice.
Father Torres distinguished himself by his spirit of observance, humility, a gift for organization, love for the Order, devotion to the Eucharist and to Mary of Mercy. In 1887, he founded the Congregation of the Mercedarian Sisters of the Child Jesus in Córdoba. He gave them Constitutions which he himself had written and he always had special spiritual attention for the sisters. In 1893, he went to Rome to participate in the General Congregation which approved the Constitutions of the Order. He took advantage of his trip to Europe to go to venerate the Holy Land. Recognizing his culture and his profound knowledge, in 1889, the Master General honored him with the academic titles of assistant professor in philosophy and theology and master in theology. He died piously in his city on December 15, 1930.
His mortal remains, requested by his spiritual daughters, are in the church of the motherhouse of the Mercedarian Sisters of the Child Jesus in upper Córdoba. The diocesan beatification process was initiated in 1957, and it concluded in 1959. His cause was taken to Rome where the apostolic process began in 1973 and concluded on March 26, 1994 with the declaration of heroic virtues.
Antonino Pisano. He was born on March 19, 1907, in Cagliari, Sardinia. He entered the Order as a postulant in 1920. But he had to leave the convent due to an illness. He was tenacious and persevering and as soon as his health improved, he rejoined the monastery and started his novitiate on March 5, 1922. He made his profession of simple vows on December 8, 1923. He applied himself diligently and seriously to priestly studies but he devoted himself even more to acquiring religious virtues, showing genuine love for God and for others by heroically offering his young life, at age 19, in reparation for the sins of humankind and for the conversions of all unbelievers, heretics and sinners. The Lord accepted Fray Antonino’s oblation: his way of the cross started in May 1926. Although there were justified hopes of healing, a pulmonary illness ended his life on August 6, 1927. He is buried in the Bonaria sanctuary of the Sardinian capital and many people affirm they have received graces from the Lord through the intercession of Fray Antonino. After the first diocesan stage, the process of this servant of God was initiated in Rome.
Felice Migliore. This saintly religious was born in Serra di Falco (Caltanissetta, Sicily) on November 26, 1819. He entered the discalced Mercedarian convent of San Cataldo when he was 17. He was ordained a priest in 1845. Devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Virgin of Mercy and charitable with the poor, he was esteemed and admired by the faithful whom he served with exemplary diligence. Wherever he went to exercise his ministry, his renown as an observant and pious religious was growing, especially when people attributed blessings and miracles to him. Because of this, he was called to Rome and forbidden to return to Messina. He lived in the convents of Saint Adriano and Nemi and his fame as a saint grew as he obtained extraordinary graces from the Lord. Renowned as a saint, he died in Rome on August 7, 1886. In the book of the deceased of Saint Adriano Convent, we can read: “This father was an extraordinary man and he aroused so much enthusiasm in Sicily that it is impossible to have an idea of the great esteem in which he was held, not only by people but also by eminent members of the Church… He lived peacefully and always happy in our midst and he died with the same calm, peace and serenity.”
Teresa de Jesús Bacq. Elizabeth Bacq was born in Paris on September 16, 1825. She was born and raised as a Lutheran. When she was 14, she converted to Catholicism and was baptized on May 31, 1839. On that day, she entrusted her purity in a vow to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Notre Dame. She wanted to become a religious. She tried in three different congregations. Not satisfied, she went to the bishop of Nancy, Charles Martial A. Lavigerie, who was her spiritual guide and who encouraged her to found a religious institute. With the name of Ladies of Mary, she formed a community in Nancy. A year later, on December 8, 1865, it became the Sisters of the Assumption of Our Lady. After several years of hard work and great suffering, upon Cardinal Lavigerie’s advice, Teresa opted for the Order of Mercy which she found similar by its spirit of charity and devotion to Mary. She requested incorporation in the Order and Father Valenzuela admitted the sisters on April 4, 1887, under the name of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Teresa died in Paris where she had gone to seek help for her institute. She died alone in a poor hospital room and far from her daughters on June 2, 1896. Her life, filled with her love for God, Mary and the poor, was marked by setbacks, a lack of understanding, suffering and great hardship. In all of that, Teresa saw God’s will. Living in union with God, she loved the cross and always accepted sacrifices. Her indomitable hope and her desire to save souls sustained her. The diocesan beatification process, begun in Rome, was concluded on June 30, 1994.
Venerable Margarita María López de Maturana. She was born in Bilbao on June 25, 1884. She was educated at the Mercedarian college of Berriz where her religious vocation was born. On July 25, 1903, she entered the Mercedarian monastery to consecrate herself entirely to God as a cloistered nun. She received the habit on August 10 of that year and changed her baptismal name, Pilar. She made her profession on the feast of the Assumption of the following year. During her first years of religious life, she was actively involved in the college of her community as a teacher and study prefect. Father Manuel Sancho Aguilar was her spiritual director and he guided her to the missions. Happy and open by nature, her pedagogical work was the means God chose to plant the seed of a missionary vocation in her spirit. Under Mother Margarita’s direction, initiative and indefatigable work, the Berriz college became a bustling missionary center. The association of former students Missionary Mercedarian Youth was born on March 19, 1920. The missionary enthusiasm quickly crossed the threshold of the monastery to expand throughout the country with Mother Margarita continuing to be the soul of this new life.
From then on, events happened with miraculous speed. Father Inocencio López Santamaría, the Master General of the Order, visited Berriz. Mother Margarita took advantage of that opportunity to present her desire to serve the Church as an active missionary. Assuming this longing made in the name of all the sisters, the Master General in Rome became interested in the project and Pope Pius XI blessed this wish. The old Mercedarian monastery became a very active missionary center and the head of a new institute. In 1926, the first expedition of missionary sisters left for Wuhu, China. Mother Margarita was elected superior in 1927. There were other foundations on the Caroline and Marshall Islands and in Japan. On May 23, 1930, Rome approved the new religious institute of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz. Margarita was the first superior general. She traveled a great deal on two occasions, especially in the Orient, with the sole desire to extend Christ’s Reign to the ends of the earth. She went to Rome to speak of the missions personally with the pope. Then she started her final journey on July 23, 1934. Her canonization process has been in Rome since 1961. Her heroic virtues were recognized by the decree of March 16, 1987.
Luisa de la Torre Rojas. She was born on June 21, 1819, in San Pedro de Humay in the Province of Pisco (Peru). She was a Mercedarian tertiary. She was renowned for her inexhaustible charity: she fed all the poor who came to her. From a little pot, she used to draw food which miraculously never ran out. She is affectionately known as the beatita de Humay for her virtues. She died renowned as a saint, on November 21, 1869. Since 1946, her beatification process follows its course in Rome.
Spanish Martyrs. As Pope Pius XI said in September 1936, all those who were assassinated during the Spanish Civil War “suffered real martyrdom in all the sacred and glorious sense of the term, to the sacrifice of innocent lives, of esteemed elderly and of young people in the very prime of their lives.” During the first days of the war, especially when religious persecution was at its worst, thirty-seven Mercedarian religious gave their lives for Christ. Nineteen of them belonged to the Province of Aragon and eighteen to the Province of Castile.
Heading the list of Aragonese martyrs was Father Mariano Alcalá Pérez. Born on May 11, 1867, he was shot to death on September 15, 1936.
The other eighteen religious who faced violent death are the following:
Tomás Carbonel Miquel, Mariano Pina Turón, Francisco Gargallo Gascón, José Reñé Prenafeta, Manuel Sancho Aguilar, Tomás Campo Marín, Francisco Llagostera Bonet, Serapio Sanz Iranzo, Enrique Morante Chic, Jesús Eduardo Massanet Flaquer, Amancio Marín Mínguez, Lorenzo Moreno Nicolás, Pedro Esteban Hernández, Antonio Lahoz Gan, José Trallero Lou, Jaime Codina Casellas, Antonio González Penín and Francisco Mitjá Mitjá.
An ecclesiastical diocesan tribunal was formed on May 31, 1957, in Lérida, to establish the martyrdom of these religious. After this stage, the process went to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome on November 25, 1962, requesting the opening of the process. The cause is now following its course in Rome.
Of the eighteen religious from the Province of Castile who were assassinated during the persecution, nine belonged to the Buena Dicha community (Madrid), three to the one of San Pedro (Madrid) and one to San Sebastián’s. Here are their names:
Manuel Cereijo Muiños, José Cereijo Muiños, Serafín Solaegui Dunabeitía, Guillermo Vázquez Núñez, Enrique Saco Pradera, Luis Barros Fernández, Agustín Salgueiro Rodríguez, Gonzalo Pérez González, Tomás Tajadura Tajadura from the Province of Aragon, Leandro Hermida González, Serapio Paz Muras, Patricio Peláez Castaño, Eliseo Pérez González, Luis Arias López, Jesús Tizón Boleira, Ramón Lago Parrado, Olimpio Escudero González and Ricardo Vázquez Rodríguez.
The recognition of the martyrdom of these religious, shot in Castile, has not been introduced. They have only been remembered and the mortal remains of some of them have been taken to the Mercedarian monastery of Poio on May 5, 1940, and to the Herencia convent on June 14, 1942.
Mercedarian Tertiaries of the Child Jesus
They were founded on October 1, 1887, in Córdoba (Argentina) and incorporated as regular tertiaries of the Order of Mercy on December 20, 1887. Venerable José León Torres was their founder and director for 42 years. At his holy death on December 15, 1930, he left a very strong foundation which had expanded to several cities of Argentina and Uruguay.
The bishop of Córdoba approved the sisters’ own Constitutions which had been written by their founder. The institute was diocesan until January 12, 1931, when it obtained approval ad experimentum from the Holy See and pontifical approval on April 3, 1940.
According to the Constitutions approved in 1983, the Congregation “fulfills its mission by exercising the teaching apostolate through which it makes Jesus Christ the Redeemer present as a brother and a friend among Christians who are oppressed because of anti-evangelical cultures.”
The Mercedarian Sisters are engaged in teaching in schools and colleges, artistic improvement and in empowering young people to work, assistance to orphans, children and the abandoned elderly, catechism in slums and help in parish work. Thus, by their service for the faith, the sisters are promoting the integral freedom of God’s children.
Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
They were founded in Mexico City on March 25, 1910. When Mother María del Refugio asked the diocesan curia for a religious as director and guide of the Institute, Father Alfredo Scotti, provincial of Mexico, was suggested to her.
Father Scotti became very interested in the well-being of the community and he dedicated himself to revise the Constitutions in agreement with Mother María del Refugio and with the help of Mother Consuelo Olivares.
On July 11, 1925, the sisters were spiritually incorporated in the Order of Mercy. They obtained pontifical approval on July 22, 1948.
The purpose of the Institute is expressed in these terms in the Constitutions approved in 1989: “To work eagerly to extend the reign of Jesus in the Eucharist and filial love for our Blessed Mother of Mercy.” This apostolate is expressed through the education of children and youth and their formation in Eucharistic worship and piety.
The Congregation has schools and colleges and it takes special care in preparing children for first communion.
At the present time, the sisters are in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, the United States, El Salvador, Italy and Spain.
Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz
They started from a monastery of cloistered nuns, founded in 1540. In 1869, the religious inaugurated La Vera Cruz College which was to become renowned. When Mother Margarita María Maturana joined the monastery in 1903, she gave it a vitality which brought it fame.
In 1920, she founded the association Missionary Mercedarian Youth. This brought the college and the monastery to the forefront of the missionary movement. The cause of this awakening was the great Mercedarian spirit which was experienced in this monastery. In 1926, the pope authorized sending a group of Mercedarian missionaries to Wuhu (China).
On May 23, 1930, thanks to the work of Mother Margarita María Maturana, then the superior of the monastery, by decree of the Holy See, the monastery was transformed into a missionary institute which continued to belong to the Order of Mercy.
The sisters held a General Chapter in 1931, with Mother Maturana attending. She prepared the Constitutions which were definitively approved on January 3, 1939. The sisters continued to take a reformulated fourth Mercedarian vow. The postconciliar Constitutions approved in 1981, express the Congregation’s evangelizing mission in these words: “We commit ourselves to work preferentially with young churches and in poor and oppressed countries in the particular way which our fourth redemptive vow expresses and seals: to persevere in the mission if the good of others should so require even when there is danger of losing our lives.”
The sisters have expanded mostly in Asia: China, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Caroline Islands, etc.
Mercedarian Missionaries of Brazil
They were founded on August 10, 1938, by Lucía Etchepare with the support and collaboration of Mercedarian bishop, Monsignor Inocencio López Santamaría, prelate of Bom Jesús de Gurgueia (Piauí-Brazil). At the request of their superior general, Mother Lucía Etchepare and her council, the institute was incorporated in the Order on October 3, 1938, by the Master General’s decree.
In a June 24, 1954 report to the Master General of the Order of Mercy, Father Inocencio says: “With the necessary permissions and the rescript from the Sacred Congregation of Religious, this foundation of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Brazil is established under the protection of Saint Raymond Nonnatus and Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”
The goal of the institute is expressed in the Constitutions, approved in 1990: “The sisters are committed to continue Jesus Christ’s redemptive mission by their apostolic work, especially in rural areas and in places where assistance is lacking, striving to be a liberating, contemplative and compassionate presence, especially among the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.”
Federation of Sisters of the Order of Mercy
This group of Mercedarians continues the lifestyle sanctioned by Tridentine tradition. Always affirming their apostolic vocation, they assumed—and continue to assume—initiatives or liberating gestures which are compatible with their enclosure or conventual life. Most of the communities united in a federation to ensure a more authentic and effective life and work. On August 5, 1955, the Sacred Congregation of Religious established the Federation of Mercedarian Sisters.
The Constitutions of the Mercedarian Sisters were approved in 1988. They state that the Order of Mercy intends to follow and imitate Christ by making him present as a friend, redeemer and liberator among captive, oppressed or persecuted Christians to whom, according to the Word of Jesus, it wants to offer the messianic hope proclaimed by the Gospel. After that, the Constitutions state: “Today we, the Mercedarian Sisters, also intend to announce and to bear witness to that messianic hope through our consecrated lives.”
Mercedarian Slaves of the Blessed Sacrament
This institute was founded in Marchena (Seville) by discalced Mercedarian Emilio Ferrero and Carmen Ternero on May 12, 1940. On June 26, 1950, the Commissary General of the discalced Mercedarians, Father Emilio himself added the institute to the discalced Mercedarian Order.
Mercedarians of the Divine Master
This institute does not belong juridically to the Mercedarian Family. It started in Buenos Aires, Argentina, under the name of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy of the Divine Master in 1887. Its founders were Father Antonio Rasore and Sofía Bunge. The first postulants were admitted on January 31, 1889. The goal of this Institute of Pontifical right is Christian education of girls and works of mercy.
The Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1917. In reference to the laity, the Order adapted the rules of the Third Order, Confraternity and other Mercedarian associations of lay people to the new legislation. Sometimes, the Third Order calls its Statutes constitutions.
Although the constitutions of these lay groups include and express general concepts about Mercedarian lifestyle, their apostolate involves an activity oriented to the spiritual welfare of others. In practice this translates into praying three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys, praying for the souls of purgatory and offering part of the rosary for the conversion of sinners and heretics. We should also mention their many works with the needy, the sick and those in prison which constitute the social apostolate in the line of redemptive service.
According to their constitutions or statutes, frequently revised and updated when circumstances demand it, their members’ lives and activities have adapted to the demands of a changing society. Therefore, they must live poverty with restraint, avoid luxury, keep chastity according to their state. As to the redemption vow and its actualization in the lives of committed lay people, they will fulfill “the vow by working against enslavement of the soul and of the body. They will, therefore, devote themselves to the works of mercy, teaching catechism to children and to the uneducated, helping with the missions among believers and unbelievers through prayers and alms and promoting Catholic books and newspapers.”
A spiritual life centered on Christ demands prayer, receiving the sacraments, devotion to the Blessed Virgin and to the Founder, Saint Peter Nolasco, and the fervent preparation of their feasts.
The figure of Blessed Mary moved many hearts who have fervently venerated her throughout the centuries. Thus, within a Marian atmosphere, other Mercedarian institutions emerged. They differ from the Third Order and they fervently venerate Mary of Mercy. These are: Court of Mercies, Servants of the Virgin, Sabbatina Sisters and Marian Fraternities. The spirituality of these associations springs from the Order’s charism. With the development of Catholic Action, these lay institutions have lost some of their strength.
Knights of Our Lady of Mercy
Everyone knows that, at first, the Order of Mercy had, at the same time, religious and military characteristics and that the first Masters General were lay knights.
With the passing of time, the knightly and military aspects lost the importance that they had, especially in the first century of the Order. However, in the course of history and particularly in Spain, there were investitures and groups of lay knights, never contested by the Holy See or any civil or ecclesiastical authority.
In 1926, the Order’s Master General, Juan del Carmelo Garrido, reformed the Statutes of the association and established new norms for secular knights whom he divided into five classes or ranks: Great Cross, Commander with badge and title, Honorary Commander, Knights and Donates, setting up emblems for each category, uniforms, honors and precedence.
Two years later, the king of Spain, Alfonso XIII, Great Commander of Our Lady of Mercy, issued a decree placing the Order of Mercy on the same level as other Spanish Orders of Knights and authorizing the use of badges and titles.
According to the Knights’ Statutes, their main objective was the profession and practice of the Catholic faith, practicing Christian virtues, charitable works for missions and antislavery propaganda.
In his 1931 report to the General Chapter, the Master General confirmed that, at that time, there were 300 knights.
Later on, in 1936, due to complaints from other military orders whose emblems were eclipsed by the beauty, historical and heraldic transcendence of the Mercedarians’, though it recognized in practice the Order’s right to confer these emblems, the Holy See asked the Order to refrain from conferring them. Although the king of Spain offered to intervene, in obedience to the Church’s voice, the Order never granted them again. On the same occasion, Pius XI removed from the Mercedarian title the appellatives of Royal and Military which the Order had since its origin.
The devotion, cult and external manifestations of love for Mary of Mercy became especially relevant for the Order. They have their roots in the past like a living reality within the ecclesial community. This value was incorporated in the culture in a special way in Latin American countries.
The Order was always solicitous about obtaining graces and privileges from the Holy See on the occasion of the feasts of the Virgin Mary even in local invocations and devotions: in 1911, the Order obtained the Proper Office and Mass in honor of Our Lady of Mercy, invoked as Virgin of the Earthquake for the Province of Quito-Ecuador. In 1912, it obtained the transfer of the feasts of Santa María de El Puig and of the Apparition in the Barcelona choir for the Province of Aragon.
With the motive of the celebration of fifty years after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, the Holy Father, Pius X, granted the Order the privilege of the Toties quoties for September 24 and also a plenary indulgence for the faithful who attended the novena of the Virgin of Mercy (1905).
In order to foster the ancient devotion of the Seven Saturdays, the Order asked the Holy See to grant indulgences for the faithful practicing it. The Sacred Congregation of Rites granted the Order’s petition to continue to implore Mary under the invocation Redemptrix captivorum.
On April 7, 1909, the Holy See granted the faculty to give a papal blessing twice a year to the faithful gathered in Mercedarian churches on the occasion of Mary’s feasts.
Pope Benedict XV, a known brother of Mercy, popularized the beautiful ejaculation, Most Compassionate Mother of Mercy, granting a 300-day indulgence to anyone invoking Mary in this very short prayer.
Crowned Images of Our Lady of Mercy
Several invocations of the Blessed Virgin in the Church have been given this distinction. To concede this privilege, the Holy See took some fundamental requirements under consideration: the age of the image, popular devotion and uninterrupted cult. All the images crowned by a pontifical bull are ancient, most of them over a hundred years old. God has granted wonders and graces to people who have addressed Mary with devotion in these images. Marian-Mercedarian devotion has many wondrous events, verified in civil and ecclesiastical history, indeed the fruit of the faith of people who implored Mary. Through the years, this cult to Mary has been preserved constantly and without change, thanks to the friars and religious of the Order, the Third Order, the Confraternities and devout people.
There are images of our Lady, canonically crowned in Spain: one in Barcelona, famous in the history of the Order, was crowned on October 21, 1888, by the bishop of the diocese, don Jaime Catalá. It is the oldest crowned image. The Jerez de la Frontera’s image was crowned on October 27, 1954, and the image of Bollullos del Condado (Huelva) was crowned on July 2, 1948.
Throughout Latin America, we find the following images of Mary of Mercy that have been canonically crowned: the city of Pasto in Colombia consecrated itself to the Virgin of Mercy on February 9, 1899, upon the initiative of the bishop, Monsignor Exequiel Moreno Díaz. He declared Mary of Mercy Patroness and Queen of the people of Pasto. The canonical crowning took place on December 8, 1941.
In Cali, Colombia, the image of Mary of Mercy was canonically crowned by Pope John Paul II in 1986.
In Ecuador, the image of the Virgin of Mercy of Quito was canonically crowned by a decree of Benedict XV on December 15, 1918; that of Guayaquil in 1947, that of Latacunga in 1967 and that of Ibarra in 1968.
Three images of the Virgin of Mercy have been canonically crowned in Peru: that of Lima on September 24, 1921 in the metropolitan cathedral by Archbishop Emilio Lisson. The Cuzco image was crowned in the cathedral on October 1, 1961. The Paita (Piura) image was canonically crowned on August 29, 1960, during the National Eucharistic Congress.
There are also three crowned images in Argentina: that of Tucumán, General of the Patriotic Forces, crowned on September 24, 1912, that of Maipú (Mendoza), crowned on December 17, 1961 and that of Corrientes, crowned on September 24, 1957.
In Santiago (Chile), the image of the Virgin of Mercy presiding in the basilica since 1548, was canonically crowned in the cathedral church on September 22, 1918, by Monsignor Peter Armengol Valenzuela who was the titular archbishop of Gangra at the time.
In the twentieth century, the Holy See granted several Mercedarian churches the privilege of being consecrated as basilicas. For a church to be declared a basilica, it has to be notable because of its age, extension or magnificence. In addition to these characteristics, the Mercedarian churches which have been declared basilicas were authentic Marian sanctuaries.
In Barcelona, the Mercedarian church is a basilica since 1889. In Jerez de la Frontera, the church-sanctuary became a basilica by a brief of November 11, 1949.
In Italy, Mercedarians are in charge of the Bonaria Basilica in Cagliari. It was declared as such on April 25, 1926. In Rome, the beautiful Mercy Church pertains to a cardinal.
In Quito, Ecuador, the Mercy Church was elevated to the rank of a basilica on September 21, 1921, by a decree of Pope Benedict XV; in Guayaquil, the Mercedarian Church was declared a basilica by a decree of Pope Paul VI and it was consecrated on September 16, 1966, and in Ibarra, the church was made a basilica by the same pope on March 26, 1965.
In Peru, by pontifical letters of December 12, 1924, Pope Pius XI raised the Mercedarian church of Lima to the rank of a basilica and on December 2, 1946, Pope Pius XII granted the same privileges to the Mercy Church of Cuzco.
Argentina has two basilicas dedicated to the Virgin of Mercy: in Buenos Aires, the church adjacent to the convent of the Order and the Mercy Basilica of Córdoba which has had this prerogative since 1926. In addition, in the Argentine capital, the Mercedarians have built and serve the church dedicated to Our Lady of Buenos Aires which was declared a basilica by Pope Pius XI on February 10, 1936.
Chile has the Santiago church which was given the rank of a basilica by a bull of Benedict XV on July 23, 1923.
When the Church grants these privileges to Mercedarian churches, it corroborates that they are places of a pious and secular cult to the Virgin and it recognizes the fervent devotion which the faithful profess to the Mother of God under the title of Mercy.
On the other hand, by official decrees, civil governments have declared many Mercedarian churches and convents as national monuments because they are artistic buildings.
Devotion to the Virgin of Mercy has spread to many parts of the world, even to places where Mercedarians were never present. There are dioceses, countless parishes and also cities, towns and places bearing this name in many nations.