The purpose of this historical synthesis is to draw up broad outlines of the life and activities of the Order of Mercy over the long span of its existence.
It responds, in the first place, to a didactic demand since it is to serve as a historical text in the formation project of those who aspire to be Mercedarian religious. It also intends to be a promulgation work for readers who want to know the many facets of this institution in its trajectory of service to the Church.
The project of elaborating a history of the Order presupposed the prior preparation of the history of each of the Order’s provinces, including those which no longer exist. Over a few years, especially since the 1974 General Chapter, there had been discussions about this work and the Secretariate for Spirituality and Investigations of the time conducted a few meetings during which an overview of the contents was even formulated. However, this plan did not succeed. At the time of its realization, there emerged serious difficulties which postponed the work indefinitely and which practically made any program unattainable. The major obstacle came from the fact that the investigation of the various sources had been carried out at very different levels and the path followed to locate and study them was not uniform. This prevented us from fixing a date for completing this cherished project. Yet it was still valid and we were all waiting to see these “partial histories” which could not be left out in writing the general history of the Order.
On the other hand, it became increasingly more imperative to have a synthesis, a manual about the Order’s past, a manual which would be complete, concise and adapted to our own time. This need was especially evident in the area of formation and in other situations. Specifically, the first International Mercedarian Congress—Santiago, Chile, 1991—on “The Mercedarians in America,” guided by a group of mostly lay intellectuals, “conscious of the great need and of the void that can be seen in the Mercedarian Family, suggested and asked for… the prompt preparation of a manual of the history of the Order of Mercy.”
At its second meeting in 1991, the Order’s Historical Institute decided to respond positively to this demand: it assumed the commitment to develop the book of our history and it appointed a drafting commission which prepared to carry out this assignment. Approved by the Master General, the commission, aware of the complexity of our centuries-old history, felt the need to elaborate an overview and a work plan with guidelines which would bring unity to the whole and to follow the most suitable methodological criteria to approach the countless themes which had to be dealt with. In May 1993, the work was distributed among Fathers Juan Devesa—with whom Joaquín Millán would collaborate—Luis Vázquez, Saúl Peredo, Alfonso Morales, Heriberto Lagos and Antonio Rubino. Later on, Fathers Luis Octavio Proaño and Miguel Ochoa offered to collaborate with regard to Ecuador and Mexico.
In addition to the investigations that each one had done according to his own expertise, and with Mercedarian historical sources previously published including works by eminent investigators of the Order; these served as a basis for this synthesis. The works of Fathers Faustino Gazulla, Guillermo Vázquez were fundamental concerning the origins and the first centuries and Father Antonio Garí’s work was basic concerning the redemption of captives. The works of Fathers Peter Nolasco Pérez, Joel Monroy and Bernardino Toledo were indispensable for Mercedarian history in America. Particular attention has been given to examining the volumes of sources edited by Father Víctor M. Barriga. Analecta mercedaria, with it rich and varied content, has been very useful and so have the historical works published in the journal Estudios, as well as the contributions of so many scholars who have written monographs, and historical and doctrinal commentaries on the Order of Mercy. With reference to this century, the bulletin of the Order has been frequently consulted.
Each member of the commission, with determination and generosity, has contributed his own work, which when it was shared, became everyone’s patrimony. Despite a variety of authors, there has been a constant preoccupation to offer a unified book, filled with harmony and continuity and in a language and style that make its reading agreeable.
Mercedarian history is not presented according to strict periods which would only be tentative but it appears in seven great periods, each having its own particular and distinctive aspects and quite diverse temporal scope. Starting with the foundation and the consolidation of the Order, the determining events which delineate and individualize these periods are the new ideological currents expressed in a profound reformulation of the Constitutions which caused a change of régime; the restless search for more expeditious ways of fulfilling the redemptive mission or the Mercedarian purpose; the missionary impulse which opens up new horizons for ministry; the summit, decadence and restoration; the emergence of new lifestyles or the creation of new institutions; renewal under the indispensable and secure guidance of the Second Vatican Council whose teachings impel our constant concern for change within our fidelity to our foundational charism.
In view of most of the readers to whom this book is addressed, we have avoided the use of erudite notes organized in an exhaustive critical display. However, this does not mean that scientific aspects and rigor have been neglected. For the same reason, a bibliography has not been included since readers seeking more information may consult the quoted works in this text, especially in the sixth section.
We hope this book on the history of the Mercedarian Order will not only be informative but also formative because this is not merely profane history. It is supported by the faith which accompanied the people and encouraged their deeds and it is made fruitful by the charismatic thrust which led Mercedarians to place themselves at the service of people subjected to captivity as they were following the example of our founder, Saint Peter Nolasco.
Friar Saúl Peredo Meza
Director of the Historical Institute