saints and martyrs

S.G.THOMAS SITJAR and 10 COMPANIONS

1866 – 1936

Fr Thomas Sitjar and his six fellow Jesuits and four Jesuit brothers became the Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War when they gave their lives for God in Gandia and Valencia, Spain between August 19 and December 29, 1936.

Fr Thomas Sitjar , the superior of the Gandia community was the first to die a week after the 1936 civil war broke out. He was born on March 21, 1866 in Genoa and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Veruela on July 21, 1880. He taught philosophy for eight years at the diocesan seminary in Montevideo, Uraguay after completing his philosophy at the Tortosa scholasticate. He again returned to Tortosa for theology and was ordained in 1900. He taught metaphysics to young Jesuits at Tortosa and later at Sarria for three years before he was appointed superior for five years at the residence at Terragona. Subsequently he was elevated to rector in Gandia in 1929.

When the Spanish revolutionary government suppressed the Society in 1932, the Jesuits remained dispersed and lived in small apartments in the city. Fr Sitjar was living with Br Peter Gelabert and had refused to move in with friends, saying: “if they kill us, then it will be God’s will.” At 10.30 pm on July 25, 1936, a terrible banging was heard on Fr Sitjar’s door. He answered it, but only after Br Gelabert had escaped through a window. The captors pushed and beat Fr Sitjar and tried to rip his cassock off when he could not walk as quickly as them because of a bad leg. They then imprisoned him. The next day, Br Gelabert, Fr Constantine Carbonell and Br Raymond Grimaltos who were captured joined Fr Sitjar. The four Jesuits were allowed visitors and friends who brought them mattresses for sleeping and food for meals.

On August 17 and 18, they were taken before their accusers and were asked about their political views and party affiliation, to which Fr Sitjar merely answered: “We belong to God’s party.” Then on August 19, shortly after midnight, Fr Sitjar was told he was being set free. But instead of releasing him, he was taken together with two other gentlemen to the Albaida road near Palma de Gandia and executed beneath an olive tree at about 3.00 am. Fr Sitjar had a rosary in his hand when the bullet pierced his heart. He was seventy years old.

Fr Sitjar’s three prison companions were executed four days later at about midnight on August 23. Fr Carbonell, Brs Gelabert and Grimaltos and ten others knew they were going to die and asked Fr Carbonell for absolution. At an olive grove outside Gandia on the road to Valencia, just as Fr Carbonell raised his arms to heaven in prayer, the two brothers fell to their knees in prayer and gave up their souls to God as they were shot.

Fr Constantine Carbonell Sempere was seventy at martyrdom. He was born on April 12, 1866 at Alcoy near Alicante and entered the Jesuit novitiate on November 22, 1886 and ordained in 1901. After serving as minister of the community at the Gandia novitiate and subsequently as superior of the minor seminary in Tortosa, he became superior at the Jesuit residence in Alicante for twenty years. He then returned to Gandia in 1926 as minister of the community and Fr Sitjar’s assistant. He and Bro Grimaltos lived a few doors from Fr Sitjar and both were arrested and brought to the same place where Fr Sitjar was held. They were held there until August 23, 1936 when they were martyred.

Br Peter Gelabert Amer was born at Manacor on the island of Majorca on March 29, 1887. He entered the Society at Gandia on Feb 9, 1907. He returned to Majorca in 1911 and then to Spain 1924. After working for a while in Veruela he was assigned to the Gandia novitiate in 1930. With the closure of the novitiate in 1932 following the suppression of the Society, he lived with and looked after the aging Fr Sitjar. Although he managed to escape on the night of July 25, he was captured the following morning and imprisoned for a month before being martyred together with Fr Carbonell and Br Grimaltos on August 23, 1936.

Br Raymond Grimaltos Monllor was born in Peubla Larga, Valencia on March 3, 1861. He entered the Society on June 1, 1890 at twenty-nine and served as a gardener all his Jesuit life. He arrived at Gandia in 1917 and was arrested and martyred with Fr Carbonell on Aug 23, 1936.

Br Joseph Tarrats was the next Jesuit to die on September 28 followed by Fr Paul Bori and Br Vincent Sales on Sep 29. All three were staying next to a home for the aged run by the Little Sisters and where several old Jesuits lived in retirement. The two Brs helped the sisters in their chores and Fr Bori became the home’s chaplain when the incumbent chaplain left. All was relatively peaceful for a month after the civil war erupted. The home was then taken over by the communists who brought their own staff in. The three Jesuits managed to go about their work without the communists knowing their real identity until September 28, 1936 when Br Tarrats’ identity was denounced and he and three other infirmary staff were taken to Rambleta, on the outskirts of Valencia and executed. Likewise Fr Bori and Br Sales were arrested the following day, Sep 29, and executed near a secluded cemetery.

Br Joseph Tarrats Comaposada was born in Menresa, Spain on August 29, 1878. He entered the Society on Aug 28, 1895 and was a tailor during his scholasticate in Tortosa. He later became infirmarian at the Jesuit residence in Valencia. He was executed on Sep 23, 1936 while working at the home for the aged and was fifty-eight years old.

Fr Paul Bori Puig was born at Vilet de Malda, Tarragona on November 12, 1864. He was initially a diocesan priest before becoming a Jesuit on Sep 7, 1891. After teaching and doing parish work for some years, he became minister in 1918 and then house treasurer at the novitiate at Gandia until the community had to disperse. When his work as chaplain of the home was stopped, his ministry was reduced to visiting the sick and hearing clandestine confessions. When he and Br Sales were taken from the home on Sep 29, Fr Bori asked the soldiers: “Which of you are going to kill me?” and when they indicated which ones, he said: “In the name of that God for whom you are about to kill me and in whom you do not believe, I forgive you,” He then gave then his blessing before they shot him. Fr Bori was seventy-two when he was martyred.

Br Vincent Sales Genves was born on Oct 15, 1881 in Valencia. He was thirty-four when he entered the novitiate on Oct 9, 1915. He spent his entire Jesuit life in Gandia. He was at the home for the aged with Br Tarrats and was led to martyrdom with Fr Bori on Sep 29, 1936. He was fifty-five years of age when he died.

Fr Darius Hernandez Morato was born in Bunol, Valencia on October 25, 1880 and entered the Society on Sep 28, 1896. After completing his philosophy and theological studies at Tortosa, he was ordained in 1912. He taught rhetorics at the Saragossa College, worked at parishes in Valencia and Barcelona and in Sep 1928 appointed rector of the most prominent Jesuit house in Valencia. He was well known in the city and during August and September before his arrest, he had to change residence frequently. However, with the false identification card he carried, he was able to go about the city and do some priestly work. He was arrested on Sep 13 and imprisoned until Sep 20 when he was executed at the age of fifty-six.

Fr Narcissus Baste was born at San Andres de Palomar, near Barcelona on December 16, 1866. He entered the Society on April 29, 1890. After his ordination in 1899 he went to the Valencia residence in 1902 and remained therefore almost thirty years before his arrest on October 15, 1936. During the time of the civil war, he moved to a small apartment where he was able to celebrate Mass daily and where other Jesuits also came to celebrate. Initially he was respected by the communists because of what he had done over the years in promoting workers’ causes. He was arrested several times and released. At his third arrest, they released him because of his age but with the warning: “Father, be careful and do not go out. This time you are dealing with us, next time you may be dealing with others.” He was finally arrested and executed on October 15 by communist soldiers at the age of seventy-six.

Fr Alfred Simon Colomina was born in Valencia on March 8, 1877 and entered the Society on Dec 18, 1895. After his ordination in 1909, he was dean at the St Joseph’s College in Valencia and then in 1931 became the school’s rector. In 1921, he was appointed rector of the scholasticate in Sarria, outside Barcelona and subsequently rector of the Jesuit residence in Barcelona before returning as rector to St Joseph’s in Valencia in 1927. After several arrests and imprisonments, the fifty-nine year old Fr Simon was arrested again and executed on November 29, 1936.

Fr John Baptist Ferreres Boluda was born in Olleria, Valencia on Nov 28, 1861. He entered the Society on June 30, 1888 and was ordained in 1890 because of his earlier training at the diocesan seminary. After teaching theology for nine years at various schools, he was assigned as professor of moral theology and canon law at the Jesuit scholasticate at Tortosa. The texts he wrote in both these fields became standard texts in Spain. After sixteen years in Tortosa, he moved to Sarria where for twelve years he continued his teaching and writing. When civil war broke in 1932, Fr Ferreres was already seventy-five years old and was frail and feeble. His arrest and imprisonment aggravated his health and he was taken to the prison infirmary where he suffered a stroke. During his illness he longed to receive Holy Communion and one of the priests arranged for it to be smuggled in. After he received the Sacrament, Fr Ferreres said: "I’m so happy, now I can die.” He died several days later on December 29, 1936.

The investigation into the martyrdoms of Fr Sitjar and his 10 Jesuit Companions began in Valencia on May 3, 1956

 

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