July 24th: S.G. Braulio Martinez & S.G. Lawrence Isla, SJ

July 24th: S.G. Braulio Martinez & S.G. Lawrence Isla, SJ

Servant of God - Braulio Martinez:
Born: March 26, 1852 Died: July 25, 1936

Servant of God - Lawrence Isla:
Born: August 10, 1865

S.G Martinez and S.G. Isla, two of the Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War were among the oldest of the Jesuit martyrs who offered their lives for their Faith.

Braulio Martinez was born in Murchante, Navarre in Spain. When he entered the Society on December 25, 1887 at the age of thirty-five, Fr Martinez had been a diocesan priest for several years. He made his noviceship at Veruela and then to Tortosa to review his theology from 1889 to 1891. He served at two Jesuit parishes before he was sent to the diocesan seminary at Tarragona from 1898 to 1900 to teach canon law and later to the seminary in Tortosa to teach moral theology for five years. He later returned to Tarragona in 1906 and resumed teaching canon law where he lived for the next thirty years until his martyrdom. He was well known among the priests of the diocese having taught there for thirty years and was greatly respected and loved by them. After his retirement, Fr Martinez continued in close contact with the clergy.

Lawrence Isla was born in Olvega in Spain and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Saragossa on October 10, 1890. After his vows, he stayed on in the Saragossa novitiate to do menial tasks such as gardening, cooking and laundry. He moved to Tarragona in 1900 and there met Fr Martinez who arrived there a year later. Bro Isla and Fr Martinez knew each other well, having lived together in the Tarragona Jesuit house for twenty-five years. When Fr Martinez grew older, Bro Isla insisted on looking after him. When the Jesuits were suppressed in Spain in 1932 and the Tarragona community was dispersed, Bro Isla went to live in a small residence with other Jesuits while Fr Martinez went to live in the seminary where he taught.

When civil war broke out in Spain on July 18, 1936, Fr Martinez sought refuge at the Balart villa, the summer house of Jose Balart, a friend of the Jesuits and Bro Isla had gone there to live and attend to the eighty-four year old priest. On July 24, the two Jesuits obeyed their superior’s order not to leave their refuge as word was going around that the revolutionaries were searching all villas for priests and religious. Although they were tipped off by a nun to flee the villa as the revolutionaries were approaching, Fr Martinez said: “I’m an old man; what can they do to me? They will not kill me. I’m staying right here.”

Fr Martinez had never harmed anyone and did not expect anyone to harm him. But unknown to him, the Popular Front, consumed with hatred for the Catholic religion, sought revenge on all priests, and were hunting them as animals in the wilderness. As they were busy preparing their noon meal, they heard loud noises at the villa’s front gate and shortly after that a dozen militiamen came charging in shooting their rifles and pistols. Fr Martinez and Bro Isla tried to run away but the latter was pursued by the soldiers who shot him several times. He was bleeding and his blood stained the ground but the soldiers continued to fire bullets into his wounded body until his body ceased moving.

Fr Martinez managed to get over the villa wall into a neighbour’s property and escaped into the open field. But being eighty-four, he was soon caught and led back to the villa for questioning. When they told him he could leave, Fr Martinez said: “No, you will kill me. Don’t kill me; but, I forgive you for you do not know what you are doing.” As Fr Martinez uttered these words, one of the militiamen fired a bullet into the priest’s heart.

The bodies of Fr Martinez and Bro Isla were taken back to the villa and covered with a cloth. Later that afternoon, Jose Balart came to identify the bodies and sadly recognized his friends. Fr Martinez had a single wound and looked as if he was asleep while Bro Isla’s body was riddled with wounds. Jose Balart requested for the bodies of the two Jesuits and placed them in his family vault in the cemetery. The official diocesan investigation into the martyrdom of Fr Braulio Martinez and Bro Lawrence Isla began in Tarragona in November 1950.