October 4th: Servant of God Salvador Garciduenas, SJ

Servant of God Salvador Garciduenas, SJ

Born: August 6, 1856
Died: October 4, 1927

Beatified : Dec 21, 1992

Salvador Garciduenas, a Mexican, was born at Santa Clara del Cobre (today’s Villa Escalante), in the state of Michoacan. He came from a family of six children whose parents set great value on a good education for their children. He attended elementary and secondary school at Morelia, the state capital where the family had moved to. At twenty he thought of joining the diocesan seminary where his older brother had gone before him but later chose to prepare for a career in law. The thought of becoming a priest never left him. After he received his law degree in 1879 at the age of twenty-four, he entered Morelia’s major seminary. Salvador’s stay at the seminary was a short one for in early 1880 he decided to become a Jesuit although there were no Jesuits in Morelia then as the Society had a difficult time reestablishing itself in Mexico because of the anticlerical governments which forbade religious orders to set up houses or monasteries. During that time there were only forty-eight Jesuits in the entire country; of this number twenty-nine were priests, and most were foreign born.

Determined to be a son of St Ignatius, Salvador went to Tepotzotlan, near Mexico City, to visit the superior of the Mexican Jesuits and was accepted as a candidate.

On April 27, 1880 he entered the novitiate in San Simon, not far from Zamora and close to his birthplace. There in the small novitiate with about six novices living in a small ranch house, he pronounced his vows in April 27, 1882.

He went to Puebla in 1883 for philosophy and later taught there from 1885 to 1888. Then he was sent to Ona in Spain for theology before his ordination on July 27, 1890. He returned to his hometown and was assigned during the summer of 1891, to the shrine of Our Lady of the Angels in Mexico City’s Los Angeles district where he spent the next thirty-six years of his life. When he first arrived, the city had its fights and murders, its robberies and bloodshed; but within ten years the quarter was calm and peaceful. The police attributed the peace enjoyed by the people in the city to the influence of Fr Garciduenas who however ascribed the calm to our Lady, to whose care he had consecrated. He had the wonderful charism of dealing with people, touched their hearts and was like a parent to them, especially to the sick whom he visited, cared for and comforted. His greatest gift was in handling children who were running wild with the closure of Catholic schools and public schools in the city. He organized them for games, took them on trips to visit other parts of Mexico City or to pray at some shrines with the aim of telling them about God. He held regular catechism classes for them and also taught them secular subjects. He established a school with free tuition for the children and paid the teachers by begging alms. He was equally loved by the adults as he was an excellent director of souls and a good confessor. Among his many penitents was the Archbishop of Mexico City.

The peace and quiet under which Fr Garciduenas lived and worked was shattered with the coming of Venustiano Carranza as President from 1915 to 1920. UnderCarranza the Church was persecuted and the priests with Fr Garciduenas at the shrine had to leave and Fr Garciduenas was left alone to care for the shrine. The government turned the church into barracks for a time But Fr Garciduenas was always nearby to assist his people. The priests later returned and by 1921 everything was back to normal. However the Church was persecuted again in 1924 to 1928 when President Plutarco Elfas Calles came into power and wanted to stifle the voice of the Church and bring it under his control. In June 1926, he issued a decree ordering the banishment of all foreign priests and bishops and the imprisonment of the Mexican clergy. This Calles’ Law came into effect on July 30, 1926 and all public services in Mexican churches were suspended. A day before the suspension, Fr Garciduenas with tears in his eyes, consecrated the Los Angeles district to Our lady, asking her protection over his people.

With the suspension of public services, Fr Garciduenas continued to give the Sacraments secretly and carried Holy Communion to the sick. On Sundays the people continued to gather at the church to pray, and though there could be no Mass, a member of the congregation led the people in reciting the Mass prayers, with Fr Garciduenas in an adjacent room to the shrine, celebrating Mass in unison with those prayers. He wrote out the sermons which were read out to the congregation.

During this difficult time when Fr Garciduenas’ spiritual work was greatly curtailed, a cancer developed on his shoulder that soon caused him much pain. When his friends came to celebrate his seventy-first birthday on Aug 6, 1927, he could not bring himself to tell them that this was to be the last time they would be together nor that he had cancer. Within days later, his health deteriorated and he had difficulty moving around. By Oct 2, he was confined to his bed and received anointing of the sick. The next day he grew worse and on his lips were frequently heard the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord of mercies has filled me with His good gifts.” At 4.30 am of Oct 4, just after receiving Viaticum, Fr Garciduenas died.

As there could not be any funeral service, the priests who had gathered at his bedside after his death celebrated Mass in a private chapel. They then prepared the body and placed it in a parlour of the residence for Fr Garciduenas’ friends to pay their last respects. His remains now lie beneath the foot of the altar at the shrine of Our Lady of the Angels, where he spent his entire priestly life. Every Catholic in Los Angeles district look upon him as a saint and many attributed cures to his intercession. Some had testified that they had seen him raised in the air while at prayer. Because of his reputation for holiness, the cause of Fr Salvador Garciduenas is under study.