September 8th : S.G. Richard Tena, SJ

S.G. Richard Tena, SJ

Born : Dec 1877
Died: Sept 8, 1936

Richard Tena was born at Azuaga, in the province of Badajoz, near the Portuguese border. At seventeen, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Granada on August 3, 1894. After his early studies there, he spent a year teaching in Malaga before going for further studies at Granada. He was forced to postpone his theology at Loyola until 1914 because of poor health. He was ordained in 1917 and his first assignment was to work in the Jesuit hometown parish in Badajoz before going to Madrid to take on parish duties and teach catechism, when his health permitted.

Fr Tena’s physical condition deteriorated as he grew older. He was slightly bent over and needed to sit down periodically to rest. He was always carrying a folding chair under his arm when taking a walk. He would regularly go to a nearby park after hearing afternoon confessions, sit under at cool spot and read. He was able to continue this peaceful and uneventful life until 1932 when the Spanish Republic decreed the suppression of the Society of Jesus. As Fr Tena was too infirm to go into exile with his younger Jesuits, he went back to his hometown and lived with his sister, spending time praying, reading and preparing to go to heaven. Never did he imagine the manner of death that awaited him.

In July 1936 when civil war broke out in Spain, the revolutionaries in Azuaga initially left the old priest alone. However, on September 6, they put him through prolonged interrogation and because he was a Jesuit, they ridiculed and insulted him. Fr Tena remained calm throughout although he was preparing for the worst to come. After the revolutionaries left his sister’s house, Fr Tena quietly sat down and read his breviary. He went to bed late that night as he expected the revolutionaries to return at any moment. They returned at 7.30 the following morning and took the ailing priest to prison. His neighbours who witnessed Fr Tena’s arrest noted how happy he was.

Fr Tena was immediately assigned to do menial work, such as mopping the prison floors. He was abused by the jailers when he was not as fast or as agile as they would have him. He was repeatedly questioned and ordered to say “There is no God” by the jailers. Though weary from the maltreatment, Fr Tena would slowly rise from where he was sitting and with full composure face his adversaries and begin to speak about God. Again the jailers would strike him and shouted to him to “Deny God” which Fr Tena would not do even when they placed a pistol next to his breast. Instead he would serenely and solemnly begin to recite the Creed. The jailer holding the pistol was so moved by Fr Tena’s courage that he threw the weapon on the floor and said: “I am not going to kill this man”. His tormentors then left him for a time.

Before dawn on September 8, Fr Tena was taken from his prison and forced to walk to the cemetery. Although Fr Tena was hardly able to walk on his own and had to be helped, his spirit remained unimpaired. At the cemetery, the revolutionaries again demanded his apostasy, commanding him: “Blaspheme God.” To which Fr Tena responded: “I am a priest. You may be able to take my temporal life from me, but you cannot take from me my soul or eternal life.” Then crossing his arms on his breast, Fr Tena raised his face to heaven and with a voice that carried through the dark cemetery, he cried out: “Long live Christ the King!” As he uttered these words he was shot and his body was buried in a common grave. Three years later after his martyrdom, Fr Tena’s remains were recovered and interred in another part of the cemetery.

Fr Tena was fifty-nine years old at his martyrdom when he demonstrated extraordinary courage for his Saviour. The investigation into his martyrdom was started in November 1948 and the study of the cause is still in progress.