A martyr for his faith

A martyr for his faith

On September 22nd of each year, the Priests of the Sacred Heart (SCJs - Dehonians) around the world celebrate the life and martyrdom of Blessed Fr. Juan Maria de la Cruz. Fr. Juan is the first member of the Congregation to beautified, which is one step away to Sainthood. He was beautified by Pope John Paul II in 2001.

Mariano Garcia Mendez was born in Avila, Spain in 1891. He came a very religious family, the first of 15 children. Young Mariano felt the calling to become a priest at a very early age. He entered a minor seminary as soon as he was able and eventually was ordained a priest for the diocese of Avila serving in local parish ministry.

But he felt the call to do more – to join a religious community just as Fr. Dehon had done. He learned about the community that Fr. Dehon founded, the Priests of the Sacred Heart. In 1926 he made his first profession and took the religious name of Juan Maria del Cruz to honor the Blessed Mother and St. John of the Cross. Both are held in high esteem in Spain.

He first served the Congregation as a teacher and then moved into fundraising, going from village to village asking for money and recruiting students for the seminary. This difficult work was done during a very dark time – the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. During this time Churches were destroyed, and many priests, nuns and even lay religious Catholics were martyred for their faith.

Fr. Juan Maria was entering a village in July 1936 when he came across such a horrific scene. People were ripping apart the interior of a church and were preparing it to be burned to the ground. After identifying himself as a Priest, he was arrested, held in prison for a month and then executed for his faith. He was interred with nine other people on that day and placed in a common grave.

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