Saint Magdalene of Nagasaki

magdalene.of.nagasakiMagdalene was born and grew up during a period of open and undisguised hostility toward religion. Persecution was manifest to all. The types of “imaginative and original” torture used by the opponents of the faith show very clearly the hatred in the hearts of those who ruled.

Her parents, who are described by historians as “most virtuous and noble Christians,” were martyred about the year 1620, when their daughter was in her early adolescence. The first Augustinians who arrived in Japan in 1623 were members of the Augustinian Order’s observant movement: Fathers Francis of Jesus and Vincent of Saint Anthony. As an active and enthusiastic Christian, Magdalene made contact with them and though communication was difficult, she worked with them as an interpreter and later as a catechist. From the start she found herself well disposed to Augustinian spirituality, characterized as it is by the search for God, interiority, and the living of faith in communion with others.

In their work of evangelization the missionaries emphasized the promotion of religious associations and gave special attention to the Augustinian Third Order. However, it was quite difficult for Christians to live their faith publicly. To approach the missionaries for doctrinal and religious nourishment was risky for themselves as well as the friars. Following the example of many other Christians in similar difficulties, Magdalene took refuge in the hills and dedicated herself to baptizing converts and sustaining those who has grown weak in their faith.

The persecution made necessary all sorts of subterfuge, but Magdalene did not lose heart. She knew what she wanted and did not hold back in spite of the dangers: she asked to be accepted formally into the Augustinian Order. Her mind and heart were already Augustinian; in 1625, Father Francis admitted her into the Third Order of Saint Augustine.

In 1632 the Augustinian friars, who had been her spiritual counselors, were burned alive. This holocaust was recognized and solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1876. Magdalene kept alive the memory of these friars, and with it grew her own desire for martyrdom. Now her counselors in the struggle were two other Augustinians, Fathers Melchior of Saint Augustine and Martin of Saint Nicholas, who continued to nourish her spirit on the ideals and practices of Augustinian spirituality. When these two friars were also put to death, she turned to Father Jordan of Saint Stephen, a Dominican who own profession was based on the Rule of St. Augustine.

Magdalene’s concern for her vocation and her wish to love completely the life of the evangelical counsels led to her decision to enter a novitiate with a community of Dominican sisters. But before she could make her profession, religious persecution broke out once again. It was no time for the fainthearted. A strong faith burned in her soul and the gospel allowed for no half measures.

The brave spirit and conviction of this Augustinian tertiary moved her to go voluntarily to the jailers and declare herself a follower of Jesus Christ. There were threats, tortures, promises of exposure to public scorn, taunts, ridicule ­ all the usual procedures in such cases. But Magdalene had a clear knowledge of her faith and of the obligation which she had freely taken on. Attired in her Augustinian habit, she reached the end of her martyrdom on 16 October 1634, after thirteen days of torture, suspended upside down in a pit of offal. After death her body was burned and her ashes scattered in the bay of Nagasaki.

Three hundred and forty-seven years later, on 18 February 1981, in the city of Manila, Pope John Paul II honored Magdalene with the title of Blessed. Then on 18 October 1987, World Mission Day, she was solemnly canonized in Rome by the same Holy Father. Proclaimed with Saint Magdalene was a large number of martyrs from the Land of the Rising Sun, of various nationalities and states of life and of different religious orders. The life of Magdalene, martyr of Japan, honored for the firmness and courage of her faith, is a song in praise of heroism. To live the gospel as she did with fervent resolve, in a clear, complete, and radical way, without failing or yielding ­ is the heritage of great souls.

The memory of Saint Magdalene of Nagasaki is celebrated by the Augustinian family on 20 October.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Saint Magdalene of Nagasaki by Adriano Ambrosioni

Blessed Elias del Socorro Nieves

smallblessed Elias gives men and women of today a shining example of pastoral zeal and courageous witness to the Christian faith.

Marco Elias Nieves del Castillo was born in the Isle of San Pedro, Yuriria (Guananjuato, Mexico) on 21 September 1882. He was the sonblessedeliasdelsocorro of Ramon and Rita, two humble and deeply religious farmers.

Early on he showed a great desire to become a priest but circumstances in life prevented it. At the age of twelve, a case of tuberculosis put him at the door of death and months later his father died at the hands of highwaymen. It was necessary for Elias to abandon his studies in order to be able to earn some money with which he could contribute to the support of his family.

In 1904, the Augustinian College of Yuriria had just recently reopened. Despite his scarce preparation and his adult age, he managed to be admitted. The understandable difficulties stemming from seminary studies undertaken by one who was twenty-one years of age and had just abandoned farm duties were overcome with incredible endurance and effort. As a result of the need for economic aid and his weak physical constitution he was on the verge of losing his sight, yet there was always someone to lend a hand. In recognition of help from on high at so many times during his life, upon his profession in 1911 he changed his name from Mateo Elias to Elias del Socorro.

Once ordained to the priesthood in 1916, he practiced his ministry I different localities of Bajio, until 1921 when he was named parochial vicar of La Cañada de Caracheo, a town of around 3,000 inhabitants, situated in the crevices of “Culiacán.” In this obscure center of scarce economic resources, devoid of sanitary services, public schools, and electricity, the works of Padre Nieves were not limited to the spiritual assistance of his flock. Having known all too well from his youth the meaning of manual labor and impoverishment, he was not burdened by the privations of poverty which he dealt with by way of a generous spirit, a jovial disposition, and confidence in divine providence.

It was precisely during these years that there arose the popular movement of the “cristeros.” The servant of God kept himself on the margin of the revolutionary movement that in ways barely echoed among the local population which was very distant ideologically and geographically from the socio-political problematic underlying the revolution. At the end of 1926 when persecutions of the Church broke out, despite his timid character, instead of obeying the government order to reside in the big urban centers, he established himself in a cave near the hill of La Gavia, assuring his faithful in this way of religious assistance, usually under the cover of night. In the fourteen months during which that situation lasted, someone to administer the sacraments or celebrate daily Mass was never lacking.

This clandestine effort came to an end the morning he stumbled across a posse of soldiers, whose attention was caught by what could be made out under his white peasant’s cloak as the vestments he used during his nocturnal ministry. Once interrogated he declared his status as a priest, and was arrested along with two ranchmen, the Sierra brothers, who had offered to accompany the priest. Driven to La Cañada, he opposed the ransom attempts made on part of some of his faithful. He also had the occasion to discuss religious topics with two of the officials who had custody of him, but his luck had run out.

At dawn on 10 March 1928 the military and prisoners set out in the direction of the small urban center of Cortazar upon which La Cañada depended. In his first order, the captain, facing the troops, gave the order to execute the two companions of Padre Nieves, who after going to confession to the Padre died valiantly proclaiming Christ the King as victor. At the next station which was connected to a beautifully landscaped mesquite, near the town, the captain addressed Padre Nieves, saying “Now it is your turn; let us see if dying is like saying Mass.” To which the servant of God responded, “You have spoken the truth, because to die for our religion is a pleasing sacrifice to God.” He requested a few moments to collect his thoughts, then gave over his watch to the captain, gave his blessing to the soldiers kneeling to receive it, and began to recite the creed while they prepared the guns for his execution. His last words were “Long live Christ the King.” Pope John Paul II beatified him in July 1997

The Augustinian Family celebrates his feast on 11 October.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000.
Blessed Elias of Socorro Nieves by Mario Ferrari, Rome, Italy.

The Augustinian Martyrs of Japan

The history of the Augustinian mission in seventeenth century Japan contains the glorious account of more than 100 friars, tertiaries, and members of the japanmartyrsArchconfraternity of Our Mother of Consolation who shed their blood for the faith. This group represents the countries of Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain, as well as various branches of the Augustinian family. In 1867 twelve of these martyrs were beatified by Pope Pius IX.

The Augustinians formally set out from the Philippines to begin the mission in Japan in 1602. They quickly established churches and won many converts to the faith. From the very start they accepted candidates for the Augustinian Order and zealously promoted the Third Order of Saint Augustine and the Archconfraternity of Our Mother of Consolation. It was not long, however, before the persecutions began and the religious, as well as their newly converted Japanese Christian brothers and sisters, were called upon to pay a great price for their belief.

One of the first martyrs was Fernando Ayala, of an illustrious family of Castile. He was born in 1575 in Valesteros, Spain, and joined the Order at the age of eighteen while on a visit to relatives in Montilla. Fernando excelled in studies and was invited to teach at his alma mater, the University of Alcalá de Henares. However, when an appeal was made by the mission procurator from the Philippines for volunteers for the new mission of the Augustinian Order in Japan, Fernando was the first to step forward. In 1603 he resigned his teaching position and arrived in Japan in December 1604. Among his foundations was that of Nagasaki, where his great fervor, compassion, and patience encouraged many to the faith. In every mission center he established the Archconfraternity and the Third Order for the continued spiritual development of new Christians. He composed several textbooks for catechetical instruction and set up living quarters for the elderly, for the infirm, and for delinquents. On 27 January 1614, the emperor signed a decree for the expulsion of the missionaries and the destruction of their churches. In the face of torture, Fernando was immovable. He consoled and encouraged his converts to remain faithful to their beliefs. Finally, he was beheaded in 1617.

In the same year Andrew Yoshida, one of Fernando’s catechists and president of the Archconfraternity of Our Mother of Consolation, was also beheaded. Peter Zuniga arrived in Japan in 1618, but was forced to return to the Philippines when the governor of Nagasaki learned that he was the son of the Viceroy of New Spain and therefore could not be sentenced to death. Two years later, however, Peter returned, was captured, tortured, and finally burned alive. Over a thousand neophytes witnessed his martyrdom.

The oblates John Shozabuco, Michael Kiuchi Tayemon, Peter Kuhieye, Thomas Terai Kahioye, and tertiaries Mancio Seisayemon and Lawrence Hachizo were beheaded on 28 October 1630.

Bartholomew Gutiérrez, a Mexican, arrived in Japan from Manila in 1612. In the beginning he was forced to spend his daylight hours hidden in a cave and minister to the Japanese Christian community in the darkness of night. Betrayed by a former Christian, he and his catechist John Shozabuco were arrested on 10 November 1629. While John was beheaded in 1630, the torments of Bartholomew began in earnest in December 1631, when he was submitted to the painful torture of hot sulphur baths which had succeeded in bringing many Christians to renounce the faith. Because of his constancy his torturers had physicians cure his wounds so that he could be tortured again and again. He was finally burned alive on 3 September 1632, together with Francis of Jesus and Vincent of Saint Anthony. These two latter Augustinians were members of the Order’s congregation of Recollects. They arrived in Nagasaki in October 1623 and were received there by Father Bartholomew. After six years of intense missionary activity they also became his companions in death.

The memory of these twelve members of the Augustinian Family is observed on 28 September.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000

The Martyrs of Gafsa

in 484, the seventh year of his reign, Hyneric, the Arian Vandal king in Africa, published an edict ordering the dissolution of all Catholic monasteries in the region under his rule. The seven members of the monastery of Gafsa in Tunis, established under Augustinian inspiration, were taken captive because of their refusal to renounce their faith and convert to Arianism. Liberatus was the abbot of the monastery; Boniface was a deacon; Servus and Rusticus were subdeacons; and Rogatus, Septimus, and Maximus were lay monks.

As they remained constant in their beliefs they were put in chains and thrown into a dungeon. Faithful Christians bribed the guards and visited them day and night, in order to receive instruction from them and to find encouragement in their own sufferings for the faith. Finally they were ordered to be placed aboard an old ship and burned at sea. Their march to the sea was a cheerful one, hardly dampened by the insults of the Arians who stood along the way. The youngest of the monks, Maximus, was particularly urged to abandon his companions. His response was firm: “No one is going to separate me from my holy father, Liberatus, or from my brothers who raised me in the monastery. I have learned with them how to live in the fear of God. I desire to share suffering with them, because I hope to share the glory which is to come. Do not think you can lead me astray because I am young. The Lord has willed to reunite us seve; he will deign to crown us seven with the same martyrdom.”

The ship was put adrift and set afire several times, but it would not ignite. Huneric then ordered that the monks be brought ashore and clubbed to death with oars. The date was 2 July 484. Though their bodies were thrown into the sea, they were recovered by some of the faithful and were buried in the monastery of Bigua, next to the Basilica of Celerinus.

In the Augustinian Family they are commemorated on 26 August.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000

Blessed William Tirry

the story of Blessed William Tirry is that of a pastor remaining at his post, when he might have fled, knowing tht he was thereby putting his life in jeopardy. By virtue of the law of 6 January 1653, to be a priest on Irish soil constituted a crime of treason punishable by death. WilliamTirry was betrayed while in hiding as he was about to offer Mass on Holy Saturday, 25 March 1654. The fact that he was discovered vested for Mass made him guilty twice over. In addition, a search of his room uncovered a manuscript which he had written concerning the doctrinal errors of Protestantism.

blessedwilliamtirry1Born in Cork, Ireland, in 1608, William Tirry belonged to a distinguished family. His paternal uncle was bishop of Cork-Cloyne. William joined the Augustinians in his hometown, studying at Valladolid in Spain, and later at Paris in 1635-1636. He then spent some time in Brussels before returning to Ireland a few years before the outbreak of hostilities in 1641. Because community life was impossible at the time, he became chaplain to his uncle. In 1646 he was appointed secretary to the provincial. On 15 June 1649, he was named prior of the convent of Skreen without, however, being able to live there due to Cromwell’s troops. Following his arrest in March 1654, he was imprisoned at Clonmel, where he remained for a month. His life of prayer and mortification was a source of edification to the other priests with whom he was imprisoned. When brought to trial he affirmed his recognition of the authority of the commonwealth in civil matter, but insisted that in those things concerning religion and conscience he could obey only his superiors and the pope. While it appeared that the jury was inclined to judge in his favor, the influence of the civil powers and the military authority prevailed, and he was condemned to death by hanging.

Friar William Tirry was executed at the age of forty-five on 12 May 1354. A Capuchin friar, who blessedwilliamtirry2had been tried and found guilty with him, was banished after several months of incarceration. It is this individual who later offered important testimony concerning the proceedings of their shared trial and imprisonment. William was taken to the scaffold, chained, clothed in his Augustinian habit, and praying the rosary. A large crowd gathered to receive his blessing. He addressed a final word of encouragement to them, publicly reaffirmed his faith, and then pardoned the three persons, who for payment of money, had betrayed him. Bystanders observed that even the Protestants were deeply moved by his death. Some friends later took his body and buried it in the ruins of the Augustinian convent of Fetherd. His burial place, however, has never been found.

The impression which William’s death had on Catholics and Protestants alike, and the graces obtained through his intercession, quickly caused his reputation as a martyr to spread. William Tirry’s case is one of the best documented of the seventeen Irish martyrs who were beatified by Pope John Paul II on 27 September 1992.

His feast is celebrated by the Augustinian Family on 12 May.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Blessed William Tirry