Bl. Miguel Pro, SJ

(1891-1927; feastday November 23)

For generations, Catholic Mexico has been saddled with anti-Catholic governments. The constitution of 1917 denied the Church property, forbade religious instruction, and branded priests as public enemies. At first these laws, designed to crush Catholicism, were not systematically applied, but President Plutarco Calles (1924-1928) set out enforcing them with a vengeance. The Calles persecution struck down 5,000 Catholic victims! Standardbearer of these victims was the heroic Mexican Jesuit Father Miguel Augustin Pro Juarez.

Miguel, born on January 13, 1891, was one of the seven children of the prominent and devout Mexican, Miguel Pro, Sr. and Josefa Juarez. He was a happy-go-lucky lad, a good musician and a born actor. Though a bit careless religiously in his teens, he joined the Jesuits at 20. Knowing that he was a prankster, his superiors sought to discover whether he could accept, as well as play, practical jokes. They found that he could.

By 1917, governmental pressure on religious orders made it necessary for Miguel Pro to continue his studies outside Mexico. Fleeing the country in disguise, he received his education in California, Spain, and Belgium. It was in Belgium that he was ordained a priest (1925).

By the time of his ordination, Fr. Pro was experiencing serious stomach trouble. In 1926, his superiors reassigned him to Mexico, thinking his health might improve at home. Unwittingly, they were sending him to his death. A few days after his arrival, the Mexican government put an end to Catholic worship and ordered the arrest on sight of any priest.

Pro’s apostolate was therefore a secret one. Despite his poor health, he threw himself cheerfully into the work, using every handy device to outwit the police. In various disguises, he would breeze by them on foot or on a bicycle, bound for his “Eucharistic centers” where he would offer Mass, administer the sacraments, and assist the poor. Once when some police were bearing down on him, he grabbed the arm of a girl. “I am a priest,” he said. “Help me!” She agreed, and the couple sauntered along the street arm-in-arm while the constables sped by.

Luck ran out after a year. Early in November, 1927, Pro told a nun that God had accepted the offer of his life to save Mexico. On November 13, an unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of President-elect Obregon. On vague suspicion, the police arrested Miguel and two of his brothers. There was no proof of their having been the conspirators, but Calles was determined to make an example of these advocates of Catholic freedom, especially the priest. They were sentenced to death without a trial.

Before the execution took place on November 23, Father Miguel expressed his forgiveness to his captors and executioners. As the firing squad took aim, he threw out his arms in a cross and cried, “Long live Christ the King!”

Mexican Catholics were not cowed by this judicial murder; rather, they hailed the victims as heroes and martyrs. A blind woman who touched the Jesuit’s coffin regained her sight.

When Pope John Paul II beatified Father Pro on September 25,1988, he praised his “contagious joy”. The martyred Mexican priest had indeed given hope to his people.

--Father Robert F. McNamara