Martyrs of Madrid

The Marianist martyrs of Madrid pictured above from left to right are Blesseds Fr. Miguel Léibar Garay, Br. Sabijno Ayastuy Errasti, Br. Joaquín Ochoa Salazar, and Br. Florencio Arnáiz Cejudo. While Spain served as a country of refuge for their spiritual forefather Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, by the 20th century several of her cities, including Madrid and Ciudad Real, experienced the scourge known as the “Red Terror” during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). This consisted of communist “militiamen” violently eradicating Catholicism in the cities they controlled by torching her churches and executing her leaders, religious or lay. The persecution became so severe that even possession of a rosary warranted the death penalty! In the face of such grave danger, these four Marianists made the commitment to stay in war-torn Madrid.

Miguel Léibar Garay was born on February 17, 1885. He professed First Vows in the Society of Mary in 1903. He actively lived his priesthood committed to the education of young people, devoting himself to various Marianist schools in Spain as principal and chaplain. He even served as director of the Marianist community! His own words succinctly capture the mission behind Marianist education the past two centuries, “The great wish of my life is to guide souls on the path to heaven.” At the emergence of the “Red Terror”, Fr. Garay served as a beacon of fortitude for those suffering in Madrid under the weight of persecution. Then, on July 28, 1936, he alongside two laypersons who worked at the school were forced out of their residence by communist militiamen and shot.

Sabino Ayastuy Errasti was born on December 29, 1911. He made his First Vows in the Society of Mary in 1938. He taught in Marianist schools and found refuge during the “Red Terror” at a friend’s home in the month of July 1936 alongside his fellow Marianist religious Salazar and Cejudo. On September 13, their safe house was raided when communist militiamen received a tip by the concierge revealing the identities of those religious leaders residing there. The mob arrested these three Marianist vowed religious as well as two Dominicans that were with them in hiding. Despite the betrayal by the concierge, Errasti gave the man words of kindness and a loving embrace as he was being escorted off the premises. The next day on September 14, all five earned the martyr’s crown when they were brought forth before a firing squad and were shot.

Joaquín Ochao Salazar was born on April 16, 1910. He professed his First Vows in the Society of Mary in 1928. He served as a teacher at Marianist schools in Escoriaza and Madrid and specialized in educating the youngest of students. It was during the process of his vows, he had a prophetic sense of where his religious commitment would lead him, “I want to enlist forever under the banner of Mary, to work for her honor until the hour comes for me to die in her service.” His words came to pass on September 14 as he was executed alongside Errasti and Cejudo.

Florencio Arnáiz Cejudo was born on May 10, 1909, Florencio professed his First Vows in the Society of Mary in 1926. Cejudo, too, was excellent at teaching the youngest of students and even served as a prefect for some of the boarders. Also like Salazar, with great hope foresaw the hardships that were in store for him as a vowed religious educator, “The intention of serving Mary all the days of my life energizes me to overcome all difficulties.”

The legacy of all four Martyrs of Madrid are captured by these powerful words of Errasti which he penned in Latin, “My supreme ambition in this life is summed up in this one sentence: ‘Ad pedes piissimae Matris meae vivere volo et mori cupio.’ [At the feet of my most Blessed Mother I wish to live and desire to die.]” On October 28, 2007, they were beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. These men are honored by the Society of Mary on November 6 of the Church calendar.