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Checa y Barba, José Ignacio


Archbishop of Quito; b. Quito, Aug. 4, 1829; d. there, March 30, 1877. The son of Col. Feliciano Checa, one of the founders of Ecuadorean independence, he studied in Quito and in Rome. He was ordained in 1855, and he was named auxiliary bishop of Cuenca in 1861, bishop of Ibarra in 1866, and archbishop of Quito in 1868. Of a quiet and studious nature, Checa y Barba labored throughout his life to raise the spiritual and intellectual level of his clergy. He convoked the second and third councils of Quito, as well as two diocesan synods. His pastorals were noted for their calm charitable tone. He brought the Daughters of Charity and the Vincentians to Ecuador. On March 25, 1874, he led the official consecration of Ecuador to the Sacred Heart, even though his relations with Pres. García Moreno were not particularly warm.

The manner of his death has made Checa y Barba memorable. García Moreno had been assassinated on Aug. 6, 1875. His immediate successor was Borrero, a Catholic liberal. He in turn was overthrown on Sept. 8, 1876, by Gen. Ignacio Veintemilla, a liberal who got firm support from El Comercio, a Guayaguil newspaper. In February 1877 the bishop of Riobamba, José Ignacio Ordoñez, censured this paper for its heretical attacks on the Church. Checa y Barba stood with his suffragan when the government objected. On March 1, 1877, Father Gago, a Franciscan, preached to a large gathering in the church of San Francisco on the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX and on Liberalism. Spies carried the news to Veintemilla, who inspired the police to try to arrest the friar. When Gago protested against the attempt, stating that he was just practicing some of the freedom of thought so highly praised by the Liberals, the bungling, puzzled police captain withdrew to consult his superiors. By the time they arrived, the rumor that the friars were to be expelled had brought about 6,000 people to the church, so that soldiers were called to save the police. The Liberals cried that the clergy had stirred up the people and took occasion from the police stupidity to subject all sermons to complete censorship. On March 7, Checa y Barba, who in the past had tended to remain aloof from all quarrels with the government, protested against this measure as unjust and uncalled for. The protest was rejected. On March 10, the archbishop issued a pastoral warning the faithful against heretical publications. This time the government protested (March 12). Checa y Barba answered in a note of March 17, in which he refused to give to Caesar what did not belong to Caesar. A visit from Veintemilla on March 24 failed to change the archbishop's mind. On Good Friday (March 30) after consuming the Host during the Mass of the Presanctified, the archbishop took some wine to purify the chalice. At the time he remarked to the deacon on the bitter taste. He completed the services but died amid horrible convulsions a short while after. The autopsy revealed that he had been poisoned by strychnine. No one was ever punished for the crime.

Bibliography: j. tobar donoso, El Ilmo. Sr. Dr. José Ignacio Checa (Quito 1937).

[w. loor]

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