Visitation Sisters, Martyrs of, Bb.
VISITATION SISTERS, MARTYRS OF, BB.
Maria Gabriela de Hinojosa Naveros, and six other members of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary; b.
Alhama, Granada, Spain, July 24, 1872; d. Nov. 18, 1936. Five of her sister companions died with her: Josefa Maria Barrera Izaguirre, b. El Ferrol, La Coruna May 23, 1881; Teresa Maria Cavestany y Anduaga, b. Puerto Real, Cadiz, July 30, 1888; Maria Angela Olaizola Garagarza, b. Azpeitia, Guipuzcoa, Nov. 12, 1893; Maria Engracia Lecuona Aramburu, b. Oyarzun, Guipuzcoa, July 2, 1897; and Maria Ines Zudaire Galdeano, b. Echavarri, Navarra, Jan. 28, 1900. Maria Cecilia Cendoya Araquistain (b. Azpeita, Guipuzcoa, Jan. 10, 1910) escaped execution with the rest, but was martyred five days later, Nov. 23, 1936. They were beatified May 10, 1998 by John Paul II.
All of the nuns had been brought up in deeply Christian families, but they represented varying social and economic backgrounds. They were bonded in their vocation to the Order of the Visitation, in their communal and contemplative prayer, and in the value they placed on life lived in community, where they performed the ordinary tasks of daily life with great love and fidelity.
The religious persecution marking the Spanish civil war intensified during the first months of 1936, and convents and churches were looted and burned. The Sisters of the Visitation realized that it was too dangerous for their community—numbering more than 80 sisters—to stay in Madrid and decided to move to Oronoz, a small town in Navarra. However, they felt called to maintain a presence in the capital, where the monastery church was one of the few still open for worship; thus seven nuns were asked to remain. Before leaving, the superior of the community rented a basement apartment nearby to serve as a shelter if the sisters who were to stay ever needed a place of refuge. S. Maria Gabriela de Hinojosa was given charge of the group.
The sisters were able to continue in the monastery for only one month. On July 13, 1936 they moved to the apartment, but spent their days in the monastery—ringing the bells, trying to give the impression that it was lived in. The situation deteriorated, however, and by the end of July it was impossible for the sisters to leave the apartment. Occasionally a priest slipped in and celebrated Mass, and the extern sisters attempted to do errands, but it was dangerous: S. Maria Angela was arrested, booked, and warned. The sisters could be seen from the street as they moved about, and friends warned them to apply to foreign consulates for refuge. The Visitandines were convinced that the neighbors who had seen them in the interior courtyard respected them and would keep their secret. They refused to consider separating. However, they were reported and both they and those who had helped them were denounced.
On August 14 the apartment was searched and soldiers carried off their belongings. After this, the community became entirely dependent on others for provisions. The house was searched again; S. Teresa Maria Cavestany was taken captive and S. Josefa Maria Barrera, who had previously declared herself fearful now bravely offered to accompany her. The police detained both nuns for 24 hours.
The militia searched the apartment yet again on November 17, remarking as they left that they would return the following day. S. Maria Gabriela called the sisters together and offered them a chance to seek refuge in foreign consulates, but they refused. They spent that night in prayer, preparing themselves for death. On the evening of November 18, a patrol of the Iberian Anarchist Federation broke into the apartment. They ordered the sisters out. A mob gathered in the street, demanding that they be shot immediately. Each had made the sign of the cross as she entered a waiting van—an act of defiance in the eyes of the government. They were driven to a vacant lot on Lopez de Hoyos Street in Madrid. As the nuns emerged two by two, clasping hands to support one another, a barrage of gunfire shattered their bodies.
S. Maria Cecilia, 26 years old, felt S. Maria Gabriela fall next to her and dropped her hand. She took off running, fleeing instinctively. A short time later she surrendered herself to the militiamen, declaring that she too was a nun and wanted to die as her sisters had. She was held in a crowded cell for five days before being shot against the wall of the cemetery in Vallecas in the outskirts of Madrid. S. Maria Cecilia's cross, worn over her heart as a sign of her religious profession, was retrieved, pierced by a bullet. Because of S. Maria Cecilia's incarceration, the story of the sisters' martyrdom became public. Prisoners held in the same cell with her later shared her story with others.
Speaking of the Visitation Martyrs at their beatification, Pope John Paul II emphasized their fidelity to their own charism of gentleness and nonviolence. "I beg God that the marvelous example of these women who shed their blood for Christ, pardoning from their hearts their executioners … may succeed in softening the hearts of those who today use terror and violence to impose their will upon others."
Feast: Nov. 18.
Bibliography: john paul ii, "Allocution" (Remarks at the End of the Mass and Rite of Beatification of Visitation Martyrs and Others) May 10, 1998.