"Sisters, We Have to Be Courageous": The Story of Sister Josefa

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Her name was Sister Josefa Martinez Perez. She seemed like any other Spanish Daughter of Charity in the 1930s, donned in a low white cornette and blue dress, walking the hallways of the hospital. Spain was at the height of its civil war but the Daughters continued their work, as they always had in the past during times of turmoil. Yet, as times got worse, Sister Josefa warned her fellow Sisters "Don't be afraid. We have to be courageous. Sisters, let us prepare ourselves because martyrdom will touch some of us" She was right. On October 15, 1936, she was taken away in a truck to be executed.

Her story begins in Alberique (Valencia), Spain where she was born in 1898. At the age of 27, she entered the Daughters of Charity Seminary, inspired by her membership in the Association of the Children of Mary, a co-fraternity for young women run by the Daughters of Charity. After Seminary, she was sent to her first (and what would be also her last) mission - the Provincial Hospital of Valencia. There she would stay for ten years, working in a ward for abandoned children and then one for women with infectious diseases.

In 1936, the Marxists took over the hospital and expelled the Daughters of Charity. It wasn't simply a matter of asking the 100 Sisters in the hospital to move somewhere else, but rather as a way to expel the community of the Daughters of Charity as a whole. So, for their own safety, the Sisters split up - a repeat of what the Daughters had done years ago during the French Revolution - hoping to one day be reunited and live once again as a normal religious community.

Sister Josefa stripped herself of the cornette and dress she had worn for over ten years and headed to her family's house in her hometown of Alberique. Things there were relatively calm, unlike what some of her companions were experiencing wherever they were hiding. But one day, in September, her brother-in-law was taken away for being a Catholic and doing charitable works. When they arrived, Sister Josefa pleaded "let him go and kill me! He has three small children and expecting a fourth". But they wouldn't accept her offer and he was arrested and executed anyway.

She probably had an idea that they would return. And they did, less than a month later on October 14th. However, probably to her surprise, they took away not only her but also her pregnant sister. Her sister Natalia, now a widow after her husband's execution, left behind three small children in the house when the two of them were taken away. When they arrived in the prison, Sister Josefa spent all her time in prayer, pleading to God and the militants that she would sacrifice herself for her sister's life.

Some hours later, in darkness, the prisoners were thrown into a truck. As Sister Josefa stepped into the bed of the truck, she once again pleaded for them to free her sister. Probably tired of her insistence and maybe even inspired by her sacrifice, they let Natalia go. The last memory Natalia would have of her sister Josefa is a hug they shared, in which Sister Josefa whispered "see you in eternity". With that, the truck left, leaving Natalia behind.

The truck drove to the outskirts of Alberique at El Puente de los Perros, where every prisoner in the truck were executed, including Sister Josefa, who had sacrificed her own life for her sister.

Some Daughters of Charity and Vincentian priests martyred
during the Spanish Civil War
It turned out that Sister Josefa wouldn't be alone in her martyrdom. Dozens of her companions, fellow Daughters of Charity, would also be martyred during that war, many in groups but some alone as Sister Josefa. This coming October, twelve of those martyrs, including Sister Josefa, will become Blessed by being beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.

Sister Josefa Perez Martinez, pray for us!

(More stories of these courageous Daughters of Charity to come!!)

Sources (for those interested):

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