Brother Salustiano González Crespo
Lord, Jesus Christ, you came into the world in order to evangelize the poor though your words and your actions. May we imitate your beloved disciple, Salustiano, who combined manual labor with his apostolic ministry and thus contributed to the elimination of spiritual and physical hunger in the world. We pray in the name of Jesus, the Lord. Amen.
Infancy and early years
The parents of Salustiano, Don Joaquin and Doña Manuela, lived apart from the political, economic and social situation that prevailed in Spain during those critical times when Amadeo de Saboya was elected King of Spain on November 16, 1870. The nation was engaged in war between liberal and carlistas but Joaquin
and Manuela were involved in their work as farmers and awaited the birth of their son who would fulfill their dream of having two daughters and two sons.
On May 1st, 1871 Salustiano brightened up the humble home of his parents. He was born in Tapia de la Ribera (León) about twenty-five kilometers from the capital of this district and was therefore a member of the Diocese of Oviedo. Tapia de Ribera is located on a small hill that overlooks the Luna river which fertilizes the fields and provides abundant fish to the inhabitants of that area. At the time of Salustiano’s birth Tapia had a population of about two hundred persons who dedicated their life to the cultivation of grains and vegetables, flax and the raising of cattle. Despite the small population the religiosity of the people has provided many vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Already in 1871, every day during the month of May flowers and prayers were offered to the most beautiful and graceful of women, the Virgin Mary.
The day after his birth he was brought to the parish church, Santa Euladlia, where he was reborn through the baptismal water and received the name Salustiano. Taking advantage of the visit of the bishop of Oviedo to the parish, Salustiano was confirmed on July 24th, the same year as his birth. That was the custom during the nineteenth century and there was not the same emphasis that we have today on the matter of catechetical preparation for the reception of this sacrament which strengthens Christians in their ability to give witness to Christ.
Strengthened with the Church’s sacraments, Salustiano and his brothers and sisters, were raised in this healthy environment (healthy both physically and morally). Even though there was a primary school in the village, his parents were his first and the primary educators. His sense of devotion and hard work was inherited from his parents; no one in his family or in the village ate without first working. Dissatisfied with himself and the future that was before him, he moved to the capital of the district of Leon in search of work. At the same time he did not feel that he was called to marriage and so he decided to look for new paths that he could journey along.
In 1893, at the age of twenty two he sought and obtained a position in the Civil Hospital of Leon where he worked as an auxiliary nurse. Even though he did not earn much, nevertheless, he was able to obtain a certain degree of economic independence as a result of his work. But this position did not satisfy his more intimate spiritual aspirations which he had not revealed to anyone. Indeed, the Lord was watching over him and preparing a path for him.
He was able to form relationships with the Daughters of Charity who served the infirm at the hospital where he discovered what would be his definitive vocation. One Sunday afternoon he took advantage of the confidence that the Daughters had inspired in him and he expressed to them his desire to serve in some religious community. The Sisters reacted immediately and proposed that he contact the Vincentian Missionaries so that they could discern with him his desire to enter the Congregation of the Mission as a Brother. At that time the foundation of Villafranca del Bierzo (Leon) did not exist and would not come into existence until 1899 but some of the Sisters were very familiar with and had heard about the excellent work of the Brothers in the popular missions and the seminaries and the residences of the Missionaries and so they suggested that he write to the major superior in Madrid.
The young man Salustiano González has been irreproachable in his behavior
In the beginning of July, 1894, with the guidance and the help of the Sisters, Salustiano wrote to the Visitor of the Missionaries of the Spanish Province, Father Eladio Arnaiz and requested entrance, if possible, into the Congregation. The Visitor responded promptly and affirmatively. Having fulfilled his contract at the Hospital and then after some further prayer, Salustiano decided to travel as soon as possible to the Casa Central in Madrid in the neighborhood of Chamberi and there introduce himself to the community.
On October 28, 1984 he entered the Internal Seminary of the Congregation. Some days before he had bid farewell of his parents and siblings, thinking that he would never again return to this village of his birth and infancy, a village which held many of his fond memories. Unfortunately we do not have any of the correspondence that he exchanged with his parents and other family members.
The administrators at the hospital in León submitted the following brief report to the Congregation: the young man, Salustiano González, has been irreproachable in his behavior and has fulfilled his obligations with great care and with much good will. Father Ramón Arana Echevarría was director of the Seminary and soon discovered that this report, while very true, was hardly adequate in describing the virtuous, hard-working and responsible character of Salusitiano.
After the two years in the Internal Seminary he pronounced his vows on October 29, 1896, but this ceremony did not take place at the Casa Central in Madrid but in the Casa-Misión in Avila, where a few months before he had been assigned and it was there that he completed the time of the Internal Seminary. The Casa-Misión was located in Calle Valseca 2. In a letter dated September 17th, 1896, in a humble tone, he requested permission to take vows. This letter was addressed to the Provincial Superior, Father Eladio Arnaiz and that petition was examined and unanimously approved by the Provincial Council. The superior of the house in Ávila, Father Santiago Caño signed the book testifying to the fact that Brother Salustiano had professed his vows on the date that was mentioned above. Another Brother in the community witnessed the profession of his fellow Missionary in the community.
Without any exaggeration, from the time of his entrance into the Internal Seminary until the time of his martyrdom, his superiors and companions saw him as an outstanding and excellent model of a Brother and highlighted his respect for authority, his simplicity and humility, his piety, his responsibility in his ministry and his spirit of faith which enabled him to see God in the people who surrounded him, especially the poor and the infirm and the seminarians as well as enabled him to find God in the events that marked the rhythm of his spiritual and ministerial journey. His participation in morning prayers (an hour in which he listened to the voice of God) and his visits before the Blessed Sacrament provided an example to many priests who at times were lax in their attendance at community prayer. Faithful to his Christian and missionary vocation, he lived and died as man of integrity, a man who was faithful to the practice of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
Different services in distinct missions
Salustiano’s time in Avila was not long but it was certainly intense and rich in missionary experiences. Beginning with the first mission that was preached in the towns and villages surrounding Ávila, Brother accompanied the priests, assisting them and cooking for them during those mission trips. He participated in all the activities that were programmed during the mission: morning rosary, Eucharist, conferences and sermons. In doing so he gave an example of devotion and commitment before the people. While some of the Missionaries were visiting the infirm and administering the sacraments, Brother tended to the kitchen and other chores that assured the forward progress of the mission. When the missions were completed, everyone, priests and brothers, returned to their residence in order to resume their obligations in the house and also to prepare for the next round of missions. Brother provided material services and also was responsible for the care of the chapel in the house.
During his free time Brother enjoyed walking and visiting the various sites in Avila: the house in which Teresa was born and the parish church of San Juan where, according to tradition, she was baptized, the Monastery of the Incarnation (outside the city), and the Monastery of San José (the first foundation of Teresa). He enjoyed praying before this holy woman whom he often asked to intercede before God on his behalf, requesting above all the gift of prayer (Teresa was very dedicated to the cultivation of her prayer life). The prayer of Brother Salustiano was one of simplicity and it was because of that characteristic that the Spirit revealed to him the secrets of the Kingdom which are hidden from the learned and the wise of this world.
After two years, his superiors transferred him in 1898 to the Casa in Valdemoro (Madrid) … this house had been erected in 1897. There Brother continued to develop the same ministry that he had exercised in Avila, but here, he also cared for the infirm Missionaries. At this time the Daughters of Charity had two residences (San Diego and San Nicolás) which Brother visited and where he also helped in caring for the elderly and infirm Sisters (thus once again engaging in the work that he done at the hospital in León). He would remain in Valdemoro for two years and the people there admired his dedication to the infirm Missionaries and Daughters.
In 1900 he was transferred to the Canary Islands and was incorporated into the community of La Laguna (Tenerife), taking charge of the maintenance work at the Diocesan Seminary while the priests took on the role of administering the seminary. He did not cease, however, his ministry with the popular mission teams and thus participated in the missions that were being preached in the Canary Islands. Brother Salustiano was a vital member of these missionary campaigns in which his example and efficiency were a powerful example to the people who participated in these mission.
In 1906 he remained in the Canary Islands but was transferred to the house of Santa Crux de Tenerife where he would spend many years (1906-1928). He never showed signs of weariness in his work or in his ministry. He revealed his love for God with the strength of his arms and sweat of his brow (CCD:XI:32) … something that he learned from Saint Vincent de Paul. During the twenty-eight years that he lived on the island of Tenerife he never visited the peninsula (and this did not cause him any anxiety). He preserved that good spirit of the people who worked and lived in Leon (people who cultivated the land but also kept their eyes raised heavenward) … and this spirit kept him faithful to his vocation and to his evangelizing mission. He rejoiced in his role as the servant of servants and people were grateful for his ministry and admired him.
Very unexpectedly he was transferred to the Theologate in Cuenca where he remained during the years 1928-1930 and there he was involved in the ministry of maintenance at the seminary and did the buying for the house and helped the students. There also both his superiors and the students esteemed and admired him. He would spontaneously offer to help whoever was in need and it was because of this that so many people loved him and knew that they could depend on him when they needed assistance … and indeed he never hesitated to help someone and never expected anything in return.
In Oviedo, “he was most zealous in teaching the catechism to children”
Finally, his last mission: the Diocesan Seminary in Oviedo. He arrived there in 1930 to undertake the ministry as cook and porter. Even though this might sound repetitious, nevertheless we state here that he was very empathetic and his goodness and his simplicity enabled him to relate with the poor and with the seminarians in whom he tried to see Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest. One of his companions stated: He went out of his way to provide for the poor with the limited resources that he had. Another person said: I will always remember the zeal with which Brother taught the catechism to the children who came to front door of the seminary.
A third person, the Rector of the Seminary in Oviedo, Father Modesto Churruca, wrote to the Director of the publication, Anales de la Congregación de la Misión, and spoke about Brother’s kindness and helpfulness as he related with the seminarians, a gesture that showed the seminarians how they had to be sensitive to others in their own ministry as priests: During one of the cruel tortures that took place in front of the firing squad, Brother González raised his arms in the sign of the cross and covered the seminarians with his body crying out in supplication, “Kill me, I am not worth anything, but allow these young men to go free because they can do much good!”
The circumstances of his martyrdom coincide with those of Father Tomás Pallarés and for that reason we will not restate them here. In the different prisons and jails where he spent time he did not hide the fact that he was a Brother in the Congregation of the Mission, in fact he publically professed his religious identity with a holy pride and at the same time offered to sweep and do the most lowly tasks. On October 13, 1934, Brother Salustiano was martyred a few hours after Father Pallarés … that day both fought the good fight in the name of their faith and professed their love for the Lord. Neither during the time of their short lives nor during the time of their approaching death did they separate themselves from God. They loved Christ above all the visible and transient realities of this world.
As a posthumous tribute we take the opportunity to restate here the rather concise and well-spoken testimony of one of the witnesses: I dealt with Brother at different times. He was very kind and reserved … not a man of many words. When the religious revolution began here in Oviedo on the first Friday of October, 1934, the communists apprehended Brother at the Diocesan Seminary. He was taken as a prisoner to the former Jesuit school that is now the Instituto Nacional de Enseñanza Media (the National Institute of Secondary Education). There the communist blew up the building with dynamite and Brother Salustiano perished in this tragedy.
His life that was founded on human and gospel values would have gone unnoticed, like the lives of so many other witnesses of the missionary Christ, if it were not for the fact that martyrdom crowned his ministry, a ministry that had involved countless gestures of charity and acts of faith and love. He always walked in the presence of God, along the path of silent obedience … and he walked in this manner until the final day of his life. Then God revealed to him the greatness of the Kingdom and the greatness of his vocation of service on behalf of the poor.
[This biography, which can be found in Spanish on the website of the Madrid Province (http://www.paulesmadrid.org/), is an adaptation of the work done by Antonio Orcajo, CM and published by Editorial La Milagrosa, Madrid in the year 2012 under the title Misioneros Paúles Mártires de la Revolución Religiosa en España: 1934-1936 and translated into English by Charles T. Plock, CM].