Father Vicente Vilumbrales Fuente (1909-1936)
Lord Jesus, you lived and walked among us and you were filled with grace and virtue. Enable us to rejoice in the gifts that you bestowed upon your servant, Vicente and may we seek you above all else. We pray in the \name of Jesus the Lord.
Child of a large family
When Vincent was born on April 5, 1909 in Reinoso de Bureba (Burgos), his parents had already had nine children. Vincent was the “Benjamin” of the family and also the “Benjamin” of the priests of the Congregation of the Mission who were martyred in Spain. On April 18, 1909, he received a second birth as the waters of baptism were poured over him and at the same time he was given Saint
Joseph and Saint Paul as his patrons. His parents, Andrés and Josefa, were teachers by profession and taught in the local school. Josefa had to give up teaching in order to care for her children. Five of her children died at an early age and at that time there was a high infant mortality rate as a result of numerous epidemics, the lack of resources and the lack of medical remedies. Most families lived in very austere situations.
Both parents were faithful in their profession of the Christian faith. Vicente’s mother was known to be a holy woman who was charitable toward people who were poor. Even though there were many mouths to feed and her family not did enjoy an abundance of materials goods, yet Josefa never turned anyone away without giving them some bread and some meat. Aware of her obligations, Josefa knew how to instill in her children piety and the fear of God, as well as respect for all people, especially the poor and the needy. Fidelity to love and compassion, which characterized Vicente, was the gift that he inherited from his mother.
Andrés, Vicente’s father, was an avid reader and commented with neighbors on the national news that he read about in El Diario de Burgos, a newspaper that had been published since 1901. Through this publication he became aware of the fact that Alfonso XIII was proclaimed an adult and solemnly crowned king in 1902. He also read about the celebration of the International Eucharistic Congress that was held in Madrid. One year after the birth of Vicente, Don Andrés spoke with his neighbors and explained to his students the meaning of the proclamation of the Lay del Candado (a law that prohibited the establishment of new religious orders in Spain) which was enacted in 1910.
On April 5th, 1910, when Vicente was one year old, his father was transferred to the school in Santa Cruz del Valle Urbión, a town in the Province of Burgos. Here Vicente grew and received his first education at the hands of his parents. Then in December 1921 he entered the apostolic school in Tardajos. A few months before his entrance into school two events occurred that would have a great impact on Vicente: his mother, whom he loved very much, died on September 21, 1921 and in October, the Vincentian Missionaries from Tardajos preached a popular mission in Santa Cruz. The presence of the Missionaries in the village was memorialized by placing a cross on the wall of the church. The names of the Missionaries were etched in the memory of young Vicente: Father Andrés Gutiérrez and Father José Santos. Don Andrés encouraged his son to become the best possible missionary. At the age of eleven Vicente was taken by his father to the school in Tardajos.
Vicente did not go to the apostolic school alone, but was accompanied by his older brother, José, who because of his age and his preparation was placed one year ahead of Vicente. Their father took advantage of a holiday and traveled with his sons to the school. After having completed one year in the Internal Seminary, illness forced José to withdraw from the community on September 9, 1928.
According to the testimony of his oldest sister, Concepción, who took care of the younger children after the death of their mother, Vicente, as a child, was very happy and communicative, clear headed and even tempered; he was somewhat mischievous, impulsive, but was good-hearted and as a result, loved by all who knew him. He even offered his life to the Lord asking God to restore his brother to health. But God had other plans and his brother, José, died on June 29, 1932 in Burgos. Vicente was profoundly sad at not being able to be present for his brother’s funeral services … the rules at the school did not allow for such absences. The Lord, however, had chosen Vicente and reserved a death for him in Guadalajara, a death at which none of his brothers or sisters would be able to attend. He was buried after his martyrdom and his family celebrated the Eucharist in the parish church where they prayed for his eternal rest. His father, a man of faith, had experienced the death of several of his children but still experienced a profound sorrow at the time of Vicente’s death, a death that with great pain and resignation he offered to the Lord of the living and the dead.
Even though Vicente was late in beginning his studies in 1921 (the semester had already begun when he arrived there), his professors and the superior, Father Manuel Gómez, decided that he did not have to repeat the semester because he had been well prepared in his studies by his father … he excelled in arithmetic, geography, and the Spanish language. He spent another year in Tardajos and then the following year (1923-1924), he and his classmates were transferred to the school in Guadalajara where they finished their studies.
Called to be a Vincentian Missionary
The group of professors had observed Vicente carefully and had no hesitations in presenting him to the Director of the Internal Seminary as a responsible and studious individual, with excellent qualities for ministry (compassionate and out-going to others). His academic record confirmed his outstanding ability with regard to study.
In the midst of a social environment where religion was valued and people lived an austere lifestyle it is easy to understand that many men and women would experience a call to follow Christ in the religious life. With few exceptions, the sons and daughters of large families aspired to be like their contemporaries from other such families: missionaries, friars or nuns … people who dedicated their life to proclaiming the Kingdom of God or to living the evangelical counsels as members of some cloistered group of religious men or women. Those young men who did not join the diocesan clergy were attracted to the different monasteries or Congregations and Companies of Apostolic life and there, as members of those religious groups, sought to live a life of perfection.
With these dispositions Vicente entered the Internal Seminary on September 14, 1926, a time for vocational discernment that precedes the taking of vows. The seminary, located in Hartaleza (Madrid), was directed at first by Father Carmelo Domínguez Montoya and then, beginning in 1928 by Father Adolfo Tobar. It was during this time that the Vincentians celebrated one hundred years of presence in Spain. The seminarians, together with their director, participated in some of the events in the Casa Central in Madrid that were planned for that anniversary.
According to the Rules of the Congregation, at the conclusion of the two years of the Internal Seminary, the candidates will take vows. Therefore, on September 27, 1928, the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul he took his vows at the residence in Villafranca del Bierza (León). In his missionary vocation and his commitment to the poor he tried to imitate Saint Vincent. He also had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. Having lost his earthly mother, he prayed fervently to his Mother in heaven and called upon as the Mother of Mercy and the Mother of Hope.
During these times of reflection and prayer he recognized the need to curb his temperament and his impulsiveness, matters that his sister, Concepción, had spoken about with him when he was still a child. He was deeply touched as he read Vincent’s conferences to the missionaries, his conferences on humility and gentleness and realized that Vincent’s words were directed toward him. Self-control was an on-going struggle during the years of formation and it is safe to assume that this was a struggle until the time of his death. In a brief commentary on the text of Saint Paul that he had committed to memory (None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself … whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s) he wrote in his notebook: I give myself to the Lord forever, in life and in death. In the world that you, Lord, have created there are many people who like me and are attracted to me but I prefer you above all things and above all people.
During his philosophical studies he had time to visit the many famous sites in this area: the church of Santiago, the apostle, the Monastery of Saint Francis Assisi, and many other famous sites. In the Book of Observations it is noted that Vicente took time during his vacation and other moments of leisure to learn new languages, English and French in addition to Greek and Latin (languages that he had learned in the apostolic school). Even though he could only translate a few texts from Saint Luke’s gospel and the Fables of Aesop and a few paragraphs from Xenophon’s Anábasis, nevertheless, in Latin he was able to read the works of the historian César, the orator, Cicero and the poets Virgil and Horace.
In a letter that he wrote to his sister, Concepción (July 2, 1929), he stated: I have bought an English and a French grammar book and another book in French and will use these for my studies. His interest in languages was confirmed during his stay in London where he dedicated himself to the study of the English language. His penchant for the study of philology was undeniable. He enjoyed and found it easy to learn other languages that he felt were necessary in order to communicate with people in a world that seemed to be growing smaller. Often at night he could be found studying some language or some other subject that he enjoyed (especially, Sacred Scripture and more specifically, the New Testament)
At the conclusion of his philosophical studies in Villafranca del Bierzao, Vicente went to Cuenca, to the Seminary of San Pablo where he would spend the next three years studying theology. While he had no enthusiasm for the study of philosophy, nevertheless, he was very excited about theology and saw this as a primary source of material for his future preaching. His daily contact with the Word of God, which he studied in depth, led to a deepening of his prayer and reflection. More specifically, he was incredibly enthusiastic over the study of the letters of Saint Paul and Saint John’s gospel. He was prepared and able to read these in their original language (this gave Vicente a great satisfaction) and this further enabled him to come to a fuller understanding of the revealed truth as well as to engage in dialogues about Biblical exegesis. Using the Word of God as a foundation he was able to draw some pastoral and dogmatic conclusions that he then applied to his spiritual and apostolic life.
During his third year of theology Vicente experienced a wide range of emotions, most probably the result of the approaching time for sacred orders which would be conferred on him one after the other, in a very brief span of time. Thus, at the conclusion of his third year of theology he received the minor orders (today these are called ministries) and these were followed by major orders: September 2, 1934, deaconate; one week later, September 9, 1934, priesthood (with a dispensation from the Holy See). Vicente was ready and willing to proclaim the good news so that the whole world might be won over to Christ. The doctrine on the priesthood that is found in the letter to the Hebrews gave Vicente much material for prayer and reflection.
The newly ordained priest traveled by train to Madrid where the following day, September 10, 1934, he celebrated his first Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. He was accompanied by some members of his family, his father and his sister, Concepción. Immediately after this celebration he was once again traveling, this time to London, to Potters-Bar where he completed his theological studies, acquired some pastoral experience and, as already stated, acquired a knowledge of English. On April 17, 1935 he wrote to his Father from Potters-Bar and stated: Tomorrow, on the occasion of the celebration of Holy Week, I will travel to London where I will remain until Easter Sunday. How wonderful! I will spend three days speaking and listening to English!
A brief ministry as a priest
When Vicente returned from Potters-Bar his superiors decided to leave him temporarily in Madrid here he assisted the director of the publication Reina de las Misiones. Before going to Madrid, however, he took advantage of the fact that the train on which he was traveling would pass close to the home of his father and brothers and sisters and thus he was able to spend some time visiting his family in Burgos. In Madrid he became involved in the administration of the publication mentioned above and wrote some articles. A large group of readers who supported the mission in Calcutta, India (a mission that had been accepted by the Madrid Province in 1922) took responsibility for promoting this publication. This campaign produced hundreds of new readers which included subscriptions from the centers that were directed by the missionaries as well we from people associated with the houses and schools of the Daughters of Charity.
Reina de las Misiones first appeared in 1935 and its purpose was to promote and to provide financial assistance to the mission in Calcutta. Its first director, Father Hilario Orzanco (1935-1939), felt overwhelmed with work and needed a younger collaborator, someone who was efficient and who could stimulate the readers of this publication with interesting article. At the time this persons would suggest themes to the provincial director of the Mission Crusade. In light of this situation, the superiors considered Father Vilumbrales who had recently arrived from London and assigned him to take on those responsibilities. His dedication to this publication did not last very long because in February, 1936 we find him established in the apostolic school in Guadalajara which was lacking professors. The closeness in distance between Guadalajara and Madrid made it easy for Vicente to travel back and forth when his presence and assistance was needed in the offices of the publication.
In Guadalajara he became a professor of languages, especially English and some other subjects. He was also chaplain at the School of Military Orphans in the Palace of the Duke of Infantado. He fulfilled these ministries responsibly and with great joy that seemed to rub off on those to whom he ministered. Formation classes and devotions were combined with sports. His good looks and elegant style and his ease in communication enabled him to win over the young men. Father Vilumbrales had been temporarily assigned to house in Guadalajara but the Marxist persecution there prevented him from going to other places where he might have been able to engage in a more extensive apostolic mission. However, even when he was imprisoned he did not lose his evangelizing spirit and was able to win over people of every age.
Passion and death
On July 26th, 1936, Father Vilumbrales were arrested along with his confreres. They were taken to the Central Prison where they were imprisoned and endured great torture. They found themselves in the midst of a group of about three hundred lay people from the area of Alcarreña. Since so many people could not fit in one room the priests and religious were separated from the lay persons and taken into another room. They remained in that room until December 6th when they were executed in the prison courtyard. Their bodies were then loaded into trucks that traveled along the Chiloeches Road to a pasture where they were buried in a common grave. Who could imagine the fear and trepidation that these innocent men and women must have experienced during those six months of imprisonment? At any moment they might hear their name called out, after which they would be led to their execution.
On December 6th, 1936 Father Vilumbrales crowned his life in Guadalajara. Because of a lack of any more news about his death and the death of his confreres we will not offer any further comments here. We do, however, point out his courage and strength as he offered the supreme sacrifice of his life in order to give witness to his faith in God’s love. His name is written in letters of blood in The Book of Life.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM