Blesseds Rita Dolores Pujalte and Francisca Aldea

These two nuns, martyrs of the Spanish Civil War, were beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 10, 1998. The following is excerpted from L’Osservatore Romano, published on the day of their beatification:

Rita Dolores Pujalte Sanchez was born in Aspe, Spain, on February 19, 1853. Her parents, Antonio Pujalte and Luisa Sanchez, gave her and her four siblings a deeply Christian upbringing. As a young girl she was a model of piety and apostolic activity: she belonged to the Daughters of Mary, the Third Order of St. Francis, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and was a catechist as well.

In 1888 she entered the Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and took her temporary vows two years later. Highly esteemed by her community, she was given positions of increasing responsibility; the foundress, before dying in 1899, recommended that Rita be elected Superior General, which the community did in 1900. Mother Rita served as Superior until 1928, when she retired to devote herself to prayer and contemplation at St. Susanna’s College in Madrid.

Francisca Aldea Araujo was born in Somolinos, Spain, on December 17, 1881. Orphaned at an early age, she was accepted as a boarding student at St. Susanna’s College. At the age of 18 she entered the institute’s novitiate and made her temporary vows in 1903. She was assigned to teaching and fulfilled this task with great dedication until 1916, when she was elected assistant and, later, general secretary. She was at St. Susanna’s College when the religious persecution of the Spanish Civil War began.

Their Martyrdom

On July 20, 1936, the revolutionaries attacked St. Susanna’s College, battering the doors and firing shots. All the sisters, aware of the danger, were praying in the chapel; they had recited the Rosary and were commending their souls to God. The superior asked the soldiers to allow Mother Rita, aged 83, blind and infirm, and Sr. Francisca, who was also ill, to leave. The two religious took refuge in a nearby apartment. Two hours later a group of armed revolutionaries dragged the two frail sisters down the stairs, put them in a car and took them to a Madrid suburb, near the town of Canillejas, where they made them get out of the car and then shot them.

The next day the doctors performing the autopsies were astonished that the bodies were not stiff and were emitting an indescribable perfume. When the bodies were exhumed in 1940 to be taken to the Almudena cemetery in Madrid, the doctors and other witnesses said that the bodies were still flexible and retained the color of a living person. Given their reputation for holiness, in 1954 their still-uncorrupted bodies were taken to Villaverde, near Madrid, and placed in a chapel of their institute’s college.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Apollonaris (of Ravenna) (79), Bishop and Martyr, disciple of St. Peter

St. Jerome Emiliani (1537) – Patron Saint of orphans and abandoned children

St. Margaret of Antioch (304) – Virgin and martyr; Patroness of those suffering from kidney disease