Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, SJ: “I Am Ready to Give My Life for Souls”

Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro endured many challenges during the two years of his priesthood: poor health, physical and emotional suffering, and persecution. Yet he persevered and became a martyr who is recognized by the Church for his holiness.

Miguel Pro was born on January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Zucatecas in Mexico. He was the oldest son of a mining engineer and a homemaker. Miguel was one of seven children; three of his siblings died while still very young. At age four, Miguel developed a serious illness that caused a high fever and pain, and left him unable to speak. Doctors were unable to help him. One day, his father held him before a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe and prayed, “My mother, give me back my son.” Miguel suddenly recovered and requested cocol, a favorite type of bread. The doctors considered his cure miraculous. Years later, Miguel signed his letters as “Cocol,” when disguising his identity as a priest during the time of persecution in Mexico.

Miguel was a cheerful boy who loved music, played the guitar and mandolin, and formed a music group with four of his siblings. He also enjoyed putting on plays with his brothers and sisters, and with his puppet theater. He had a happy home life with his devout, close family. He received his first Holy Communion from St. Matteo Correa, a priest who was martyred in 1927 for protecting the seal of confession.

Miguel learned to love the poor from his mother, who took him to visit the miners and their families when she brought them things they needed and took care of them when they were sick. Miguel and his siblings were first homeschooled by their father, and then were taught by tutors. When Miguel was seven, he and two of his sisters began helping their father in the office on Saturdays. When he was fifteen, he began doing clerical work in the office for his father as a full-time job.

In 1910, one of Miguel’s sisters joined the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Six months later, another one of his sisters entered the same order. At that time, Miguel began to realize that he might have a vocation to religious life as well. In August 1911 at age twenty, he asked to be admitted to the Society of Jesus and was accepted. On August 15, 1913, he made his first vows as a Jesuit. His time in the novitiate was interrupted because of the persecution of Catholics following the Mexican Revolution. After some soldiers vandalized the ranch house on the novitiate property, the Jesuits, dressed in disguises, left their town for Guadalajara. Miguel was briefly reunited with his family. The revolution brought poverty to the Pro Family. Miguel’s father lost his job with the Agency of Mines; the building where he once worked was burned down. The family had to move into one room in a boarding house, and his mother worked to help support the family by giving cooking lessons. In October, the Jesuits left Guadalajara by train for Los Gatos, California with brief stops in Texas along the way. When Miguel said goodbye to his mother, he did not realize that he would never see her again on earth. The Mexican novices could not stay long in California as the residence was not large enough to accommodate them and they could not obtain textbooks in Spanish. In June 1915, they left by ship for Granada, Spain where Miguel and the other novices studied for the next five years. During his time in Spain, Miguel taught catechism to local children and to Gypsies.

Miguel was a joyful person with a good sense of humor. For example, he made the novices laugh when he pretended that the cart he pushed into the dining room was a fast car. However, he was very serious about what is most important: his faith. He was always concerned for people who were sick. When the other novices were sick, he drew them get well cards to cheer them up, and when many of the Jesuits became sick with influenza, he volunteered to help take care of them until he became ill with the flu himself. Miguel experienced much physical suffering as he prepared for the priesthood; he developed headaches and severe stomach pain, but he hid his condition from his brother Jesuits and his family.

In 1920, Miguel was sent to teach at the Jesuit College in Granada, Nicaragua for two years. While there, he played sports and games with the students and taught the servants at the college reading, writing, and math. In July 1922, he returned to Spain to study theology. Two years later, he was sent to Belgium to continue studying theology at the Jesuit philosophy school. He wanted to help the poor as a priest, and while in Belgium, he visited factories and the homes of working people, and studied the Church’s social teachings, including the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII and St. Pius X. On August 31, 1925, Miguel Pro was ordained to the priesthood in Belgium. His family was unable to be there, so he blessed photographs of them after his ordination. In a letter he wrote letter to a Jesuit brother in Nicaragua, Father Pro shared what being ordained a priest meant to him. “God, our Lord, has shown infinite pity to me because in spite of my faults, my imperfections, my sins, he has raised me to the highest dignity on earth. Blessed be he a thousand times! Help me, Brother Frias, to thank him and ask him that I may be a holy priest without putting obstacles in the plans he has for me. With him I do not fear and I shall walk surely wherever holy obedience sends me.”

Father Pro’s health continue to worsen, and in November 1925, he had an operation for his bleeding ulcer, which removed much of his stomach. He was left in great pain after the surgery, the incision did not heal, and he had to have more surgery. While recuperating at the hospital, he learned that his mother had died. He was very sad at this news, but felt consoled because he believed she was in Heaven, and offered a Mass for her. At the end of February, he was sent to recover at a home for sick priests in southern France. There he was able to celebrate Mass every morning, serve at the Masses celebrated by other priests, visit the priests living there, and visit the laypeople in the local towns. Father Pro felt great joy in his priesthood. He wrote, “I bless God for having concurred conferred upon me the great dignity of being a priest. What wonderful happiness one finds in bringing peace to a troubled workmen’s family! What joy in taking Holy Communion to a youngster of ninety-four! What pleasure in sitting under a tree and hearing the confession of an easy-living gardener or of teaching the basic points of catechism to a Communist while kicking the shavings and sawdust of his workshop!”

As it seemed that Father Pro would never regain his health, his provincials sent him to Mexico so he could spend his remaining time with his family. Before leaving Europe, Father Pro was able to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes for one day. His visit strengthened him for his work in Mexico. He wrote, “For me, going to Lourdes means meeting my Mother, talking to her, praying to her. My voyage will not be as hard as I thought it would be. The Blessed Virgin has told me that. Oh, my miserable human nature was finding it hard to go back to Mexico. My health is gone, my studies are finished, my poor country has been destroyed by its governors. I will not even have the pleasure of again seeing my mother who gave me life. I weep for her even than in the midst of resignation and conformity to God’s will. However, my trip to Lourdes has given me fresh courage.”

Catholics in Mexico had been experiencing a time of persecution. The 1917 Constitution made Catholic schools, monastic orders, and public worship outside of church illegal. Foreign priests could no longer serve as missionaries and were deported. Priests could not wear clerical clothing and were not allowed to speak about politics or against government leaders. President Plutarco Calles enforced the anti-Catholic Constitution and took over all of the churches in the country. The bishops decided to suspend all public worship beginning on the day the government ownership of the churches would go into effect. God protected Father Pro, starting with his arrival. The government officials did not check his passport or look into his suitcases. As there was no Jesuit community, he was able to stay with his family. Father Pro was kept very busy offering Mass, hearing confessions, baptizing babies, celebrating marriages, giving Anointing of the Sick to the dying, leading retreats, and bringing Holy Communion to groups of people in private homes. He wanted to live a life of complete selflessness and sacrifice. He wrote, “I am ready to give my life for souls, but I want nothing from anyone for myself. All that I want is to lead them to God. If I kept anything for myself, I should be a thief, infamous; I should no longer be a priest.” God gave him the strength he needed to do this work. His health improved and he said he felt well during this time. He was ordered by his superiors to continue his studies in theology and passed his exams two months before he was martyred. A large part of Father Pro’s ministry in Mexico was in assisting the poor. He and a group of laypeople helped the poor with housing, food, and clothing. He also found homes for some abandoned babies. He wrote the following about God’s Providence: “Who gives the rice, beans, sugar, corn, etc.? I don’t know, or rather, yes, I do know: Mi Padre Dio— because in an infinite number of cases and without my having asked anyone for anything and right when all had run out, I have received gifts of supplies without knowing who sent them.”

Father Pro wore various disguises including that of a mechanic, a university student, and a policeman, and managed to constantly evade notice by the police, who were always looking for priests to arrest. He was aware of the danger and was prepared to be a martyr for the Faith. He wrote, “Would that I might be found worthy of suffering persecution for the holy name of Jesus. Do I not belong to his army? But let us repeat as in the Our Father: “Thy will be done!”

Father Pro’s superiors ordered him to stay in hiding places from time to time. He stayed hidden out of obedience, but was always eager to return to his ministry as soon as possible. He had some near escapes from the police, but his quick mind and talent for acting enabled him to avoid capture. For example, while at a home where he was giving Holy Communion to a group of Catholics, a servant told them that the police were coming. Father Pro asked everyone to go into different rooms and remain silent. He greeted the policeman and accompanied him as they searched the house for the priest, and then as no priest was found, Father Pro left the home, without the policeman ever suspecting that he was the priest they were searching for.

On November 13, 1927, a man named Luis Segura Vilchis and three companions threw two bombs at the car of General Alvaro Obregun, the anti-Catholic president-elect, who was not hurt in the assassination attempt. The car had previously belonged to Father Pro’s brother, Humberto, and was sold only a few days earlier. Realizing that he and his brothers might be in danger, Father Pro and his two brothers went into hiding at a woman’s house. His brothers planned to go to the United States and he hoped to resume his ministry. On November 18, the police arrived to arrest them. They were taken to the basement cell of the police station. During his time in prison, Father Pro prayed the Rosary, sang, and encouraged the other prisoners to pray. Segura Vilchis turned himself into the police and informed them of the Pro brothers’ innocence, but Father Pro and his brothers remained in prison. On November 23, the men were taken from the prison to be executed by firing squad. Calles had invited the media and government representatives to watch. A restraining order had been issued against the execution but the prison officials ignored it. Before his execution, Father Pro professed his innocence, said he forgave everyone, and asked for some time to pray. He knelt to pray, and then refused to be blindfolded, and stood with his arms outstretched like a cross, holding a crucifix in one hand and a Rosary in the other. Before he was shot, he called out, “Vivo Christo Rey!” As he did not die right away, a soldier shot him in the head. It was very clear that Father Pro had been martyred for his faith in Jesus.

Father Pro’s brother Humberto was also killed, but his brother Roberto was allowed to live. Father Pro’s father brought his sons’ bodies home for a wake, and many people came. Soon after Father Pro’s death, numerous people visited his grave and asked for his intercession. His cause for sainthood was formally accepted by Pope Pius XII in 1952, and Father Pro was beatified by St. John Paul II on September 25, 1988. His feast day is November 23.

While we do not experience the same problems as the Mexican Catholics in the 1920s and 1930s, the secular culture which dominates government, media, education, healthcare, and business has values contrary to the teachings of the Church. This can lead to laws and policies which can make some aspects of practicing our Faith more challenging, but no one can stop us from becoming saints. We need to follow the example of Blessed Miguel Pro and the Mexican martyrs and remain faithful to Jesus by persevering in prayer, receiving the sacrament of Penance, participating at Mass, and doing the works of mercy. Blessed Miguel relied on the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and he was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to Jesus as Christ the King. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he came up with creative ways to bring the sacraments to the Mexican people and care for the poor. If we completely trust in Jesus as Blessed Miguel did, He will help us too. We must never stop being a disciple of Jesus out of fear of the world. Christ is our King and Mary is our Queen.

At the end of his life, Blessed Miguel Pro wrote the beautiful prayer below to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which we can pray to ask for Jesus to help us. “Heart of Jesus, I love Thee; but increase my love. Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigor to my confidence. Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee; but so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee. Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine; but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it into practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life.”

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Louise Merrie is a freelance writer on Catholic subjects. Her articles have been published in Catholic Life, Novena Magazine, and the Saint Austin Review. She is the founder of the Community of Mary, Mother of Mercy, an organization in which senior priests and Catholic laity support each other through prayer and friendship in living as disciples of Jesus.

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