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“Neither suffering nor serious illness, neither the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away. Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to him, even unto death.” Pope John Paul II @ Fr.Pro's beatification in Mexico on 25 Sept 1988
He was a man known for his sense of Joy, his humor, his purity of heart, and from childhood onwards an intense and unwavering Faith. He was no long-faced, serious saint, but one who was always ready with a good joke, a humorous story or a song played on his guitar– he even loved to draw comics. Called ‘Miguelito’ by his family he had an irrepressible sense of adventure, often exasperating them with his daring, and seemed drawn to dangerous situations where he would get into mischief. After one particularly bad fall he lost consciousness for many hours, and when he finally awakened to his frantic mother’s prayers, the first thing he asked for was ‘Cocol’, his favorite sweet Mexican bread, and thus gained his nickname!
He was born 13 January 1891 in Guadalupe, Zacatecas, to a mining engineer and his wife, the third of 11 children, and always stood out for his liveliness and wit. At the age of four he barely escaped death when a loving nursemaid overfed him on tejocotes until he grew ill and went into a coma; his parents offered him up to the Virgin of Guadalupe, and he came out of it deaf, dumb, and dazed for nearly a year before he fully recovered– his parents needed many prayers to get the sweet but mischievous boy through his childhood unscathed! He grew to be a handsome young man whom many expected to marry well and follow his father into business, but Miguel was inspired by the faith of his two eldest sisters who took the veil to join the Convent of the Good Shepherd; Miguel renounced everything for Christ his King and entered the Jesuit novitiate in El Llano, Michoacan in 1911.
Miguel studied in Mexico until 1914, when the government’s anti-clerical movement gained ground and priests and nuns practiced under threat of death. The Jesuit brothers trekked through New Mexico and Texas until they reached safety in Los Gatos, CA, and from there were sent to Spain to continue their novitiate. The young priest’s devotion to the Virgin, his deep love of Christ, sustained him during years of the physical suffering he endured: stomach ulcers and digestive complaints grew so intense he was operated on 3 times, and more than once nearly died from malnutrition– through it all he remained devoted, and even amazed his brothers with his jokes. One of his companions, Fr. Pulido, said that he "had never seen such an exquisite wit, never coarse, always sparkling" and remarked that there were two Pros: the playful Pro and the prayerful Pro.
Father Pro was ordained 25 Aug 1925 and was sent to Enghien, Belgium to recuperate from an operation; there he enjoyed preaching to the miners, so familiar to him from his childhood days playing with his father’s crew –his joyful message made many true converts. It was during this time, when he was once more in the hospital, that he heard his beloved mother had passed away, and the yearning to return home became intense. Even though he knew that his country was in political turmoil, he put in a request to return– he felt that he was needed and wanted only to serve his people in their hour of greatest need.
July 1926 Father Pro arrived in Veracruz; Plutarco Elías Calles was now President, and that same month began to vigorously enforce his fiercely anti-clerical Calles Laws, making life dangerous for those priests who chose to still follow their Faith. In some states, all churches were closed, and many clergy were tortured, killed, and some forced to marry. In this atmosphere of violence Father Pro chose to serve covertly, underground, and came under suspicion. It was during this time that his sense of humor and great Faith came to his aid, for he devised many ways to serve the Mexican people, creating clever disguises– mailman, magician, bricklayer, beggar and more-- to go quietly about the city baptizing, giving the Eucharist, praying over the sick, performing marriage ceremonies, even dressing as a policeman in order to get into jails, to hear confessions and offer the Last Rites.
The autumn of 1927 found General Alvaro Obregon campaigning for re-election– now that the Calle’s term was drawing to a close, he threw his support back upon his pal and predecessor. As a parting gesture, Calles intensified his persecution of the Church to its bloodiest heights. One week in October saw 300 of the faithful slaughtered for publicly professing their Catholic religion. On November 13th, as Obregon was driving out to attend the bull fights, a car with four men suddenly pulled up alongside the his Cadillac and one tossed a bomb inside– the explosion shattered the windows, but left no one seriously hurt. Three of the four assailants were captured. During the investigation, it was discovered that the assailants’ car had, only three weeks before the attack, been the property of someone named Humberto Pro, brother to Father Pro.
This was enough to send Father Pro and his brother to prison, even though the bomb-thrower turned up and confessed his crime; it was too late to save the beloved priest. Calles gave the order for his execution, without trial, and, in his belief that a mere priest would weaken and cry for mercy, he had a group of photographers there to record the breakdown– he was to be sorely disappointed. After 10 days in a dark cell, a policeman came to lead Miguel and Humberto to the firing range in the courtyard. The man felt uneasy and asked Father Pro’s forgiveness– the priest threw his arms about the man’s shoulders, saying kindly, “Not only do I pardon you, but I am grateful to you, and I shall pray for you."
Father Miguel Augustin Pro was only 36 years old, dark-eyed, handsome, and completely calm as he walked briskly to the firing range. He asked only to be able to pray, and pictures show him kneeling quietly before his death; he boldly refused a blindfold. With a crucifix in one hand and rosary in the other, he stood before the firing squad, his arms outstretched to form a cross. In a clear, strong voice, his last words were “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, Thou knowest that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” As the soldiers lifted their rifles, he exclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!)
The first volley failed to kill him, so, as he lay bleeding, a soldier came close, bent over him and shot him through the head. Outside the gates, his sister Ana Maria, who had been prevented from seeing him, wept hot tears of grief. Hundreds of mourners followed the martyred brothers’ bodies to the hospital, where their father awaited to receive them. Calles sent out word around the city that anyone who followed the funeral cortege would be arrested– yet, 30,000 faithful accompanied Father Pro’s body to its final rest.
Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro has been a comfort to me in times of grief, helping me to overcome hurdles– it is my wish to share his story with those who need his help. For the many times he has helped me I promised to paint his portrait, which is copied for this article. The photo at the top shows the moment of his death; the cross and Madonna & Child were painted from those he owned; on the chair is his favorite ‘cocol’, and from the back hangs a beautiful sombrero, for, as he said, “If I meet any long-faced saints there, I will cheer them up with a Mexican hat dance!” Go to www.angelilluminations.com to order prints, cards or t-shirts with this image.
You can find out more about Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro at http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/pro/ originally created by his friend Ann Ball, who also wrote his biography (“Blessed Miguel Pro: 20th Century Mexican Martyr” on Amazon). The website is now maintained by a Jesuit brother; it also contains the photos of his death.
For children you can order ‘Jose Finds the King-A Blessed Miguel Pro Story’ Written by Ann Ball, Illustrated by Eileen McCook, on Amazon; or go to http://0307843.netsolhost.com/literature/GLORY_JFK.htm to find ‘Celebrating Miguel Pro’ by Veronica Maria Jarski ,stocked with games, activities, crafts, and more, this is a great way to celebrate the saintly life of Mexico's holy martyr. Look up The Merry Martyr on Google.com to find the online re-published comic book series of Fr. Pro’s life through the Catholic children’s magazine, Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact!