With Archbishop Ibarra's
help, Father Félix began looking for the first candidates to
start a novitiate that would form the missionaries of the
Holy Spirit. Both had agreed on Christmas Day, 1914, as the
official date to declare the foundation started and the
The times were so difficult
that Father Félix could only find two novices to start:
Moisés Lira, a seminarian from Puebla, and a priest from
Mexico City, Father Domingo Martínez.
Given the religious
persecution which happened concurrently with the Mexican
Revolution, the founding took place behind closed doors and
surrounded by secrecy, in a chapel located on top of the
hill of Tepeyac called the Chapel of the Roses. It is
believed that this was the place where roses glow in
December of 1531 and Juan Diego cut them by order of Our
Lady of Guadalupe
It was a very simple
ceremony: the Veni Creator was sung and Archbishop Ibarra
then celebrated the Holy Eucharist. The two novices occupied
the front pew. Behind them were Conchita, two Sisters of the
Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, two Visitandines, and
Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez Icaza, owners of the chapel.
After the Eucharist,
Archbishop lbarra read the pontifical decree authorizing the
founding of the missionaries of the Holy Spirit and ended
with these words:
"In virtue of the powers
vested in me by the Holy See, I declare the Novitiate of the
Congregation of the missionaries of the Holy Spirit
canonically open. Father Félix, here present, will be the
Master of Novices. Respect, love, and obey him, dear
novices. He will teach you the genuine gift of the Cross,
and will make you good religious. May Jesus bless you, as I
Then, kneeling before the
image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Father Félix and the two
novices said the following prayer:
"Most holy Mother, we place
in your hands this humble Congregation, born on the same day
that the Church commemorates the birth of your Son, Jesus.
Accept it as your own and help it to grow and develop".
Archbishop Ibarra returned to
his hiding place. Father Félix wrote the following in his
“We all left that beloved
chapel very moved and thanking God. We were very careful so
as not to compromise the owners."
Conchita also wrote in her
"I do not know how to express
the joy and gratitude my soul experienced. Blessed be you,
My Lord! How true it is that those who believe in You will
not be disappointed!
"Father Félix was beside
himself with joy and Father Domingo and Brother Moisés were
also very happy. That afternoon I paid Archbishop Ibarra a
visit and he was radiant with joy."
Archbishop Ibarra had bought
a little house on Av. Tepeyac No. 14 to lodge the poor
pilgrims from his archdiocese who came to visit Our Lady of
Guadalupe. He was happy to lend it to the fledgling
Congregation as its novitiate. Father Félix and Brother
Moisés went there after leaving the chapel. Father Domingo
could not join them until a week later.
The little house was empty.
Father Félix and the novice went to find something to eat.
Upon returning to the house, the Novice Master gave Moisés a
paper with the schedule they would follow and a bell he
should ring to signal the changes of activity. Moisés very
obediently looked at his paper and rang the bell for "the
community", that is, Father Félix, to respond.
In the evening, the Novice
Master sent the novice out to buy something for supper.
Moisés brought two loaves of bread and some cheese. He
spread out a newspaper as a tablecloth; on an empty crate he
put a bottle holding a candle. Then he rang the bell. When
"the community" came, he had to sit on the floor. (I heard
Father Moisés Lira tell this story many times).
Shortly after, Father Félix
wrote to Archbishop lbarra:
"The novitiate has been open
for five days now. They have been five days of internal joy,
peace and trust in God; five days of gratitude to God and to
you, who are our father and our visible Providence. Both of
us are happy here, with the same thoughts and the same
desire for perfection.''
(December 29, 1914).
But the peace and happiness
were short-lived. On January 2, when they had only been
there nine days, a Mexican government official appeared and
asked Father Félix many questions: if he was a citizen, how
many religious lived there, what their occupations were,
etc. Immediately, Father Félix went to speak with Don José
Alvarez Icaza, the owner of the Chapel of the Roses, who in
turn sent Father Félix and his novice to a house he owned in
downtown Mexico City, on Sta. Teresa Street, No. 105 (now
Guatemala). The Sisters of the Cross gave three beds for the
two novices and the Novice Master. Father Félix wrote in his
"I feel happy to be as poor
as Jesus was. I have nothing. I have to accept everything."
Father Domingo Martínez
finally arrived on January 8, and Father Félix told his
"I am happy because the
number of novices has doubled, (we now have two). We follow
the schedule as if there were thirty in the group, and this
But "paradise" did not last
long because in those days Carranza's troops launched a
great offensive against Villa and Zapata. On January 27
General Obregón recovered Mexico City and the horrors of
religious persecution began all over again. Because of this
situation, Archbishop lbarra ordered Father Félix and his
novices to move to a safer place.
Antonio Paredes lent Father Félix some rooms in a country
home owned by the Archbishopric of Mexico City in the nearby
town of Tacuba and the pilgrim novitiate sought refuge
In the Book of Chronicles
started by Father Félix, on the page which corresponds to
February 19, we read the following:
"Today, at 10 a.m., all
priests in Mexico were asked to go to City Hall by order of
Commander Cesáreo Castro "to receive instructions." They
were treacherously imprisoned and a ransom of half a million
pesos was demanded in exchange for their freedom."
Luckily, neither Father
Domingo nor Father Félix responded to the "instructions" of
The following day the French
Minister told all French priests residing in Mexico that the
Mexican Government had set February 22 as the deadline for
them to leave the country. That same day Father Félix wrote
to Archbishop lbarra:
"...Happy are we who suffer
because we are of Christ. This is an invaluable gift. But
now, what do we do? I am willing to do whatever you tell me.
Should I hide somewhere? Should I leave for Havana or some
other place? My novices are ready to go with me wherever you
say. They do not want to interrupt their novitiate for any
reason whatsoever. I await your orders and will carry them
out gladly and willingly."
Archbishop lbarra decided
that Father Félix should leave the novices in Tacuba and
hide in a school run by Miss Clementina Bordes on Arenas No.
A few days later Father Félix
wrote to Archbishop Ibarra:
"My beloved father: Here I
am, hiding in a place known to you. I am alone all day long,
praying for my novices. I am making a kind of retreat,
spending a great deal of time with the Holy Spirit. I have
learned that the priests have not been freed. The Marist
Fathers who ran the school for girls were exiled yesterday
morning; the ones from San Lorenzo did not show up and are
hiding; the priests from Veronica School obtained letters
from Mr. Palavicini (Minister of Public Education)
"I write to the novices
daily. I am certain they will be very faithful in keeping
their rule and doing the work I planned for them in great
Luckily, it was possible to
obtain a document from the French Consulate for Father
Felix, which certified him as a teacher of the
France-English School, (located on Veronica Street), which,
as mentioned above, enjoyed the support of the Minister of
Public Education whose sons and relatives studied there. As
Bishop Martínez used to say: "In Mexico the prophets are
more important than the law..." Father Félix returned to the
novitiate on February 28, and everything remained "normal":
the comings and goings of the soldiers, the shots of the
followers of Carranza and Villa, and the generalized hunger
which pervaded the city because of the interruption of
transportation and the closing of many markets.
Father Félix greatest need
was to find more vocations, He had thought it would be
possible to make his work known in seminaries and Catholic
schools, but the government had closed them down. Moreover,
it was very dangerous for him as a foreigner to move about,
for he could be deported to France together with his
certification. Everything was possible in the midst of a
chaotic revolution which unseated not only Ministers of
Education, but also Presidents of the Mexican Republic...
On December 25, 1915, the
fifth Work of the Cross was a year old. Father Félix wrote
to his Superior General:
"The small novitiate is
coming along, but we only have three novices. If we were not
in the midst of such an uncomfortable state of things which
makes it impossible for me to work, we would already have
twenty excellent vocations. As far as I can see, when God
grants us a much-desired peace, the Work will also progress.
But in these times, it is necessary to exercise patience and
In his reply to Father Félix,
the Superior General commented on his "incurable optimism".
And this was certainly true. The situation was so serious as
to depress anyone, but not Father Félix. Quite the contrary,
his enthusiasm was renewed when Archbishop Ibarra informed
him that he had negotiated with the Superior General of the
Marists permission for him to remain in Mexico another two
Poor Father Félix! The
threats of exile came not only from the Mexican Government,
but also from the decision-makers in his Congregation,
because the Superior and his Council were not of a mind to
lend him for a long time.
When the first two years were
almost up, Father Félix wrote an anguished letter to an
Irish friend who later became a missionary of the Holy
"Please pray for this small
novitiate. It is the seed hidden underground which is
germinating slowly. It is good wheat which promises an
abundant harvest later on. But I have been granted a very
short and fleeting time to work for Jesus planting this tree
of His, which is to bear much fruit. (Letter to young Tomás
Fallon. August 2, 1916).
The "small seed" suffered an
irreparable loss the 1st of February 1917: Archbishop
Ibarra, the father, the protector and the "visible
Providence" of the incipient community died. He had
subsidized the novitiate with his own funds, so now Father
Félix would also have to worry about the financial
Nevertheless, the most
pressing problem was still the lack of vocations. Two and a
half years after its founding, the Congregation only had
three members: the first two novices who had already made
their vows and a new novice, who, as it turned out, did not
Under the circumstances,
Father Félix had to go out looking for more novices in spite
of the dangers posed by the civil war. During 1917 he made
several trips to Puebla, Morelia, León and Guadalajara. He
never lost his "incurable optimism"...
The seminarians in those
cities had to gotten together in private homes to continue
their studies without government interference. Father Félix
could therefore speak with many of them and interest them in
the new Congregation.
On August 27 bad news awaited
him when he returned from one of his vocation-seeking tours:
the Mexican government had decided to expropriate the house
where he lived with the students because it belonged to the
Miss Dolores Sáinz offered
him a house she had in Tlalpan and the itinerant novitiate
moved there, to Calle de la Fama No. 18.
As soon as they were settled
in their new home, Father Félix wrote to a friend in
"We are living in a better
house, in the quiet of Tlalpan.
"It is very silent here; it
almost resembles the solitude of a desert. And Jesus is in
our midst, in His humble tabernacle, with this group that
loves Him and is willing to give their life for Him".
(Letter to Fr. Treviño).
Father Félix hoped to find
many vocations in Morelia. In his Memoirs he wrote:
"Morelia is a kind of
"promised land" for me because of the excellent vocations I
He had in mind a good group
of seminarians who decided to join the novitiate of the
missionaries of the Holy Spirit. It happened that about that
time, a strong epidemic of "Spanish fever" developed in
Morelia. Many seminarians became ill. This led the
vice-rector of the diocesan seminary, Bishop Martínez, to
make the following comment:
"If things don't change, this
poor seminary will be done in by the Spanish fever and the
Of course, the "French fever"
referred to Father Félix.
On Christmas, 1917, the third
anniversary of the foundation, seven young men joined the
novitiate, making a total of eight, since one was there
already. And henceforth the numbers grew. Father Félix had
to dedicate every minute of his time to form these young
men, so much so that he wrote the following to a
benefactress of the seminary:
"Perhaps you thought I died
because I have not been to see you. The truth is that I no
longer make visits or perform exterior ministries. I have
closed my doors and have not gone knocking on others, even
to ask for a crumb when we were in need, because I have
given myself in body and soul to the work the Lord has
entrusted to me and for which some day I will have to
answer." (June 1st, 1918).
He wrote as follows to his
"I will tell you about the
blessings God has showered on this Work, which it was His
will that I begin in Mexico. I think that now, after almost
four years of honest effort, the Work is definitely moving
ahead. The ten novices I have are so good that I would not
change them for French vocations, unless these were very
select ones. This house is a bit of heaven, where the ideal
of the monastic life is realized: work, prayer, silence,
modesty, charity, kindness, obedience, a great deal of
meditation, punctuality at all times. Nothing is missing.
How greatly has the Lord blessed this work. And to think
that it has been implemented in the midst of this terrible
religious persecution! When all communities were closing
their novitiates, I was opening mine... And excellent people
have come to us, and other very good ones will continue to
come. I see the hand of God clearly in all of this" (August
Another letter which Father
Félix wrote on the 29th of April, 1918, to his Superior
General, gives us a glimpse of the reality our founder was
"I received a letter from
Archbishop Leopoldo Ruíz yesterday. He tells me that he has
just written to you, with my approval, asking that you grant
me two more years to continue working on this foundation.
You know that I am wholly devoted to obedience and will do
without hesitation whatever you say, because I wish to do
nothing other than the will of God.
"However, it seems to me that
the permission sought by the Mexican Bishops is very
reasonable since currently there is no one who could take my
place in the formation of novices and, humanly speaking, my
leaving at this time would perhaps cause irreparable harm to
this Work, which is still in the initial stages.
"Besides the formation of the
novices, I have to look for housing for them, food, clothe
and take care of them when they become sick, see to it that
the newly-professed and the second-year novices work; and I
have to work very hard to recruit new vocations, which is
vital. I know that my efforts in the area of recruitment
have to be very serious and careful, for I am setting the
foundation for the future.
For all these reasons, I am
ready to give myself totally to this Work, if you think it
convenient to give an affirmative answer to the bishops'
The Superior General of the
Society of Mary answered this letter as well as that of the
Bishops explaining, "he would lend Father Félix for two more
years only and no longer, that is to say, until the month of
It must have been really
uncomfortable for Father Félix to work for periods of two
years at a time, without knowing if the permission would be
renewed. Without a doubt, this situation favored his not
becoming too attached to this Work and considers it his own.
For a man who knows how to give himself with all enthusiasm
to the realization of an ideal, it is easy for the work
itself to fill his heart so much so that God is displaced.
And God does not wish this. The holiest works lose their
value if they are not done exclusively for Him, with him and
For Father Félix it was
spiritually healthy to always feel he was there on a
temporary basis, and always "in the hands of obedience",
ready to leave everything if that should be God's will.
More than a year went by...
Father Félix continued working intensely and he felt time
slipping through his fingers.
He was concerned about the
spiritual progress of his novices, as well as his own. On
the 4th of October, 1919 he wrote thus to his spiritual
director, Father Valverde, as follows:
"I have been wanting to write
a long letter to you, my dear Father, to bring you up to
date about me and this Work, but I have found it very
difficult to take the time because of so many urgent and
diverse occupations, which require my attention...
"I will write about me first;
that way, the rest of the letter will concern interesting
"I am not progressing. I am
still as disorganized as ever. I do not pray well. When I
speak to the novices, I resemble fire, but I am really ice.
However, I do not feel I'm a hypocrite because I really want
to mean what I say and I am determined to implement it
although I may not be able to carry it out. I am a man of
good will who does nothing of what he ardently wishes to do.
That is why I feel absolutely poor before God, and I beg you
to feel sorry for me and pray to Jesus for me.
"Regarding the novitiate, we
currently have 18. They all have the true spirit of the
Cross and wish to acquire the Christian virtues in all their
perfection: obedience, humility, charity, poverty, purity
and perfect abnegation. Bless them and commend them to