IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STORM
Father Constantino Espinoza
finished the novitiate on June 15, 1918. Now that there were
two missionary priests, the first community outside the
novitiate could be established. Therefore, Father Félix was
happy to accept the offer for them to minister in the Church
of the Holy Spirit in Mexico City (Colonia Escandón,
He named Father Constantino
superior and Father Domingo Martínez vicar and he assigned
three postulants to help them. It was in this beautiful
church that the first missionaries of the Holy Spirit
started exercising their ministry. According to the records,
each one heard confessions three hours a day. The Blessed
Sacrament was exposed every day and people took turns for
adoration. Catechism classes were organized. The
missionaries established the Association of the Apostleship
of the Cross and a constant and numerous streams of the
faithful asked for the services of the priests. They became
known and loved throughout the neighborhood, especially by
the poor, whom they served with great charity.
The next year Father Félix
decided to start an Apostolic School for the boys who were
not old enough to enter the novitiate but who had already
decided to be missionaries of the Holy Spirit.
In one of his trips to
Guadalajara in search of vocations, he wrote to the
"While here, I have felt that
a thorn pierced me as I spoke with several boys who have an
ardent desire to join our Congregation, but cannot be
admitted because they are too young. I did not have the
heart to discourage them. I felt so very sorry for them. So
I told them that soon we would have an Apostolic School for
them." (Guadalajara, May 1, 1919).
On December 8 of that same
year, the first Apostolic School opened in a small house in
Tlalpan (on Calle del Congreso No. 16) not far from the
novitiate. There were only 12 students. The teachers were
the second-year novices who finished the novitiate on the
25th of that month.
The next year (1920), there
would be 27 students, and a year later, 45. Of course, they
had to look for larger quarters.
In five years of effort and
trust in God, with the "incurable optimism" which
characterized him, Father Félix had consolidated the basic
elements for the life and growth of the Congregation: a
seeded of vocations (the Apostolic School), a novitiate to
have them mature, and a church for the pastoral ministry of
the first priests.
However, July 15, 1920 was
the deadline given Father Félix to return to the Society of
Mary. He knew that the Superior General would not agree to
lend him for any more time and that caused him great
anguish, he was aware that the Congregation he had founded
was not sufficiently developed to move ahead without his
support and experience. The bishops who backed him were of
the same opinion. What to do? The only viable solution was
for Father Félix to ask the Pope permission to leave the
Society of Mary and make his religious vows as a missionary
of the Holy Spirit. That was the advice of Msgr. Valverde,
his confessor and spiritual director.
On February 19, 1919, Father
Félix signed a petition asking Pope Benedict XV's permission
to transfer to another congregations. Four archbishops
signed the document. But time passed and the Holy See did
not come to a decision, because one of the conditions
stipulated by Pius X when he approved the foundation of the
Congregation of the missionaries of the Holy Spirit, was
that neither Father Mir nor Father Félix would become
On the advice of the Most
Reverend Mora y del Río, Archbishop of Mexico City, Father
Félix sent a second petition to Rome on September 21, 1910.
Archbishop Ruiz gathered letters of recommendation from 17
bishops which were sent to the Pope together with Father
But, despite the strong
support of the Mexican bishops, Father Félix received the
following letter from the Congregation for Religious:
"...After examining the
motives which informed Pius X's decision, the Holy Father
has thought it convenient not to change it. Therefore, you
must continue to follow your holy vocation in the Society of
(Msgr. Carreti, Rome, February 12, 1920).
Father Félix answered Msgr.
Carreti as follows:
"I feared I would receive
from the Sacred Congregation for Religious the negative
answer you have conveyed to me. I am nevertheless ready to
obey with all my heart the decision of the Holy See.
"If from now to the 15th of
next July, when my permission expires, nothing has changed,
I will return to the Society of Mary, leaving in the hands
of Divine Providence the incipient Congregation of the
missionaries of the Holy Spirit, which I have worked to
establish and nurture for the last six years, time which has
seemed too short to me."
And he wrote to Archbishop
Ruiz as follows:
... You see, my dear father,
that Jesus wants to try me again and make me wait… But I
have complete trust that the answer I have received is not
final. I am at peace despite my internal sufferings. I do
not feel frustrated, because I find it sweet to live
trusting the holy will of God completely." (February 18,
In a letter to Conchita
Cabrera, Father Félix said:
... And I am wholly confident
that I will once again be engaged in this Work and that,
according to the promise of Jesus, I will be a missionary of
the Holy Spirit. But I don't know when and I fear one or two
more years of exile after July 15th... May God's will be
done! I am happy to be able to offer Jesus something
worthwhile; I offer it with great pain but with all my will.
However, I confess that this hard trial is the most
difficult I have had to bear thus far."
Lastly, this is a letter
written to Father Domingo:
"We must have courage and
trust. After all, there is something higher than being an
apostle, and that is being a martyr. There is something
higher than being successful, and that is suffering whatever
Jesus wills. Blessed be God because I have had many
sufferings to offer Him; more than I expected... But it is
incredible how Jesus helps as more as the Cross becomes
heavier. My fate has been to love and suffer, and it makes
me happy." (March 15, 1920)
The Mexican bishops were not
discouraged by the negative answer of Benedict XV. Msgr.
Ruíz, then Archbishop of Morelia, wrote a new petition to
the Holy See. It said in part:
“... In view of the
aforementioned reasons, I humbly request His Holiness that,
if he does not consider it convenient to grant his approval
for Rev. Father Félix Rougier to transfer from the Society
of Mary to the new Congregation of the missionaries of the
Holy Spirit, he might at least kindly allow him to continue
at the head of the Work for another five years, which would
be the minimum time necessary for the Work to become
Pope Benedict XV again
consulted with Msgr. Carreti who had all the facts, and
given the desire expressed by so many Mexican bishops, the
Pope ordered that the Superior General of the Marists be
advised that he granted Father Félix Rougier five more years
to continue consolidating the Work for which he had been
lent by the Society of Mary. Of course, Father Raffin could
not object to an authorization by the Pope.
Father Félix wrote in his
"Thank you, beloved Jesus,
for this happy news! You have expressed your will through
your vicar, and you have given five more years...
I must hurry because time is
of the essence and this work must be established on bedrock.
All along it has seemed to me that hours pass as if they
were seconds, days like minutes, and months like hours."
On the 29th of October, 1920,
His Eminence, Leopoldo Ruíz, Archbishop of Morelia, gave the
missionaries of the Holy Spirit charge of the Church of the
Cross in downtown Morelia. This church was the second area
of apostolic work of the Congregation, and a source of
The first issue of the
magazine of spirituality entitled THE CROSS appeared in
January of 1921. It was established by Father Félix to
disseminate the spirituality of the Cross. Since that time,
The Cross appears every month and is an excellent means of
communication for the missionaries of the Holy Spirit who
enjoy the gift of writing.
Father Félix obtained good
results during the five years granted by the Pope. An
average of 10 novices entered every year, thanks to the
Apostolic School and Father Félix recruitment efforts. By
1924, the Congregation already had 12 priests with perpetual
But the five years were
almost up and the questioning and anguish started again.
Once more Archbishop Ruíz,
Father Félix' spiritual director, insisted that Father Félix'
petition for a final change to the Congregation he had
Circumstances had changed:
Benedict XV had died and so had Father Raffin. The new Pope
was Pius XI and the new Superior General of the Marists was
now Father Ernesto Rieu.
Father Félix presented a new
petition on the 15th of May, 1914, supported by a letter
from the Most Reverend Mora y del Río, Archbishop of Mexico
City. And five months later, all the missionaries of the
Holy Spirit, priests and brothers, wrote the Pope, asking
that their founder be left with them permanently. Five
bishops supported this petition. Similar letters were also
written to Father Rieu.
The new Superior General of
the Marists answered as follows:
“...The very force of things
and of happenings has convinced me that I must not continue
to hold the attitude of opposition of my predecessors.
Therefore, as far as I am concerned, there exists no
obstacle to your projects. You may remain in Mexico until
the Holy See defines your situation". (Letter from Father
Rieu to Father Félix, January 9, 1925).
And finally, a year later, on
the 9th of January, 1926, Pius XI granted Father Félix
permission to transfer from the Society of Mary to the
Congregation of the missionaries of the Holy Spirit. The
prolonged lest of his faith had ended. The Lord's promises
had been fulfilled. Now Father Félix could work in peace for
his beloved Congregation.
But another kind of test
threatened not only Father Félix but also the whole church
in Mexico, and it was the new religious persecution
organized by General Plutarco Elías Calles, who had been
elected President on December 1, 1924. This persecution
became more and more implacable. On the 10th of April, 1925,
Father Félix wrote to his Father:
"We are all fine so far, but
threatened by the religious persecution. The government is
radically socialist and inimical to Catholics.
"Currently we are 106. If the
government were to take over our houses we would need to go
North. I have a place prepared for us. We are ready. But
pray to God that this does not happen because transportation
for 106 persons over 700 miles from here with furniture,
books and everything, would be terribly costly. But I will
do the impossible to save this beloved Congregation. I fear
no sacrifice; Jesus will help us."
In the month of December of
that year (1925), despite the difficult political situation,
Father Félix accepted two other churches to be staffed by
missionaries of the Holy Spirit: the Church of Santa Clara
in downtown Mexico City and the parish of Nuestra Señora de
los Remedios, an old Marian sanctuary located on the
outskirts of the city.
By February 1926, Calles and
his government had exiled more than two hundred foreign
priests. Father Félix hid again in the homes of friends who
were delighted to have him. He wrote the following letter
from one of these homes:
"I learned that government
agents were at the doors of the novitiate yesterday, waiting
for me to leave the building. There was an undercover
policeman, two officers, four soldiers and a car. But since
yesterday afternoon I had left for the place you know. I am
fine and showered with thoughtful kindnesses. I have just
begun my spiritual exercises, in silence for 41) days, until
Easter. I am very much in need of this time of
reconciliation and solitude." (Letter to Mrs. Gil de
Partearroyo, February 23, 1926).
A few days later he wrote as
follows to Father Treviño:
"Things are gelling
progressively worse, but God is with us. His enemies will
only be able to do what He allows them to do. Let us pray
that God will forgive them. I really believe they do not
know why they are doing, as Jesus said from the Cross."
(February 15, 1926).
On July 3, 1926 the so-called
"Ley Calles" (Calles Law) was proclaimed. It ordered the
expropriation of all buildings belonging to the Church and
restricted the number of churches and of priests to that
determined by the governor of each state. It also decreed
the shutting down and confiscation of all convents,
seminaries and Catholic schools.
The Mexican bishops could not
accept that law and in protest they decreed public worship
suspended throughout the country. The 31st of July all
churches were closed. Before that date, Catholics filled the
churches to attend the Eucharistic celebration for the last
time and to receive the sacraments: baptism, confession,
confirmation... Moreover, on July 31, government agents
appeared to take possession of all the churches, which led
to the first clashes between Catholic civilians and
soldiers. This was the beginning of the armed movement of
the "Cristeros" (soldiers of Christ the King), which grew
and became strong throughout the country, supported and
protected by all the people. But the reaction of the
government was very violent and they began to imprison
priests and to exile bishops.
Despite all this, in the log
of the Novitiate we read that 19 novices entered in 1929.
Father Félix left his hiding place often to instruct them as
best he could under the circumstances:
"This week I have spoken to
each of the 34 novices. I find them happy and enthusiastic.
I believe Jesus is happy with them.
"From Sunday on I will be at
the Apostolic School to preach at the annual exercises and
to speak to each student, from Jesús Oria, who is 38, to
Ignacio Navarro who is 10." (Letter to Father Iturbide).
That same year, being aware
that the religious persecution was growing, Father Félix
bought a house of studies in Rome for philosophy and
theology students. The first 10 brothers arrived in Rome the
3rd of November.
In 1927 the Calles
persecution reached the height of cruelty. Father Félix'
correspondence for this period is very interesting:
"Once more I am in hiding. It
is said that Mexico is going to go through the cruelest
crisis now. The fathers in Morelia are living with a family.
The Sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus have
disbanded. Where might they be? The novitiate and Apostolic
School are in grave danger. We are going to spend a very sad
Holy Week." (Letter to Father Alvarez).
"I don't know what will
happen, but we are in the hands of God. My greatest concern
has been to look for practical means to save this Work and
avoid the scattering of all who have grouped around me. I
have met with the most influential bishops who are also in
hiding in this capital city, where it is easier to
disappear. All of them have offered me their powerful help.
So that, even if the persecution were to touch bottom, I
have the practical means to save the Congregation. Blessed
be God, because His fatherly and powerful hand has visibly
protected us."(Letter to Mrs. Mateo Lalor, March 9, 1927).
"Since my last letter things
have not changed. There are new, horrible tragedies. But do
not worry about this news for the worst, the torture and
death of Catholics is the best, most glorious news for this
country, because this blood of martyrs prepares the soil for
"If God should wish our blood
to be the foundation of the Congregation, here we are, ready
for His call. Would that we were to be so lucky and have so
"This very day I am moving to
the novitiate, because I think it is my duty to be there. If
I should fall prisoner I don't think they will exile me;
they will probably shoot me. If Jesus should do me the
immense favor of letting me die because I am his priest, I
commend to you, my vicar, the care of the Congregation. I
would die happily and thanking God because it would be
impossible to find a more desirable and glorious death."
(Letter to Father Edmundo Iturbide, October 6, 1927).
"The situation here is
getting worse. The religious persecution is daily more alive
and bloody. Last week they shot Father Pro S.J., a very
humble and pious priest, a great apostle who never meddled
in politics. I envy him! I sincerely believe that with a
death such as that of Father Pro, I would end my work in a
much better fashion than living on several years and it
would be the only way to make up for all the mistakes which
I have made due to my incompetence since December 25, 1914.
In my night prayers before the Most Holy Sacrament I asked
for the grace to be a martyr and felt much fervor. And this
morning when I celebrated Mass I asked God for this immense
benefit. Will He grant it?
"We have learned from several
sources that my name is on the "most wanted" list of priests
they wish to imprison. I am not going to act imprudently,
but I know that martyrdom is such a great and desirable
grace...We cannot deserve it, but we can lead God's heart to
grant it to us.
"Often I imagine myself to be
there, where Father Pro fell, and I feel calm and happy; I
repeat: happy you! and commend myself to his prayers and ask
Jesus to say yes. I think that the Congregation has a solid
foundation and the plan is outlined in the Constitutions."
(Letter to Father Vicente Méndez, November 28, 1927).
We know that Father Félix'
only wish was to protect and drive forward his little flock.
Only one thing was a higher priority for him: to give up his
life for God. He saw the possibility of martyrdom at close
range and asked the Lord for this grace above all else, as a
supreme testimony of his fidelity and the best way to follow
Christ, his Teacher.