Life and Spirituality of Félix de Jesús Rougier

Risking the Future
Life and Spirituality of the
Venerable Félix de Jesús Rougier, M.Sp.S
by Ricardo Zimbrón L., M.Sp.S.



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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, Tacubaya). 

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 novices: 

"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 members. 

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 Félix' petition.

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 Mary." (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, 1920). 

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 stronger." 

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 diary: 

"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 numerous vocations. 

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 vows. 

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 established. 

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 better times. 

"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 much glory! 

"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.

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