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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It happened what Father Félix feared. Government agents discovered the Apostolic School and Novitiate.  But they accepted a bribe and did not report them.  Father Félix did not know the Mexican words to designate that type of transaction.  He wrote to Father Iturbide:

‘If we continue working by giving alms to the police, I thank the Divine Providence with all my heart.” 

In a letter to the students in Rome he told them: 

“Our church in Morelia is closed. The two fathers live in different homes; they do not dare get together because it could be even more dangerous. But from where they are, they do good to a lot of people.” 

"In our church of “Los Remedios”, Father Ramón del Real has behaved very courageously, and in certain cases, heroically.  He has not wished to abandon the parish despite the danger of imprisonment or something worse. He has continued to administer the sacraments there and in a neighboring parish whose pastor disappeared months ago. 

"As for Santa Clara, now the priest cannot even get near there for fear of being imprisoned.  He is hiding in Mrs. Cabrera's house." (February 1, 1928). 

A year later, due to the pressure of the "Cristeros", who were increasingly strong and victorious, the government decided to look for peaceful solution to the religious conflict. And so on the 21st of June, 1929, the “agreements” were signed between interim President Portes Gil representing the government and Bishops Pascual Díaz and Leopoldo Ruíz representing the Church. Those agreements were not in the least favorable to the Church. The adverse laws were not modified at all. Very limited freedom was granted for worship. Why were the agreements signed? Why were the Cristeros told to lay down their weapons when their movement was on the way to overthrow a government repudiated by more than 95% of the Mexican people? 

It would take a long time to explain all of this. What is certain is that the order came from Pius XI, who based his decision on the information presented by certain Mexican bishops. Their argument was that "since the government was seeking peace, the Church ought to support it to avoid more bloodshed." 

Later, Pius XI himself wrote an encyclical (Acerba nimis) in which he bitterly laments the religious persecution in Mexico and the lack of compliance with the agreements reached in 1929. But it did not do any good. It was too late. The political mistake of three years before could not be remedied.

We can hardly understand the suffering which Father Félix underwent because of that prolonged religious persecution which lasted from 1914 until 1937, shortly before his death. We have to consider in realistic terms what it meant to live hiding in someone else’s home, without being able to take good care of his Congregation, or gather new vocations or exercise his ministry. How he must have suffered when his churches were closed, his sons dispersed and his whole Work threatened... And this, day after day and year after year living constant ups and downs in a foreign country. 

However, in his letters we find no complaints, but rather a complete acceptance of the will of God, trust in Him, prayers for his enemies, gratitude to the Lord for having granted him the blessing of being persecuted for His sake, and the sincere desire to be a martyr. 

The example which Father Félix left us is that of a person who knew how to translate into the reality of his daily life his offering to the Father in Heaven to be a victim in union with Christ, for the salvation of all; but with simplicity, optimism, with joy, "with much pleasure", as he frequently said. 

The following are some randomly selected lines from his letters corresponding to the period we are analyzing: 

"Mexico is suffering a very difficult test. We are living through sad times, but we have faith in God. This Work, these vocations are His. How could they perish?" (To the students in Rome). 

"We have five houses that only God can preserve from total ruin given the law governing the confiscation of property. For my part, I am ready to say AMEN to everything God wants, and I will say it smilingly because God is infinitely fatherly and what He permits will be for our greater good. I see a furious wave approaching. But perhaps it will be the last one. And, if not, may God's will be done; I say it with all my heart." (Letter to Father Rieu). 

"It is said that a great crisis is approaching. But... Does anything happen without God permitting it?  All we need is patience, love and trust.  Jesus will take care of us and nothing will happen. Who is there like God?" (Letter to Father Iturbide). 

"Jesus has left us under the power of His enemies until this Holy Week. May His will be done! And may He who pardoned the good thief, also give them an opportunity to repent, and pardon them the many evil they have done. The mercy of God is infinite and reaches all." (Letter to Elisa García). 

"The Mexican soul had never been revealed as heroic and full of faith. But the persecution is becoming daily more cruel. Many are afraid, and I too have a thorn stuck in my heart, namely the fear of seeing the novitiate and Apostolic School closed and the boys put out on the street. But the Father is more powerful that all of them. If He punishes us, we richly deserve it. If He purifies us, it is out of love. But I feel sorry for those who now serve as His stick to punish His children. Let us keep them in our prayers; I do so with all my heart. They also are our brothers, may Jesus forgive us all." (To the students in Rome). 

"Mexico is being physically and morally martyred. The persecution is causing so much suffering! I am not concerned about the humiliations and grief which we have gone through; what pains me is the many souls that are lost because of it." (Letter to Father Angel Oñate). 

"Currently the house in Morelia is the hardest hit, but they are all happy and smiling. God our Father takes care of us. Therefore we are taken care of.” (To the students in Rome). 

"Although we are internally full of anguish, we accept this trial joyfully because our Lord has told us that we will be blessed if we are persecuted for His sake. What consoling words! They fill us with encouragement since it is only because of Him that we are being persecuted right now." (Letter to Alice Calamy). 

"I have to remain in hiding because they are looking for me. It is very sweet to be persecuted for being a disciple of Jesus. I feel calm and at peace. Ando also happy, why not? If I see myself persecuted, it is because I belong to him." (To Blanche Giraud). 

"I move around a lot, because the Masons persecute mercilessly those who serve the Church. Since the persecution started in 1929, more or less 150 priests from this country have received the crown of martyrdom. A thousand times blessed those who share this fate! They have already warned me about it.  I wish that happiness with all my heart, although I do not deserve it." (Letter to Alice Calamy). 

"Humanly speaking, there is no way out of this situation. But we have faith in God who has intervened thousands of times throughout history in favor of those he loves.  They tell us now that we will be living tragic because of the triumph of socialism and atheism. If this is so, the only request we can make is that God give us the strength to resist even until martyrdom or exile, or any kind of persecution, and thus we will follow the Lord even more closely." (Letter to Rev. Mother Isabel Padilla OJS). 

"I had to come here to hide until the tempest blows over. If this continues to get worse and they take everything from us, God be praised, because we know and firmly believe that everything comes from God and we also know that the trials He sends to those He loves are for their benefit." (To the novices). 

He writes the following to the Superior of a religious congregation of women: 

"You are also persecuted solely because you are Christ's. I know that your house has been reported. Happy you and happy us! Happy those of us who suffer for the sake of Jesus because our reward will be very great. We want whatever the Lord wants, everything He wants. So we are not going to tell Him, Lord, deliver us from this or that.  No. Everything He wants is what you and we want. Isn't that so?" (To Rev. Mother Isabel Padilla). 

"The missionaries of the Holy Spirit are seriously threatened everywhere. But I see them calm. They know everything comes from God and God is our Father. If they take everything from them and persecute them with cruelty, they will accept it. Persecution is a very great grace; it is the pledge of immense favors for the future if we accept it as we should. (To the students in Rome). 

Despite everything that has been said, and thanks to those "agreements", the years 1930 and 1931 were reasonably favorable to the Church and the Congregation. In fact, it was in 1931 when Father Félix could finally organize well the "House for Priests", intended to offer spiritual and material help to priests. This house, situated in Coyoacán, continued to give excellent service until the 15th of April, 1936, when the government confiscated it. 

One the 7th of December of the same year (1931), Father Félix agreed to have the missionaries of the Holy Spirit staff the church of San Felipe de Jesús, located in Avenida Madero 11, in the heart of downtown Mexico City. 

Father Félix' letters help us understand how the community was developing during these years, in 1930 he wrote: 

"We are now 115 (counting the students of the Apostolic School, novices, students and priests). What small numbers in 16 years! But I thank God because I think that everything we have done is solid." (Letter to Teresa Lozano). 

In 1931 he writes: 

"Things are going very well here and we are living in relative peace. Our Lord blesses our Works, and they grow despite great difficulties. We are already 135. The spirit of our young people is excellent, thank God. We are planning new foundations as soon as our new priests arrive from Rome." (Letter to his niece Yvonne). 

In 1933 he writes: 

"We number 154, of which 17 are in Rome completing special studies. They had never had such good grades before.  I continually thank God for having blessed their studies in this fashion. They are the future. In all our houses I find fervor and full observance and a great love for Our Most Holy Mother." (To Teresa Lozano). 

On the 13th of October of this year (1933) he wrote to a novice as follows: 

"I established this foundation without resources, and I did not have to look for handouts because our Lord, with the tenderness of a mother, sent everything we needed every day and we never lacked food, or dress or anything. And that constant intervention of Jesus was not felt only in the beginning but rather has lasted until today. And as the number of members of the Congregation has grown, so have the resources He has sent. What admirable things, how grateful must we be to Our Lord!" (To Brother Ramón López). 

In 1935 he wrote to Archbishop Leopoldo Ruíz the following words: 

"Three new missionaries have just been ordained. We now have forty priests. Blessed be God! The formation has been long, but we are sure that it has been solid". (August 13, 1935). 

In 1936 he writes to the Superior General of the Marists, his friend, Father Ernesto Rieu: 

"This year, which has been rich in crosses, is about to end. This small Congregation has lost its principal houses. The Government confiscated the apostolic school, the novitiate, and the house for students of philosophy and theology. But the vocations have increased and we are forming them well. We are almost 200 and we thank God for having helped us so mightily these first 22 years, because although trials have not been lacking, God's consolation has been superabundant." (December 30, 1936). 

In his previous letter, Father Félix refers to the new religious persecution of President Cárdenas, which lasted until 1937, and which stripped the Congregation of almost all its houses. The year 1935 was the worst of the persecution. 

The 25th of March of that year, (1935), Father Félix wrote: 

"Here we are, half defeated. The students of the apostolic school are staying in a temporary location, the students of philosophy in another and the students of theology in a third. They number 130 altogether and we have not lost a single vocation. All of them have demonstrated their love for Christ and for His Cross. Happy are those persecuted for the sake of Christ, because their reward will be very great! 

"I have visited the 52 boys of the Apostolic School, and I see them happier and more determined than ever. This is a blessing from God. Education in times of persecution is more solid and effective because the learners see heroic examples which are forever engraved in their memory." (Letter to Father Angel Oñate). 

Towards the end of May, Father Félix described the state of things in the following way: 

"The situation remains the same. But it is a great joy; a blessing that they take away our houses, furniture, beds, clothes, etc....only because we are Christ's. I have not heard a single complaint.

They all have had to suffer: sleeping on the floor, and having few clothes and little to eat, etc. From the house in Rome we have been congratulated for having overcome the trials. And we feel happy and know that Jesus is pleased. We are not considering leaving Mexico because we have found good vocations here, a living faith, very Christian families, good education, people already formed for the religious life." (Letter to Blanche Giraud. May 5, 1935). 

He tells his spiritual director: 

"We have resisted the persecution, pardoning those men from the bottom of our heart, and commending them to God. We have suffered much, but lovingly. 

"The Apostolic School is now experiencing the worst trials, but we have not lost a single vocation. Our boys have understood that being persecuted for the sake of Our Lord is a blessing and they have shown themselves to be courageous, happy, optimistic and full of trust in God. They have received excellent grades in school, for which I am grateful to God.  

"Despite so many difficulties, we are moving ahead. There are now 141 of us besides the ones in Rome. Shouldn't we thank God?" (Letter to Archbishop Ruíz, May 30, 1935). 

And how was Father Félix? 

 His strong constitution was very broken down despite his invincible optimism. So much suffering and so many concerns had harmed his health. In Conchita’s diary we find this very telling note: 

"Father Félix visited me again. Each time I find him progressively thinner and holier." (April 1935).

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