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A Soldier Converts - Part 3

Mission to New Spain

Fr. Manuel Souza Pereira, O.F.M.

An excerpt from the book
The Admirable Life of Mother Mariana of Jesus Torres, Vol. 2
Translated and edited by Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

The novice master, a religious still young although practiced in the life of penance, explained my obligations and duties. He explained that the yoke of the Lord was light and His burden sweet, and good will and love sufficed to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ. With this spirit, all difficulties could be easily resolved.

He was a religious who was always austere toward himself, but amiable and gentle with others, leading us, his disciples, so that we hardly felt the austerity of monastic life. However, he never digressed nor allowed us to stray from the exact observance of the Rule in all its details.

I passed three months there in full observance of the monastic life, and my vocation solidified with the passing of each day.

During this period, I asked God to manifest His will for me, for my Superiors wanted to send me to Spain so that I might begin my studies for the priesthood. I also resorted to the intercession of my holy sister, the Spanish Conceptionist Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres, who I would often dream about.

In one of these dreams, she said:
"Manuel, my brother, God does not want you to go to Spain, but to Quito, the Spanish Colony. There, in the city where I lived, you will do much good and offer great assistance to my Convent. Ask that they send you there. I will be your companion. Your soul will profit much more in the New World than in my mother country Spain."
I told all this to the novice master, who promised to pray for me. I continued to entreat Our Lord and His Immaculate Mother, whose most devoted son I am, that They might clearly manifest what was God's holy will for me in religious life, so that I could fulfill it during my pilgrimage on earth and thus merit Heaven, the sole, burning desire of my soul, athirst for eternal happiness.

In my meditations, I would ponder the responsibilities of the Franciscan priests and the sublimity of the priestly Order. This very fact had led my Father, the Seraphic Francis, to refuse to ascend to it. In his great humility, he did not consider himself worthy of priesthood. Thinking of this, I would say to myself: If a person like my Seraphic Father declined the priesthood because of his humility, then what I do, I, who was a soldier and most vile sinner, called gratuitously by the goodness of God to the perfect life through the intercession and prayers of that holy Spanish heroine, the Founder of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception of Quito? Certainly it would be rash and presumptuous for me to nurture the aspiration of calling down God Himself at the moment of the Consecration and holding Him in my hands, hands that had borne and fired arms with dexterity.

St Francis Penitent Sacristry

St Francis, Penitent, a baroque statue in San Francisco Monastery
It would be better for me to be professed as a lay brother who would humbly, respectfully, and at the same time gratefully serve the holy ministers of the Altar, exercising with an even greater dexterity the arms of heavy penance on my rebellious body. In the chronicles of the monastery, I had read that there were innumerable lay brother saints in the Franciscan Order. Why could I not be like one of them? Health, strength, and good will I had in abundance. I would ask my superiors to send me to Quito in the Colony, so that in that fortunate city, which possessed the remains of my holy sister, Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres, I might be vested in the Franciscan habit as a lay brother.

I was reflecting upon these things when the novice master, accompanied by the Father Guardian, called me. They led me to the novitiate's garden, where the Father Guardian addressed me:
"Brother, you have the health and capacity to study to become a priest. So that you might begin your studies tranquilly and unencumbered, we will send you to Spain as soon as possible. We have the authority to attest to your vocation for our Order, which we will definitively confirm. Most probably, your departure will be within two weeks."
I knelt before the Father Guardian and spoke:
"Father, I am grateful to the great charity of Your Reverences toward me. But, having placed this matter before God these past months, I see clearly that I should not be so bold as to seek to rise to the Altar. For, if my Seraphic Father St. Francis, being who he was, resolved not to be ordained a priest, how much less can I dare to do so! My firm resolution is to ask Your Reverences to have the charity to receive me in the Order as a professed lay brother, so that I might serve my brothers as a servant and adeptly exercise the arms of penance on my rebellious body, just as I skillfully handled arms in my military career.

"Moreover, knowing the great charity that exists in the Seraphic Family, I pray and beseech you, prostrate at the feet of Your Reverences - nor will I rise until I have obtained this - that you send me to the (West) Indies, that is, to Quito, in the Spanish Colony, the country where the holy Spanish heroine, a Founding Mother of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception, lived and died.

"In our Franciscan Monastery there, I will wear our holy habit and be professed with all the happiness of my heart.

"Your Reverences know well that I owe my vocation to this holy heroine, Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres, who has promised to accompany me on the voyage and who has revealed to me that it is God's will that I should ask my Superiors to send me to Quito. I have no other aspiration on earth than to be a holy and good Franciscan lay brother."

I recognize no family or kin save my seraphic family

The Fathers were deeply moved. Embracing me, they made me rise, saying:
"Son, what will your uncle, the General, say when he learns that you want to travel to such a distant land and renounce the priesthood to be professed as a lay brother? Given the nobility of your name, he will not be pleased with your decision and will place the blame on us."
St Francis Monastery exterior

St. Francis Monastery in Quito, founded in 1534, the same year the city was founded
"Ah, no, my Fathers," I responded. "I no longer have anything or anyone in the world. Upon entering these blessed walls, I became dead and buried to all my kin and blood. I consider myself alone in the world, with no other family but the Seraphic Family, which will assist me in my holy aims and resolutions, make me happy, and provide the necessary means for me to achieve religious perfection in whatever part of the world it may be. Thus, without further delay, I ask that you send me to the Franciscan Monastery of Quito."

The Fathers pledged to do this. Confident, I submissively awaited the fulfillment of their promise.

During these days, a Father arrived from Spain to deal with various matters in the Monastery. He remarked that his Superiors wanted to send him that very month to the (West) Indies to the Franciscan Monastery in Quito so that he could spend some time there to regain his health, since the climate there was most beneficial for his recuperation. He was ready to go, but he lacked a companion.

The Fathers told him my story, adding that he could embark forthwith on his travels if he would take me as his companion. The religious looked at me closely, and then said:
"Fathers, you have given me an excellent travel companion. I will take him and present him to our Monastery in Quito, where he will become a religious."
The plans were made and we were scheduled to depart shortly. I was mad with happiness at seeing my desires thus realized. During those days, my uncle came to visit me. I received him with more affection than I normally displayed. Seeing me so elated, he asked:
"Manuel, what new happiness have you received?"

"Uncle," I responded, “my heart rejoices to see my life's desire being realized. I have asked my Superiors to send me to the Indies to the Franciscan Monastery in Quito so that I might receive my habit there and make my religious profession as a lay brother, for I know that God has called me to this. Everything is moving ahead favorably for me, for a Father who came from Spain is leaving very soon for Quito, the Spanish Colony, and I shall accompany him.

"Thus, my uncle, the time has come for me to give you my final farewell and embrace, which I ask that you transmit to your spouse, my aunt, my cousins and family, for I will not have time to do so myself.“
My uncle became stiff as a cadaver. He spoke, his voice broken by sobs:
"Manuel, my son, you told me that you wanted to be a priest. The Fathers assured me they would send you to study in Spain, and I have not ceased to question them when you would depart so that I might accompany you there and leave you well established and recommended, as befitting your noble blood and my social condition. It seems to me that you are so inebriated with joy that you do not know what you are saying. Never will I consent that you be professed as a lay brother. I will have you return to my house and there arrange for you a brilliant future. Although you have renounced a military career, to which you do not believe yourself called, clearly you can embrace another without straying from the path of a most Christian life.

"I will speak with the Fathers, and even this day you can be in my home, where we weep your absence and still harbor hopes to have you with us again."
At that moment, the Fathers arrived to tell me that the bell for choir would soon ring and the visiting hour was over. My uncle, quite distressed, told the priests his plans for me. They responded that they understood why he was displeased and that, if I so desired, I could return with my uncle immediately since the religious life must be entered with a free will.

Speaking out, I responded:
"My uncle, I am an orphan and alone in the world. I am a beggar and pauper of Christ in this holy asylum, asking from divine mercy daily sustenance for my body, which is mortal, and virtue and sanctity for my soul, which is eternal. Neither you, with your house, family, and nobility, nor anyone else, can take this from me. For I will die and be buried in this Order. Nobility, riches, human and worldly aspirations - these are dead to me - like my parents, who rest in the obscurity of their graves. I seek God, despising all worldly matters and free from all parental ties, considering the worst enemies of a religious to be his family. For this reason, I am traveling far from here, so that none of my family might intrude upon my solitude and place obstacles in the way of the perfect life to which I have been called by God.

"I will have the incomparable happiness of making my religious profession as a lay brother in a land far from here, so you will have no cause to be embarrassed. Let me follow this path, I beseech you. Ask about me no more, since I no longer acknowledge family or friends, only my Seraphic Family, which will make me happy in time and in eternity.

"Farewell, the hour for choir has already arrived! Farewell for all time! May God be with you!"
I gave a final embrace to my uncle, who was weeping like a child, and took my leave. Since some of the Fathers remained to attend to him, I rejoined my companions to go to choir. When it was over, several Fathers came to me to tell me how my uncle had left quite impressed by my resolve. They counseled me:
"Think well, my son, on what you are going to do, so that later you will not regret your decision. There is still time to change your mind now."

I responded: "Fathers, I have considered the matter long and hard, and my decision will not change. I have neither the whims of a boy nor the inconstancy of a woman. I am a grown man and a soldier. I shall leave here - there is no alternative! - and go where God is calling me. I am part of the Seraphic Family. I will never change my mind.

"Those who live in the world, even the good, must contend with its vanities and a desire for honors. Only the humble life can satisfy me - the hidden life that my Lord Jesus Christ lived for thirty years. My Seraphic Father St. Francis founded his Order in accordance with the Holy Gospel. It is in this Order that I desire to live, removed from the world, hidden from all, without ostentation. Let Your Reverences send me as soon as possible to the place God desires me to be."
They embraced me and gave me their many blessings, assuring me on the part of God that I would always be very happy in the Seraphic Order, for our Father St. Francis recognized me as a true son. They then made all the arrangements for my departure.


O beautiful morning of the 10th day of January of 1777, I being 26 years and one month of age!

After receiving Communion and taking breakfast with the Monastery, I embraced each of the Friars and novice companions. With tears, all bid me farewell. The Father Guardian and the novice master accompanied me to the door.

We had no sooner arrived at the entranceway than the outside bell rang, and the brother porter came before the Father Guardian to say:
"The General, uncle of our dear brother Manuel, is here, asking to speak with him."

"Patience!" I breathed to myself. And we went out to meet him.
He took me into his arms and, weeping, he said:
"Manuel, my beloved son, are you so hard of heart that you can abandon your aged parents at the very threshold of death? Can you not wait even five years more?"
I responded with great serenity:
"Beloved uncle and my father, I have for you an immense love and gratitude. For this very reason, I am resolved to dedicate myself completely to becoming holy so that I can win graces and mercy for you in time and in eternity.

"At this very moment I take my leave from this Monastery for the Indies to take the Franciscan habit and be professed there as a lay brother in our Monastery of Quito. This is what God desires of me. This is His most holy will.

"Bless me always and pray for your son. I, on my part, can never forget you. You will be foremost in my prayers. But to waver in my formal resolution and prolong my voyage - this I cannot do!

"You remember that passage in the Gospels where Our Lord Jesus Christ called a youth to follow Him. The young man responded that he would do so after a while because of his duties to his family. And what happened? He never became an apostle, and it is believed that he lost his soul for not having attended to the divine call. I do not want to imitate this youth. God is calling me. And so, farewell!"
Then my uncle said to the Father Guardian:
"Manuel is immovable in this resolution. If it is God Himself who is calling him, then let him depart for the Indies and be happy there."
Turning again toward me, he added:
"I bless you, my son, my Manuel. Go and follow Jesus Christ in the Seraphic Militia. Do not forget us, we who shall never forget you."
I knelt and asked his blessing, and then the blessing of each of the other Fathers. Then I rose and left the Monastery with Father Balthazar, my companion. Our first destination was Spain.

I departed with great joy. Nature itself seemed to be smiling around me. The birds sang with special sweetness, and my spirit soared to celestial heights. My soul, tranquil at seeing its most ardent desires realized, was jubilant.

Father Balthazar noted my elation and remarked:
"Brother, I see in you predestination for the Order. Never have I seen such happiness in youths who leave the world, especially in your case, with the many trials you faced. Tell me, have you no regrets about renouncing your nobility, fortune, and honors in order to be hidden forever in a distant corner of the world in the humble state of lay brother?"

"None at all, Father!" I responded firmly. "All those trifling things are of no importance to me. They are but a grass fire that the wind quickly dissipates, or rather, deceptive glitter and tinsel, vanities of vanities, which, once tasted, are later felt in the horrible bitterness of a guilty conscience.

"O, how holy is the religious state, and how even more perfect the humble profession as lay brother!"
When we arrived in Spain, the Friars received me with warm affection, as if I were a long-established member of the Monastery. I remained there one week, as happy as if I were in my home amidst the solicitous care of an intimate family.

Finally, Quito!

In the middle of January in the year 1777, I finally left Spain en route to the Indies in the company of Father Balthazar, who acted as my guide in the various countries we passed through. We always went to the Monasteries of our Order, where we were never treated as strangers. For the Seraphic Order is a solicitous mother who shelters her faithful sons throughout the world.

Quito Mountains

Pinchincha Mountain hovers over the city of Quito, described as a "suburb of Heaven."
In Quito, we were received with indescribable happiness by the Monastery, who had already been informed of my coming. They all congratulated me for my firm resolution to renounce the earthly militia and enlist in the Seraphic Family.
“The Army of Francis of Assisi,” they told me, “battles fiercely against the devil and is most beloved of God. Here, one lives and dies with great peace of soul. Moreover, in this Monastery, there are holy religious who edify the others with their lives, and in this land, the Seraphic Family has engendered saintly lay brothers."
And, weeping like a child, I told them my desire to become one of those holy lay brothers.
"But would it not be better, brother," returned one religious, "for you to study and be ordained a priest so that you can win more souls to God in the pulpit and the confessional?"

"Oh no, Father!" I responded quickly. "In the humble state of lay brother, I will help the missionaries with my prayers and sacrifices. My steadfast resolve upon leaving the world was to be professed as a lay brother."

* * *

Part One   l   Part Two   l   Part Four

Copyright 2002 (c) Marian T. Horvat All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever, including Internet, without permission in writing from Tradition In Action, Inc., except that brief selections may be quoted or copied for non-profit use without permission, provided full credit is given.


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Posted January 18, 2005

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