BLESSED MARTYR IGNASI CASANOVAS
In July of 1936, as he did every year, Fr. Ignasi Casanovas was on vacation in the farm of his family, called Can
Brunet, in the municipality of Odena. He had gone there looking
for a resting place, near his mother, with whom he was very close, after the hard schooling year. The starting of the civil
war changed radically his plans.
In the Igualada city zone, Barcelona Province, Spain, the antireligious campaign started soon; first, against the churches and
the things of the cult, and later on against the persons, especially against the ecclesiastical persons.
Although the house where Fr. Casanovas was, remained away from
the inhabited center, his life was in serious danger because he was a person very well known in the whole zone. Friendly people
advised him to go back to Barcelona, where he could have hidden
easily, and even got for him a false pass. But Fr. Ignasi, convinced that his place was to be near his mother in those difficult
times, even facing the risk to be arrested, he did not accept it. Since he could not do anything else, he put himself in the
hands of God, taking as his own the saying of St. Joseph Calasanz: “Only what God wants, will happen”.
He tried to act with prudence, trying not to be seen, but without
never forgetting his priestly and Religious duties.Every morning he celebrated Mass in the chapel of the house and in the
afternoon, he prayed the rosary with the families of those who worked at the farm. If it was necessary to attend any dying
person, he was ready for that, even facing any kind of risks. It was as it happened on the night of August 14-15, that he
spent by the brother of his mother, in Can Forn farm, not far away from Can Brunet.
That day 15 of August, celebrated his last Mass in the chapel
of the house, after he came back from Can Forn farm. It was the Assumption Day,
and his thought went back 20 years ago, when, in the same place, he had celebrated his first Mass.
At around 5 o’clock in the morning of the 16, while he
was on the window waiting for the coming back of his mother who had been to Can Forn farm to accompany her dying brother,
he saw a group of armed people coming to the farm. They were the militiamen coming to arrest him. Feeling the danger, he went
out of the house without being seen, telling the maid Teresa that after the militiamen would be gone, she would put a white
handkerchief on the window as a signal that the danger had passed.
The militiamen entered the house, founding only the maid. They
asked the maid the whereabouts of Fr. Ignasi, and she answered that she did not know. They registered the whole house, and
not founding him, they burned, in two big fires, the altar of the chapel, the sacred images and all the liturgical things.
All this scene was seen by Fr.Ignasi from his hidden place. His mother, too, arriving while this thing happened, had to assist,
being an impotent witness, to the sad scene. Against her protests, the militiamen answered that they had burned more important
Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the son of the maid,
going around the whole farm, could see that the militiamen have gone. Then, Teresa hang a handkerchief on the window, according
to the commitment, and in that way, Fr. Ignasi could come out of his hidden place and give thanks to the Lord because he was
able to avoid the danger.
From that day on, he was more prudent. He did not go out of
the house, in order not to arouse suspicions. The only thing for which he was sad was because he was not able to celebrate
the holy Mass. His refuge was the breviary and the rosary.
This was his preparation for the martyrdom. One day, talking about this theme with his mother, said:
“As for me, mother,
they could will kill me, but the hand of God will be upon my murderous. They will kill me, but, can I die for another thing
more holy and noble?”.
The supreme hour arrived a month later, on September 16. At
noon, while he was reciting the holy hour, he felt that something strange was happening around his house. He was at the point
of calling his mother to make her know everything, when three militiamen suddenly entered into the kitchen and went to the
second floor. Fr. Ignasi was the one who received them when they called on the door and he asked them, with his breviary in
his hand, what they were looking for. They answered him that they had been sent to arrest him and that he should go with them
immediately. The Religious asked them: “Do you have authority to arrest me?”.
Yes, they answered. He asked for time to be able to change shoes and later on,
he handed himself into their hands. To his mother, who was weeping and imploring, repeated once more the words so many times
pronounced by St. Joseph Calasanz: “Only what God wants, will happen”.
Going through the
kitchen, he asked the helper Jaime Grau to greet his mother Teresa.
When they arrived to the threshing floor, the other militiamen
who had surrounded the house to impede his running away, joined the three who had arrested him. All together went towards
Odena. Fr. Ignasi was in front of them. From the terrace and the windows, the mother and the workers of the farm took part
in the parting, having the presentiment that it was a parting without coming back.
In fact, after they had walked no more than one kilometer,
when they arrived to the place called La Creneta, the chief of the militiamen asked Fr. Ignasi to stop, adding the mocking
words: “Go on, since you have just a few minutes to pray…; pray…pray…”. Fr.
Ignasi knelt down and started: “Our Father
in heaven…”. His prayer was cut out by the shoots of the pistols that reached him in different parts of his body.
From Can Brunet, his mother, in anguish, heard the shoots and smelt the smoke of the shooting.
Some workers of a next farm, were obliged to take care of the
body and to transport it to the cemetery of Odena,
where the following day was put in a new niche bought by his mother. In the place of his martyrdom was erected a small stony
monument. Fr. Ignasi expressed his desire that were engraved the verse 6 of Psalm 33, an invocation that he made his and very
much preferred in his those last days: “Iste pauper clamavit, et Dominus exaudivit eum; et de omnibus tribulationibus
eius salvavit eum” – If the afflicted invokes the Lord, He will listen to him and He will save him from all anguish.
In July 1948, his mortal remains were exhumed and placed in
the same tomb where his mother was, fulfilling in this way her will. With great surprise of the present, the body was found
completely whole and apparently incorrupt, with the clothes keeping the natural color and with the agility and flexibility
of the body, without changing anything when it was moved. There is documentation about it. It was place into a zinc casket,
besides the niche of his mother, in the familiar tomb.
Fr. Ignasi Casanovas was born in Igualada city, Barcelona Province, Spain,
on June 15, 1893. He was a son of Ramon and Maria, from whom he received a good education, since they were exemplary Christians,
in all aspects. From the beginning of his life, he found a proper environment to develop the seed of Christian virtues with
which God adorned the noble, pious and generous soul.
He was an orphan of father at seven and he had all the attention
of his mother who tried to educate him in the Christian spirit, trusting him to the Piarist Sisters of Igualada School. It
was here where he started to show a clear inclination towards piety, with a tendency towards the Religious Life. This fact
was the reason why Fr. Ignasi Vilasalo took a special care of him and other children, since he was in charge of following
the young boys with desires of becoming Piarists.
Probably, the example of his s brother Jaume, who was also
a Piarist, contributed to his vocation. The frequent visits he made to his mother,
the participation in the most meaningful ceremonies, as taking the habit, profession and Priestly ordination….increased
in him the desire of giving himself to God in the following of Jesus. In spite
of the agreeable perspective of being the heir of a good patrimony, he preferred to dedicate himself to the service of God
in poverty, to the education of the youth.
“In Ignasi – wrote Fr. Joseph Maria Balcells – was more powerful the love of God
and the giving himself to His service, than the filial love; and this was extraordinary strong during his whole existence.
The widow situation in which his mother remained, without an older brother, made the separation rather painful, but at the
same time it was a revelation of his spirit”.
It is known that just a few days before entering the novitiate,
Ignasi received an anonymous letter giving a long list of reasons against his intention, trying to seperate him from following
the calling of God. He handed it to his mother, who after reading it, she asked: “:What are you going to do?”.
Ignasi, taking again the letter, tore it saying: “I intend to continue on. God
is more important than men”.
He took the Religious habit in Moia, on November 21, 1909 and he made his first Profession on August 20, 1911.
During his stay in the formation houses of Moia, Irache and Terrasa, Ignasi gave proofs of his vivid desire and constant effort
for acquiring any type of knowledge, human and divine, that would help him to prepare himself in the fulfillment of his Piarist
vocation. He made his Solemn Profession in Terrassa, December 8, 1914. On September 17, 1916, he was ordained as a priest
in the chapel of our Sant Antoni School in Barcelona by Cardinal
Benlloch. He celebrated his first Mass in the chapel of Can Brunet farm, where, 20 years later, he would suffer his martyrdom.
His first apostolate field was the Terrassa School, 1916-1918,
where he was teaching the first grade of primary school. Such was his dedication to his task that he became sick. The Superiors
had to move him to the school of Vilanova
i la Geltru. After he became well, he remained in this school until 1920. Later on he went to Olot, 1920-1924, and finally,
to the school of Our Lady of Barcelona, 1924-1936, where he remained until the end of his life.
During the eight years of his stay in Barcelona, he used to go frequently to Alella, where the Calasanzian House was, since his
brother Jaume was the director. Since he knew music rather well and played the piano and the organ, he used to teach to the
Calasanzian students the proper songs for the different liturgical celebration. Fr. Claudio Vila, a Calasanzian then, affirmed
that he never lost the serenity and the equilibrium during the teaching.
Besides the music, he was very clever in manual works. He knew
how to build radios, small as a box of matches. His last work was the repairing of a statue of Saint Joseph Calasanz, the
militiamen had torn down to pieces in August 1936, during the inspection of the Can Brunet farm.
According to Fr. Joan Maria Vives, we know that Fr. Ignasi
was a man of deep piety, an observant Religious, kind to all, enemy of murmuring and of great rectitude. The testimonies are
in accord regarding the fulfillment of his Religious and educational duties, trying to keep the peace and harmony in Community,
and loved by the students. whom he treated with dignity and love.
One of the most important characteristics was his filial piety.
He knew how to understand the situation of his mother and the great sacrifice she had made allowing his brother Jaume and
him, to follow their Religious vocations. That is why, every time he was free from schooling compromises or from his priestly
ministry, with the proper permission of the Superiors, he spent the time with her. Mrs. Maria used to spend the summer months
with her two sons in the Can Brunet farm, where the two educators, in the solitude and tranquility of the fields, rested and
recuperated energies, after the work of the whole year. Ignasi used to enjoy then, more than ever before, the tranquility
of the place, where the wheat mixed with the olive and almond trees in a wide extension of almost 90 hectares, along one of
the hillsides of Montserrat mountains.
During the summer time, the old house was happy with the presence
of Mrs. Maria and her two sons.
The piety towards his mother accompanied him until the moment
of his martyrdom. Somebody has written regarding this:
“He felt that
in his heart was sprouting the spirit and desire of martyrdom, if it was the will of God, preferring the holocaust of his
life, because of Christ, to the abandonment of his filial duties, to the hiding of his Religious and Priestly state, to the
abdication of his religious beliefs. Such a disposition of spirit was expressed by Fr. Ignasi two hours before his martyrdom,
before his mother and her maid, Teresa Lloveras, with these words: “They will kill me, mother, but, can it be a better
thing than giving the life for Christ?”