One usually expects martyrs to be missionaries or bishops or conscientious statesmen. Actually those singled out to die for their faith can be of either sex and of any age, nation or profession. For it is not status that makes a martyr, it is willing acceptance of death for the Faith at the hands of those who hate it.
Blessed Victoria Diez y Bustos de Molina was a modern lay schoolteacher in rural Spain. She was executed by Spanish anticlericals in 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
Victoria was the only child of a Sevillian couple of modest means and strong Christian devotion. She grew up a devout child of rich talent, winsome personality and high ideals. Her parents wisely suggested that she prepare for a teaching career. In addition to taking the necessary liberal arts studies, she took courses at Seville’s School of Arts and Crafts, for she had genuine artistic ability.
While preparing for her schoolroom calling, she began to see that teaching could be a career in which she could not only instruct others, but make of her scholastic efforts an apostolic activity. Decision to dedicate her profession to this spiritual aim was inspired by the Teresian Association, whose Seville branch she joined. The Teresian Association was an organization lately established by the Spanish priest, Father Pedro Povedo to develop the spiritual and pastoral formation of those preparing to dedicate their lives to school teaching. Victoria joined this quasi-religious group and followed with zeal its program of prayer and good works. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament became her particular source of fortitude. She found therein “strength, courage, light and all the love I need to help those entrusted to me on the way to salvation.”
Her first teaching assignment was at Cheles, a small town near the Portuguese border. After a year, however, she asked for reassignment to some place nearer to Seville, so that she might be closer to her family. She was therefore transferred to Hornachuelos, where she would spend the rest of her life. In both places she proved to be a skilled and dedicated teacher. But she also set a fine example in her spare time, cooperating readily with the pastor, particularly in his program of religious education and engaging in charitable work, often at the sacrifice of her own limited income. In all these activities she had the personal guidance of the founder of the Teresians, Father Povedo.
In her formal acceptance of the Teresian code of life, Victoria had declared, “If it is necessary to give one’s life to be identified with Christ, our divine model, from now on I no longer exist for the world because my life is Christ and to die is gain.” At her beatification, Pope John Paul II would praise the “openness to the Spirit” signified by her promise of total self-giving.
In 1931, the Spanish Republic was established. The disorder that followed this revolutionary action paved the way for the outbreak of civil war in 1936 between those who defended the Church and those who opposed it. Especially in 1936 and 1937 there was a violent persecution of the Church, in which hundreds of bishops, priests and religious died. No count could be kept of the even greater number of lay Catholics executed, often simply because they wore a medal or carried a rosary.
As early as August 1936, Republican anticlericals attacked the church in Hornachuelos. At dusk on August 11, Victoria and others were arrested and imprisoned. She accepted the situation calmly and prayerfully. As an eyewitness would later testify, she encouraged and cheered the rest to persevere. “Come on,” she reminded them, “our reward is waiting for us.” At dawn on August 12, she and 17 others were driven into an abandoned mine shaft at Rincon. Before their execution (presumably by a firing squad), her last words were, “Long live Christ the King!”
In 1937, Pope Pius XI, then reigning, declared the victims of this Spanish persecution “true martyrs.” Some of the victims: bishops, priest, and men and women religious, have already been declared blessed by Pope John Paul II. To their number, on October 10, 1993, he added not only Father Pedro Povedo Castroverde (1874-1936), the founder of the Teresians, but also the laywoman teacher who so well exemplified the Teresian ideal and the lay Catholic ideal, Blessed Victoria Diez y Bustos de Molina.
–Father Robert F. McNamara