The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

News focused on growing persecution of Catholics in Mexico

Time Capsule 1926-1928A 33-part series on history mined from the first 100 years of Arkansas Catholic and its predecessors.

Published: May 14, 2011   

Each issue of The Guardian in 1926 to 1928 followed in detail the religious persecution in Mexico.

  • In The Guardian 1926-1928
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  • In previous years, the attacks were isolated in various states. In August 1925, it was reported that Catholics, which make up 90 percent of the country, say they live in "prolonged suppressed fear." The Catholic Church had faced persecution in Mexico for decades, but the mistreatment was getting more serious.

    Beginning in 1926 the federal government got more involved. All foreign priests and ministers were forced to leave the country and every religious school and university was closed. The schools could remain open if they agreed to not teach religion. In Mexico City, the federal district and many states the orders by President Plutarco Elias Calles were followed, but elsewhere it was ignored.

    Repeated attacks on bishops, priests, sisters and laity outraged Americans, including the U.S. bishops, members of various faiths, congressmen and the Knights of Columbus.

    Patrick Scanlan, the well-known managing editor of The Tablet of the Diocese of Brooklyn, wrote, "The persecution, which denies human rights and personal liberty, makes the Soviet's drive against religion pale into insignificance."

    While the Church had to follow certain regulations, such as what habits the clergy and religious could wear and how many times they could ring the church bells, it was reported that the faith of Catholics had been revived. Before the priests left in the country they were besieged with requests for confessions and distributing Communion. People feared that the government would close the churches.

    On July 31, 1926, the country enacted its harshest laws, saying that churches were government property, religious orders were outlawed and any religious publications could never mention government actions. Ministers had to be Mexican by birth. Anyone violating these laws would be fined or imprisoned.

    Faced with the fact that religious services would discontinue, people poured into the churches in July to receive the sacraments, including baptism, confirmation and marriage. Bishops suspended services for three years starting July 31, 1926.

    Armed conflicts (known later as the Cristero rebellion) broke out from 1926 to 1929. Bishops and priests who were not licensed by the government were expelled or murdered. Priests heroically continued to celebrate Mass in various places, giving a condensed version of the liturgy. As long as there was an offertory, consecration and communion the Mass was valid. Even laymen were allowed to distribute Communion "with their hands."

    News reports immediately began detailing the martyrdom of many of the clergy and laity. The courts were going to stay the execution of Father Miguel Pro and three others in November 1927, but the order arrived 30 minutes after their death by firing squad. By May 1928 pieces of a blood-stained towel were already being considered relics of the priest-martyr. (Father Pro was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.)

    Diocesan mission program

    The Jan. 15, 1927, issue widely described Bishop John B. Morris' missionary plans. His first order of business was the establishment of St. John Seminary in 1911 in order to have more priests in the diocese. Now he was interested in educating the Catholic laity through classes and correspondence courses and reaching out to "our separated brethren." The bishop was concerned about the "great leakage" of Catholics leaving the Church.

    The task was admittedly difficult because there were only 25,000 to 26,000 Catholics the state, but there were 2 million Arkansans. The Catholic diocese at the time included a seminary, two colleges, several boys' high schools, academies for girls, 45 parish schools, an orphanage, refuges and a home of the aged.

    "What we must do today is to stop this leakage, restore to the faith those who have been lost to it and inaugurate a healthy condition of conversions," Bishop Morris wrote.

    The Lapeer Plan was implemented where a central parish with several priests would serve a vast area divided into districts. This plan had already been piloted in Jonesboro, Pine Bluff and Brinkley.

    World Eucharistic Congress

    For the first time, the World Eucharistic Congress was held in the United States. The Chicago event in June 1926 hosted 1 million people. Pullmans left from Fort Smith, Texarkana, Helena, Hoxie and Knoebel to make up the "official diocesan special." Ten to 11 cars also left from Little Rock. In the May 1, 1926, issue it was reported the rate would be $26.95 from Little Rock to Chicago. Nearly 200 Catholics joined Bishop Morris and many priests for the trip. It was believed to be the largest diocesan group from the South.

    Fire at Subiaco Abbey and College

    Monks and students from several states and Mexico were displaced when a fire destroyed Subiaco Abbey and College in December 1927. The loss was estimated at $1 million. The building was only insured for $25,000. In January 1928, photos of the damaged buildings accompanied a front page story titled "New Subiaco Abbey and College to rise from its ashes immediately. Labor of 50 years wiped out in a night. Benedictine Fathers have arduous task of rebuilding." Bishop Morris pledged $5,000 toward the rebuilding and sought others to donate to the monks.

    Next week: Stories from 1929-1931

    In The Guardian 1926-1928



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    Priests and nuns give heroic service for people in flood sweeping through Arkansas

    Mary E. Fein, first woman to be honored with a degree by Little Rock College

    The pope gives $100,000 for U.S. flood relief in Mississippi valley

    Cardinal to dedicate St. Joseph Hospital, Hot Springs


    U.S. Senator Robinson of Ark. denounces intolerance, pleads for freedom to worship God

    Rabbi discusses right of Catholic to be president

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    New Holy Angels Convent and Academy to be model educational building of the state, the new building is a practical proof of the growth of Catholicity in eastern part of Arkansas

    Pope is to have four telephones, may buy more land


    Sacred Heart High School Morrilton. A boarding school for young ladies conducted by School Sisters of Notre Dame. Terms, very reasonable.

    Hoarded Money is Idle Money. Central Bank. Come Grow with a Growing Bank.

    Start the Day with Excess Energy. Eat Toast for Breakfast. Toast made right at the table. Arkansas Central Power Co.

  • Click here to see the index of stories in Arkansas Catholic's time capsule series.

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