MAY 1931-JULY 1936
CARMEN SANCHEZ BEATO
Coming from a province to Madrid at the beginning of the thirties to work in education after graduation carried a certain emotion and expectation of discovery. But also, coming as a member of the emerging Teresian Association to meet the founder, the charismatic man chosen by the Holy Spirit to embody and promote a different way of total self-giving, added new elements to the natural stress.
The first impression of my encounter with Father Poveda was to have found a man of unintended but obvious elegance. He was a man who listened, allowed one to talk, suggested, did not inquire, respected, and sowed a bit of calmness in the soul by his attitude and words.
In liturgical ceremonies, that elegant naturalness of Father Poveda was mysterious and almost immaterial. There is a unanimous affirmation: those could attend his Mass once could never forget it. Not only in the liturgical ceremonies: at all times, the presence of Father Poveda exuded a supernatural air. The mystical component of those spontaneous, creative and joyful meetings was a fact.
Next to Father Poveda, giving the key to penetrate the meaning of his figure in a quiet manner, I always found Josefa Segovia, without whom, the beautiful framework for me to enjoy this finding would be faded.
In the days when I met and greeted Father I had to wait for a timely opportunity because, due the the riots of May 1931, it was recommended to him not to stay at the same place, during the day or night, at least during that week.
This did not made him lose his composure or his welcoming attitude. I learned later that he thought a lot about the college girls, and wondered how they faced the events they were living. And Father challenged those who ran the student residences with questions like: "What do your students think regarding key issues that are being discussed?"
He was deeply concerned about those young students. "Poor young people!” he said, "God loves them so much! Because God loves them He sends them to you, freeing them from the hands of those who, through praises, may harm and ruin them! "
This was the atmosphere that I perceived around Father Poveda when I met him.
The course of events and the familiar style of the Teresian Association led Father Poveda to recommend, for the apostolate of the groups of his Work, not only residences, schools and other large gatherings but small flats and areas located in different places of the big city where handfuls of yeast could ferment the dough.
A public competition was announced to provide leadership and faculty for some popular schools that were well equipped with modern teaching materials and were located in the neighborhood of Prosperidad, then a far end neighborhood of Madrid. And it was agreed that several of us would work to access the leadership position, even if we had to leave our positions in some public schools. There we worked with great and advanced techniques. Researchers and teachers collaborated there. And there, in late July 1936, a group of people carrying large banners appeared calling on the neighborhood people, who had come to basically identify with the management team, to absolutely change its course and to entrust the running of schools, workshops and partnerships to "the teachers of the revolution."
This was the reason of my last meeting with Father. I wanted to make sure that my duty was to make an appointment, which I received unexpectedly, and went to seek advice from the one who could give it me authoritatively.
I had never seen Father in a secular outfit. That evening of July 25, I saw the outfit that I would soon see pierced by bullets.
In his advice, Father measured the risk but he was, as always, faithful to the Gospel: "When ye shall be brought to the synagogues..." He recommended that we would not be alone, that we would not wear any sign that would provoke hostility. But "they are assets of the poor, he said referring to the schools, and you must defend them to the end."
When, on July 27, I phoned another TA member to explain how our neighborhood meting had fared, without letting me talk about it, the person at the other end said: "They have taken Father and we do not know where they have him."
Emma Alvarez and Maria Astudillo found his body in the Eastern Cemetery the following day.
My family had judged demanding Father’s desire for us to be present at the seizure of schools. On the one hand they were aware of the imminent dangers and, on the other, we all hoped that that dangerous situation would be short lived.
But the news that Father had gone ahead and the fact that, at the same time that we were being evicted, he came out detained saying goodbye with the words "I am leaving with these gentlemen" eliminated every possible comment.
The phrase "with these gentlemen" was what could be expected of that man, firm in the faith to the point of heroism, but always soft and serene in his manners, despite his strong character or, perhaps, because of it. Firmiter in re, suaviter in modo, was one of the Latin words the newcomers, apprentices of that style, liked to repeat.
Pedro Poveda not only had faith in God, but he also abounded in great trust in those who, with good will, collaborated in his programs. And creativity flourished in that climate of trust without fear. And the people grew and we were fine. The motto was "holy and happy" and we started by being happy. Surely we had not reached the levels of holiness expected of us, except for some precious exceptions, but ¡how happy we were! Whoever plunged into that environment felt well. It is true that an obsession with self-criticism in the Church that has sterilized many values had not developed yet, but there everything was based on mutual trust with a particular resonance to welcome whatever originated from the leadership of the Work. Almost without realizing it, without words, with simplicity, my faith in him, in his resolutions, and in his love started to grow.
Recently I spoke with an almost one hundred year old person who has been a leader of innovative teaching programs in Madrid. She told me about her memories of Father Poveda in the beginning of 1930 and she summarized the atmosphere in this expression: "Has Father Poveda said that? Word of God!"
The religious dimension was important in the educational budgets of Pedro Poveda and in the climate created around him. Already in the first Academy of Oviedo he had written: "Your Academy must be eminently religious."
There was calm and steady faith fed by study and serious reading. And sincere, tender piety which, although it was not based on feelings, it did not despise them. The liturgical celebrations were very beautiful the. The songs, the ornament of holy places, the images, everything helped in a gentle manner.
Apart from the liturgical life, the feast days were our daily bread because in that unique, cordial family, there were always events worthy of being celebrated: a graduation, success in an examination to acquire a public position, the incorporation of new members, an outing, and the inevitable anecdotes that gave rise to ingenious parties.
I had no chance to see Father Poveda in school parties, nor do I believe that he attended many. In the small vade mecum “Advice for teachers of the Academies,” he had written that they ought to prefer "certain acts of culture that show seriousness and love of literature and art" to stereotypical parties.
And "within twenty-four hours,” or even less, premieres arose that kept the atmosphere cheerful. Andalusian grace abounded. Naturally, he did not take an active part in those creations, but he had a refined sense of humor that manifested itself in privacy and enabled him to understand what others expressed. I can say that the Association has educated me through its parties.
I remember that once I had to be a main character, or rather, a "singer" at one of those festive gatherings.
Don Rufino Blanco, a professor at a Teachers College, journalist, writer, author of the first Pedagogical Bibliography in Spain, and a great friend of Father Poveda had been appointed Professor of Moral and Political Sciences. Father Poveda wanted to offer him a bit of relaxation and he begged some of the students of this new Professor to think of something to entertain those that would meet that evening.
Don Rufino had introduced a set of complementary activities in the school where I was the Principal: bath and showers (50 years ago), dining rooms, workshops, films, and an anthropometric cabinet.
As we looked for a theme for the meeting, we were lucky to stumble across a rickety old book entitled “Poetic Hygiene" which contained strange rules, absolutely outdated, and in sharp contrast to recent innovations by the Scholar. We used this book for the party, which came out well, and we all had fun.
A very pleasing component offered by the daily living of Father Poveda was the presence of his mother, Mrs. Linarejos Castroverde, the beloved "grandmother" of the Teresian family.
Since the death of Mr. José Poveda, her husband, the "grandmother" had found a new home near her priest son and very close to the Teresian Association. She died shortly before Father Poveda, at 88, and she left a vacuum. We all cried for her as the real grandmother of a dear family. Grandmother was cheerful, funny, clean, tidy, forgiving, and understanding. She knew how to listen to suffering, give treats, storytelling and was lavish with smiles.
Extremely discreet, she never interfered with what was not within her competence. Students or teachers approached her with the same trust.
Once one of the young visitors asked her:
-Grandma, is it true that Father Poveda is a saint?
-I do not know, my daughter, whether he is holy or not. But I can assure you that her parents have experienced what the parents of saints experience.
And what can we say about Paco Almagro? He was a faithful man, if there are any, who accompanied Father Poveda cordially throughout most of his life.
He had begun his studies at the Seminary of Jaén when Father Poveda was Professor of Physics at that center. As he advanced in his studies, he became convinced that the priesthood was not for him and he left the seminary. Soon, Father Poveda, who helped him, guided him to obtain the degree of Teacher and, after taking the appropriate examinations, find a job in a school in Madrid. Shortly after Father Poveda himself blessed his marriage.
Paco was a "valet de chambre," a familiar companion of Father in his trips and business, admirer, fervent “son” and unconditional helper.
In the difficult days prior to our Civil War, seeing Paco accompanying Father Poveda was calming and soothing for all. However, Paco Almagro was recruit to go to the battlefront and when he returned on a free day he found Father's house sealed and empty. The neighbors gave him the devastating news. "Why, Lord, didn’t you take me with him, since you would not want me to take his place?" he wrote.
I let the heart speak "using memory and history." While memory is becoming more endearing, history is drawing the figure of Pedro Poveda with deeds and with words. A famous singer, Ricardo Cantalapiedra, has dedicated a song that he wrote and performed at a ceremony dedicated to the centenary of his birth in 1974 at the “Colegio Mayor Poveda.”
“In Guadix a path was born
It always grows larger ...
The shadow of the prophets
Is a living and long river... !”
"Actions! They bear witness to what we are. " (PP). Let his actions speak in Guadix, Covadonga, Linares, Madrid. Let Rome speak, as we expect it will talk when we finish the canonization process that is being carried out with such loving rigor. Let the Centers that bear his name speak, Christian teachers who are inspired by his spirit, mothers who learned from him to give oneself without measure, members of the Association he founded. Let those who call upon him as an intercessor in their needs speak. Let those seeking spiritual guidance in their prayer life speak. In this Marian year, let those who want to be special in their love for Our Lady speak. Father Poveda asked her for the grace of martyrdom.
Using memory and history will continue braiding a friendship with a big man, whom we always find near. And those who find a friend, find a treasure.