Blessed Alfredo Parte
1899 – 1936
When in July 1936, the Spanish civil war broke out, Fr. Alfredo Parte was in Cilleruelo de Bricia, his native town, spending his summer vacation. In spite that the situation had become difficult, he returned to his school in Villacarriedo, Cantabria Region, Spain, where he was procurator, even before he had finished the time of rest allowed by the Superiors. He wanted to leave the books of money and administration of the school in a good form and then take refuge in a friendly house. But the Rector of the house was opposed to it, thinking that nothing grave would happen. And Fr.Alfredo obeyed.
On August 15, the militiamen surrounded the school and entered it. Fr. Alfredo was checked, and he had to give the administration books and the money of the school. In the afternoon, the Religious were obliged to abandon the house and the same militiamen took them to Santander city. There, they were put in freedom, but not without asking to each one of them the address they were going to stay. Fr. Alfredo took refuge in La Concha, in the house of his aunt Balbina.
With her, he stayed three months, until he was arrested. He spent the days praying, studying and drawing. After hearing that some priests had put on red neckties in order not be recognized, he used to say:
“I want to die a thousand times before betraying my faith and my state of being a priest”.
And to somebody who suggested him that he could go as a lay teacher, teaching the children of the town, Fr. Alfredo answered that he would never accept to be considered as a lay person. He used to repeat that if the occasion would come, he would not hide his identity as a priest and as a Religious, and that he would prefer to die as a martyr for Christ, even if others would hid their condition to save their lives.
His arrest took place on November 17, around four thirty in the afternoon. When the militiamen came to the house of his aunt asking for the Parish Priest, his niece Maria, who was the one who opened the door, with her ingenuity, answered that the Parish Priest was not here, but the Piarist Priest, yes. This was what they wanted. They wen to the second floor and found Fr. Alfredo in his room. Later on, they searched the whole house, searching and searching the furniture and even inspecting the mattresses, thinking that since he was the procurator of the school, he had hidden the money somewhere. Since they did not find what they were looking for, one of the militiamen said:
“You don’t have but these ten pesetas?”
“This is the only thing I have after leaving Villacarriedo”, was the answer of the Piarist.
When he stood up, one of the militiamen observed that he was lame. The he proposed to his companions to leave him in peace, but they did not pay attention to him and arrested him as he was, with slippers, without allowing him to put on his shoes. The protests of his aunt Balbina were of no avail. To keep her quiet, they assured her that it was only a formality and that he would come back the following day. Then, they went towards Santander city, in a car. First, he was taken to the City Hall and was jailed for a few days in the underground. Later on, he was transferred to the Neila jail, and then to the Provincial jail. Finally, he was taken to the jail-prison-ship “Alfonso Perez”, where the stayed until his death.
The ship, known as the “Ghost Ship”, was in Santander bay. Under the deck, it had four holds, completely separated one from the others, transformed in dirty and obscure jails. Fr.Alfredo was put in number 2, reaching the deck by an iron staircase of 13 steps. Thanks to some prisoners, later on put in liberty, we know some details regarding this time of arrest.
The testimonies are in accord, telling us that Fr. Alfredo behaved as an exemplary Priest and Religious, soon adapting himself to that inhuman life, showing a great strength of spirit. He spent the days praying and doing good to his jail companions, and to some of them, even he taught how to read. He was not interested in politics. On the contrary, he spoke gladly about religious themes and he encouraged his companions to bear with patience the difficulties hat they were facing. When he received some food from his relatives or friends, he shared it with those who did not receive any visits. He exercised his priestly ministry, together with the other priests, hearing confessions and giving courage.
The days were going on slowly and in sadness, until the Christmas day, when Fr. Alfredo gave to his companions of prison a beautiful sermon about the Nativity of the Lord. On the following day, he received the visit of the Piarist Fr.Julian Pena and on the 27, the visit of his cousin Maria, together with her father.
The 27 was the day of his martyrdom. Taking advantage of the winter beautiful day, the National aviation, around noon, bombed the city, killing 64 persons. The reaction of the most extreme people was at once: in repression, they went to the jail-ship, with the intention of killing the prisoners. The prisoners, from their holds, could hear the shouts more closely. Later on, after the ship was taken over, they heard the first shootings. Some started shooting the prisoners from the hatchways. They killed many and many were wounded. After the fire was over, those who were unhurt, helped the wounded, curing them with impromptu bandages. Later on, the wounded were taken to the deck and killed with a coup de grace.
After this happening, a profound silence invaded the other prisoners who were expecting to be killed at any moment. Around evening, a group of militiamen went down to the holds with a list of prisoners, prepared beforehand. One after the other, those who were in the list, were taken to deck and killed. For those who were not in the list, there was a tribunal before which had to pass the remaining 200 prisoners that were still alive. Those who were found guilty, were taken to the deck and killed.
This was the luck of Fr. Alfredo. While he was waiting for his turn, one companion suggested him to dirty his hands with grease and dust so that they would not know his priestly condition. The hands were one of the first things the militiamen used to look at. Fr.Alfredo thanked him, but he refused it saying:
“ I don’t want to deny my Priestly and Piarist profession”.
When he came before the tribunal, to the question: Who are you?, he answered frankly: “I am a priest and a Piarist from Villacarriedo”. Immediately was ordered to go up to the deck .When he gave his first steps, one militiaman observed: “He will not be able to go up alone”. Fr. Alfredo answered: “I have never gone up alone, but because of love for Christ, tonight, I will do it”. And he was able to go up the steps. When he reached the last step, a shot in his nape made him fall down on the deck, while his glasses went down the staircase, tinted with blood, and were taken by one of his companions.
The bodies of the killed – more than 150 – were taken to the cemetery of Ciriego and buried in a common tomb.After the war, the authorities allowed the relatives to recuperate the bodies of their beloved ones, and the remains of Fr. Alfredo, after they were identified, were put in a casket, n. 140, and together with the rest, buried in the crypt of the Holy Christ Parish, under the Santarder Cathedral.
Alfredo had been born in Cilleruelo de Bricia, Burgos Province, Spain, on June 2, 1899. He was the eldest son of the matrimony formed by Castor and Justa. Later on, nine more brothers would follow.
In his family there reigned a Christian atmosphere. His parents, both models of virtue, tried to imbue in their children a real Christian education and that they might be accustomed, from childhood, to the practice and exercise of virtue. When with only six years, the little Alfredo went to the town school, he knew already the most ordinary prayers and he answers to the catechism questions.
In such an environment, where the piety was put into practice, could not fail the vocations. Besides Alfredo, his brother Inocencio became a Piarist Father, too.
Similarly to Saint Joseph Calasanz, Alfredo used to say to his mother and to the neighbors, during his infancy: ”When I may be a Piarist Father, I will preach like this”. And going on a chair or on a step of the door, he used to make gestures and repeated some sentences he had heard to the Parish Priest.of the town.
He soon felt the desire of becoming a Piarist Priest, and this desire became stronger as he was growing up in age. Probably had a great influence for the Pious Schools his cousin Eufrasio Pena, who was studying as a postulant in Villacarriedo. When somebody suggested him not to enter a Religious Order, but rather would become a Diocesan Priest, he used to answer: “No, I want to become precisely a Piarist Father, to teach to the children”. From this desire comes his extraordinary enthusiasm and love for the studying and the school.
When he was 11 years old, he entered, as a student, in the school of the Pious Schools in Villacarriedo. From there, he moved to Getafe, where he took the Piarist habit on August 1, 1915, and he made his First Profession, or Simple Profession, on August 13, 1916.
His spiritual feature could be drawn in these words: frankness, clarity, simplicity, natural, friendship. When the proper moment arrived, he was active, dynamic, fast in the execution. And everything in order, precision, exact, always with a bit of irony and humor.
According to Fr. Aureliuo Isla, “For Alfredo, there were not bad days or adverse happenings. The good humor was con-natural in him”. He had a little musical interest, received from his father, a musician in his born town, and frequently he used to sing popular songs of his region, always in a festive mood. This good humor used to be present, especially, during the feast days. During Christmas, he was the one who recreated the community meetings. The 31 of December, it was for him a real happening: with a flute and a drum, he stood by the bell of the community waiting that the clock would strike the twelve at midnight, and then, he went before the rooms of the Religious, playing for each one of them a musical piece and wishing them a happy new year.
As a teacher, he was excellent in typing and shorthand. In these subjects, he was really excellent. Regarding this, Fr. Aurelio Isla writes: “Using well the time, he became a specialist in typing, acquiring a special skill that later on he transmitted to the students”.
His good humor was not an impediment for treating the students seriously. With them, he was rather strict: he would not allow laziness, negligence, and never discipline faults. One student remembers that Fr. Alfredo was appreciated by the students, whom they appreciated not only as a teacher, but also as a Religious, even exclaiming: “If all the teachers were like Fr. Alfredo!”.
The prestige he got before his companions of community and before the Superiors, was the reason why he was in charge of the boarding students and the procurator of the house, both jobs that he fulfilled with dedication. He knew how to harmonize his work with the commitments to the community, trying to be in them as much as possible.
One of the most wonderful aspects of his personality was the capacity of suffering without any complaint, with an admirable patience. He knew the suffering since he was in the Central Formation house of Irache, during his Philosophical studies. There, he suffered a sickness during his second semester of 1918. He had to interrupt his studies. After he was recuperated, he remained lame of one leg and during a long time he had to use crutches, advising him the doctors to take a long rest period in his familiar environment. Therefore, he spent six months in Cilleruelo, with his parents, and later on he went to Villacarriedo School, where he remained for life, continuing his studies in private , with the help of the Fr. Rector, Fr. Bernabe Pena.
On August 25, 1924, he emitted his Solemn Profession and he was ordained a priest on March 3, 1928, in Palencia city.
The fact that he had to interrupt his studies because of his sickness, was for him a heavy cross, but he knew how to accept it from the beginning. His first nurse, Bro.Urbano Echavarri, left for us this testimony:
“I remember the astonishment of the Fr. Rector of Irache, Fr. Andres Fernandez, who used to visit him frequently. He used to say, admiring the patience of the sick person, that he would not be able to bear that sickness with a similar resignation”.
When he left his bed, at the beginning, he could not walk alone and he leaned on the Brother. Later on, he got walking with clutches, and little by little, he started getting strength in the sick leg.
“It was an edifying thing seeing him so happy with his clutches, as if he were completely healthy, always with his smile on his lips,” remembers Fr. Jesus Alvarez.
This capacity of suffering was manifested, too, in the prison-ship, which was for him as the Gethsemane Garden, waiting the martyrdom. One of his companions of captivity says:
“The proof that he left for us was that of a saint. He never complaint of anything, not even when they gave us a very small amount of food. Then, he used to encourage us with patience. The treatment the prisoners received in the ship “Alfonso Perez” was inhuman. They had to remain always in the inferior parts, in the holds, from where was not allow to leave but for the toilet, only during the day and one by one. From seven o’clock in the evening, the hatchways were closed and nobody was able to go out. The smell was terrible. They were mocked and insulted without any respect. Fr. Alfredo could have avoided the martyrdom had he been led only by feelings and earthly ideals. Had he said that he was a simple teacher, he had saved his life. On the contrary, he confessed to be a Piarist Father of Villacarriedo”.
To a diocesan priest, who saved his life because he hid his identity, he gave this message before going to the questioning:
“Make know to the Piarists that I die because I want to. I want to give my life for God and for the Pious Schools”.