Saint Pedro Poveda Castroverde is a model of sainthood for the present times. He lived his faith in daily life and did not hide it in the midst of controversy.
“My belief, my faith is not wavering. It is firm and unshakeable”.
These are his words in 1920. Words he lived since childhood and in the difficult times he had to endure. When he wrote them, Poveda was 46 years old and was about to move to Madrid, the capital of Spain, with an appointment as chaplain of the royal household. In the capital (1921-1936), Poveda mingled with personalities of the educational world: Believers who were trying to defend the autonomy of the teaching profession. The country was being subjected to an intense campaign of secularization and religious values were under constant attack.
Poveda’s presence was active, yet always calm and open to dialogue and collaboration. Those who knew him at the time have written of his attitude: ready to support any good educational initiative that might advance the work of believers. He was not satisfied with giving good advice. Immersed as he was in strengthening his own project, the Teresian Association, he never refrained from endorsing other educational endeavours. He saw that it was important to offer alternatives to those who wanted to practice their profession without having to abandon their faith.
Like the First Christians
In the climate of tensions present in Spain during the years that preceded the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Poveda advised his collaborators to keep to their convictions but, with gentleness and without provocations. In 1935 he wrote:” gentleness and meekness are the virtues that win the world".
Poveda knew that Spain was entering a great conflict, yet he asked his friends to remain calm, to pray constantly, to reflect and have the same attitudes of the first Christian communities and of their martyrs. A few days before his death he wrote:
Now more than ever we must study the lives of the first Christians so as to learn form them how to behave in times of persecution. >See how they obeyed the Church, how they confessed Christ, how they prepared for martyrdom, how they prayed for their persecutors and forgave them. How they loved and blessed the Lord and encouraged their brothers.
At dawn, on July 28th, 1936 a group of paramilitaries came to search his house. "We have orders from high places they said”. The priest had not wanted to leave Madrid. He chose to be close to his own, to the people he had gathered around a ‘good idea’ as he would call the educational movement he initiated in 1911. When his captors arrived, he identified himself with determination: “I am a priest of Christ".
Yet, Poveda´s death is not the main reason for his sainthood. The true reason is his life: A life as discipleship in the following of Jesus and his Gospel.
Beginnings among the poor
His evangelizing work had begun in Guadix, in the Granada Province of southern Spain, at the beginning of the XX century. There, a group of marginated people, gipsies and outcasts from society lived in a world apart, where others dare not enter. At age 23 Poveda had been ordained a priest and four years later, in 1902, he was assigned to preach a Lenten mission in the area where people had made their homes in ‘caves’ dug in the surrounding hills. These simple people won his heart. He began Christian doctrine classes, then a school for boys and girls, a dining room and evening classes for adults. He collected funds for the project, travelling through the province and to Madrid where he also had good friends. Until, through envy and jealousy, he became the target of accusations and gossip, to the point of mistrust by his own bishop. Poveda did not seek confrontation. Things became so difficult that the young priest chose to leave, Guadix, quietly and heartbroken.
A coordinated effort was needed
Months of much suffering followed, until he was named a Canon for the Marian Shrine of Covadonga, in northern Spain. During seven years (1906-1913) under the gaze of the Mother of God, he prayed and studied and looked attentively at the trends coming from Europe. In the midst of secularist waves entering Spain, he saw clearly that educators with a firm ground on their faith and a good formation could play an important role in the future of the country. In a secular state, the Church would not hold control of education and the role that believers could play in state schools would be crucial. He saw the need to join forces, to design a good strategy. He published articles, made proposals, even wrote books simulating the progress of his project.
Unable to convince others, he began by doing. He founded in 1911 an Academy in Oviedo. A boarding educational centre for young women, who in order to pursue higher studies, were arriving in the city. These would be the future teachers at the State Schools. Other academies followed in Linares (1912) and Jaén (1913). In 1914 he founded in Madrid the first university residence for women of the nation.
By then, Poveda had moved to Jaén, (1913) and it was in this city where he obtained civic and diocesan and civil approval of his organization in 1917. He had named it the Teresian Association, seeking the protection of Saint Teresa of Jesus, a learned and holy woman, totally dedicated to God and at the same time truly human with an attractive spirit. But since members of this educational endeavour would not live in cloisters and would work in state schools and in secular structures he gave them as model and inspiration the life style of the First Christians.
“The work we are trying to accomplish must be identical to that of the First Christian communities and our methods must be the same”, he wrote in 1916.
A new calling for the laity
By 1923 Poveda´s ‘good idea’ has spread throughout Spain. Poveda was now living in Madrid since 1921, with an appointment of Chaplain to the Royal Household. He had time for many other things, related to education and the poor and the future of his country. He had overcome the critics, who, even within Church circles, had cautioned that a Catholic work of culture could not be in the hands of women, even less in the hands of laywomen. Yet Poveda had proven that it was possible. And he wrote: “in the provinces where we have our academies, any statistical count will show that the cultural involvement of women is extraordinary”.
But the growth of his movement presented him with a new challenge. Would he listen to those who suggested he ought to seek an approval from Rome? Such a blessing would also secure the future of the Association, beyond the local approval of this or that bishop. With an explicit approval from the Pope his Work would have no frontiers.
The decision was taken but it would not be the Founder the one travelling to Rome. The Teresian Association was a lay group and it would be lay people who would present it to Pope Pius XI.
And so it was that, in October of 1923, almost half a century before the Second Vatican Council, Pedro Poveda sent to Rome all the documents and necessary recommendations seeking the approval of a new calling for the laity. Carrying them he sent his own ‘living letter’: three young, attractive and well-educated women who obtained from the Pope the unthinkable: a Papal Brief approving the Teresian Association forever as a Pius Union.
This was exactly what Poveda wanted; the minimum expression among the organizations of the Church “but one interiorly filled with the singularity of the Spirit of Christ”. The documentation of approval did not have the signature of the Founder, but that of Josefa Segovia, a young educator, 32 years of age and the first President of the Teresian Association. Today the Teresian Association is an Association of Christian Faithful of Pontifical Right, according to the new Canon Law.
Pedro Poveda died a martyr in 1936 and was beatified in Rome in 1993. But his Work lives. In 30 countries of four Continents, some 3,500 registered members, men and women, carry out an evangelizing mission through their witness in the family and their professional work in the field of education and culture. They are also the inspiration for a wide movement of collaborators and of youth organizations who live the same charisma and mission.
The first Church dedicated to Saint Pedro Poveda is in India.