A Little Known Hero with Ties to Los Gatos
November 23, 2007
If you live in Los Gatos, you know that the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus, a religious order of Catholic priests and brothers) call our town home too. Sacred Heart Center, the provincial headquarters and now also a retirement home for older members of the Society, sits up on St. Joseph Hill, a half mile from East Main Street. Driving through the pass to Santa Cruz, you can’t miss the huge white edifice. This place was once a novitiate, where young men entering the order went to get their first training. Two of my uncles did, too.
The winery there used to make sacramental wine and had the Novitiate Winery label. That chapter ended in 1986. Now the old vineyards are gone, most of the land has gone to public useage (open space and hiking trails) and the historic winery is rented out to Testarossa (and remains available for tasting and fabulous parties).
So whether you have ties to the Jesuits or just like good wine, you probably have had an occassion to go up the hill and have seen the vineyards in days gone by and enjoyed the view today.
But historically it’s interesting too, on several counts. Commonweal Magazine’s blog today mentions Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ (a Jesuit), who lived in Los Gatos for a time after fleeing religious persecution in Mexico while studying for the priesthood. Eventually he made his way home, to Mexico, and after serving the people in secret for a couple of years, was caught and martyred for his faith. His death happened 80 years ago today.
It seems hard to imagine that only 80 years ago, someone could be executed by a government for simply saying Mass, hearing a confession, or anointing the dying. But when you look around our world today, it’s not hard to see that religious persecution is still happening in other parts of the globe. Religious wars continue, as does the persecution of religious folks of various faith communities by some governments or other powerful or political bodies.
Fr. Miguel Pro, SJ, called “Blessed” by Pope John Paul II, a one-time resident of Los Gatos, came here to flee religious persecution while he studied for the priesthood. At close to the same time, Los Gatos was also a place of respite for folks suffering from Tuberculosis, alcoholism, or other maladies. (Others came here simply to escape the summer fog of San Francisco.) Today, the hills over Los Gatos house religious centers of all kinds, retreat houses and more. People continue to make their way here, whether to escape something bad or to spend a little time in prayer or in overdue rest and relaxation.
Would that the era of religious persecution of faith – any and all faiths – could be over forever. Our local tie, Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ, is a reminder that we still have far to go on this front.
If you’d like more information on Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ, there’s a book available, written by hagiographer Ann Ball, entitled simply Blessed Miguel Pro. It can be purchased online very inexpensively.