St. Pedro de Jesús Maldonado was a priest and a martyr of the anti-Catholic regime of Mexican President Plutarco Calles. Pedro was born in 1892 at Chihuahua City in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. His parents were Apolinar Maldonado and Micaela Lucero, and Pedro had seven siblings.
When he was seventeen, he entered the local seminary. There he was known to be friendly and especially devout with regard to the Eucharist. He was not an outstanding student, but he was diligently committed to his studies. By 1914, a civil war in Mexico, rooted in political instability and a presidential assassination, had reached its peak. Pedro’s Chihuahua seminary was closed and he returned home for a time. He was able to attend a seminary in El Paso, Texas, about two hundred miles away. He finished his studies, and was ordained there in the Cathedral of St. Patrick in January of 1918.
Fr. Maldonado returned to Chihuahua to offer his first Mass, and was first assigned to San Nicolas de Carretas. There, a devastating epidemic was occurring. Father Maldonado was known as a man of mercy, tending to the physical and spiritual needs of the afflicted, choosing to forget the danger he placed himself in by doing so. In 1924, he transferred to Santa Isabel Parish, where he initiated nocturnal Eucharistic Adoration and restored devotions to the Virgin Mary. He himself directed the children’s religious education, using music and plays to bring the Faith to new life. Enthusiasm for the Faith, especially toward the Eucharist, greatly increased under his influence. Father was especially concerned with the care of the poor, assisting them with their necessities. He took in an orphan, who he raised and whose education he provided. He especially enjoyed visiting the farmer’s fields, and some farmers claimed that Father’s prayers delivered them from pest infestation. He spent a lot of time working with the Tarahumara indigenous people, especially helping them to overcome alcoholism.
REVOLUTION BEGETS PERSECUTION
During the years of the Cristero War of 1926-1929, when persecution of the Catholic Church was at its height, Father stayed with his people, rather than seeking safety. He was continuously persecuted and harassed by Freemason groups, and was beaten several times, including right inside his own church. Although President Calles came to an agreement in 1929 with the Mexican bishops, putting an end to the Cristero uprising, he did not keep his part of the agreement. In the Chihuahua area, the persecutions ensued in 1931, now led by the Mexican government. Father had to continue his priestly work in secret. He was deported to El Paso briefly in 1934, but returned to Santa Isabel and continued his ministry as best he could while in hiding.
FATHER BECOMES A MARTYR
February 10, 1937 was Ash Wednesday. Father Pedro heard confessions for some time and then while he was distributing ashes, a group of armed and intoxicated men burst in and arrested him. He had the wherewithal to snatch a pyx filled with consecrated Hosts, and he was then marched through the streets, followed by a number of his parishioners. Father was brought before the city’s mayor, who grabbed him by the hair and led him to the region’s current political leader at the city hall. This man, Andrés Rivera, gave Father a powerful strike to the head with a pistol, breaking his skull, and dislodging one of his eyes. The gang continued beating him mercilessly, but Father Pedro held the pyx tightly against his body. Finally, the pyx was jarred loose, and the Hosts fell to the ground. Father was left for dead in a pool of blood. The ringleader of the attackers picked up the scattered Hosts, shoved them into Father’s mouth, snarling, “Eat this, this is your last Communion!”. Several hours later, a group of women discovered that Father was still breathing, and had him brought to a hospital. He died there the next day, February 11, 1937. He was just forty-four years old.
St. Pedro de Jesús Maldonado was beatified in 1992 and canonized with a number of other martyrs of the Mexican Revolution on May 21, 2000. His dedication to his priestly duties, and particularly to the Eucharist, were truly heroic. St. Pedro is interred in a chapel inside the beautiful eighteenth century Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Chihuahua City. He is the patron of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Chihuahua and of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas; the Knights of Columbus, and of Mexican nocturnal Eucharistic Adoration. Following the cultural custom of retaining the mother’s maiden name, he is sometimes known as St. Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero. His feast day is May 21, the date of his canonization.