Saint of the Month: Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez was a layman active in service to the Church. Carlos was born in 1918 in the city of Caguas, Puerto Rico. His parents were Manuel and Herminia (Santiago) Rodriguez, and Manuel operated a small store attached to the family home. Carlos had four siblings, and the family daily practiced their Catholic Faith. When Carlos was six, a fire destroyed the family home and business, and the family moved in with Herminia’s parents. That same year, Carlos was enrolled at the Catholic school adjacent to their parish in Caguas. The children’s maternal grandmother, Alejandrina, was an especially devout woman, and she encouraged them to follow God’s will to their vocation. It was during his school years that Carlos was positively influenced by the Sisters of Notre Dame, and he had a lifelong friendship with them.


Carlos’s First Holy Communion increased his devotion and love for God, and he enthusiastically started volunteering as an altar server. This familiarity with the magnificence and beauty of the Holy Mass gradually became a source of great devotion in the boy, and he wanted to share that. In 1932 he graduated from eighth grade, won an award for religion and had the highest grades in his class. He advanced to the public high school in Caguas. Shortly thereafter, Carlos began experiencing painful digestive symptoms, and he was eventually diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. He developed a strong desire to become a priest, but his physical condition prevented that. For eleventh grade, he transferred to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Academy in San Juan, where he renewed his friendship with the Notre Dame Sisters. Because of his chronic illness, he was not able to complete high school and returned to Caguas. There, he continued his studies as well as he was able and worked part time as a clerk. He graduated high school in 1939.


During his twenties, Carlos continued working as an office clerk. He enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras in 1946, where he became affectionately known as “Charlie”. He studied religion, music, philosophy, and other arts and sciences. Although he had to withdraw before graduation due his chronic health problems, he continued to study on his own, and he did so ardently. Carlos became a member of the Knights of Columbus.  He took a job at the University of Puerto Rico in Caguas, where he clerked for the Agriculture Experiment Station and continued his self-education. He spent his free time pursuing his great passion: the beauty of the catholic liturgy – its words, its music, its meaning. He used his small salary almost entirely in pursuit of spreading a love of the Catholic Faith – especially the Mass – to everyone he came in contact with. He greatly desired that the faithful understand the Mass and its significance. Having translated numerous documents from English or Latin into Spanish, Carlos began a publishing apostolate with Liturgy and Christian Culture, periodicals to teach and inspire people to greater understanding and love of the Faith. He mastered both piano and organ, mostly self-taught, and taught catechism to high school students, providing the teaching materials himself. He formed a choir, called Te Deum Laudemus, and he translated the Latin Mass texts into Spanish so that the faithful could better understand the beauty of the prayers being offered. He lamented that many of the laity did not lead prayerful lives, and he organized Liturgy Circles on campus and beyond, spreading this apostolate widely across Puerto Rico.


Carlos had a particular passion for restoring the Paschal (Easter) Vigil to the night of Holy Saturday, deploring the fact that for centuries it had been celebrated on Holy Saturday morning. He rejoiced when [Ven.] Pope Pius XII in 1952 restored the Easter Vigil to nighttime in remembrance of the Resurrection of Christ taking place in the early morning. Carlos, in referring to that most special of all Church feasts, frequently said, “Vivimos para esa noche”, or “we live for that night”.
In early 1963, Carlos was diagnosed with cancer of the rectum, and, within months, he died July 13 at age forty four. In 1981, a friend of Carlos’s prayed for his intercession when she was suffering with cancerous lymphoma and she miraculously was healed. He was beatified in 2001 in Rome in the presence of thousands of Puerto Rican faithful. He was the first Puerto Rican to rise to the honors of the altar. His remains are enshrined at the Caguas Catedral Dulce Nombre de Jesus, where his tomb reads, “Vivimos para esa noche”.
As a testament to the influence of his devout grandmother, Carlos’s brother Jose became abbot of a Benedictine monastery – the first Puerto Rican to do so, and one of his sisters became a Carmelite nun. Blessed Carlos filled an amazing amount of activity in his short life – all directed towards inspiring people – laity, priests and bishops – to a greater love for the beauty of the Catholic Faith. Numerous Puerto Rican people credit him as the inspiration for their priesthood or entry into religious life. Despite his chronic suffering, he was not known to complain about his lot in life. He lived simply, using his wages for the Kingdom. He only owned one pair of shoes as an adult. Those shoes are kept on display, and are regularly filled with prayer requests for his intercession. Blessed Carlos is remembered on his feast day of July 13, except in Puerto Rico, where he is honored on May 4, the day of his Baptism.