Jose María Ruiz was born on September 3, 1906, in Jerez de los Caballeros, in the province of Badajoz, Spain, to Don José María Ruiz Blanco and Doña Carmen Cano Vélez. At barely fourteen years of age, he entered the Claretian Postulate at the College of Don Benito on September 2, 1920. He made his First Profession in Jerez on August 15, 1924, and his Perpetual Profession in Zafra on October 23, 1927. After completing his ecclesiastical studies, Ruiz was ordained a priest in Badajoz in 1932 and named Prefect of Postulants in Sigüenza. It didn’t matter that he had always said he “didn’t want to be put with young boys [children].” Yet embracing providence, Ruiz undertook to accompany the postulants with all the love and care possible, and ultimately laid down his life for them.
By July 1936, Civil War in Spain was inevitable. At dawn on July 25, the militia descended for the third time on Siguenza, targeting representatives of the political right as well as secular and religious clergy. The bishop and a number of Claretian Missionaries were arrested.
Before the image of the Virgin Mary, Ruiz declared: “If you want a victim, Mother, here I am. Take me, but do not let anything happen to these innocent ones who have done no wrong to anyone.”
The postulants were divided into several groups and the youngest sent to Guijosa, a small village near Sigüenza. During his celebration of the Eucharist on the morning of July 26, Ruiz renewed his sacrificial promise: “If you want a victim, here I am, Lord.”
Ruiz exhorted the boys never to betray the Lord and the Virgin, our Mother, and to be prepared to give their lives, if necessary. Many were reduced to tears and sobs, while invoking the Lord and the Virgin. One lad insisted he was prepared to lay down his life.
But the situation deteriorated and Ruiz’ presence in Guijosa posed a danger to his hosts. Ruiz dispersed the older students, but stayed with the younger ones, who begged him not to leave.
July 27 was a day of glory and immortality. Ruiz had remained in Guijosa with the younger boys, hoping the situation would calm, but it did not. He celebrated mass that morning in tears, worried about the innocent youngsters in his care. He had decided to look for a safer place for them and planned to leave after lunch that day. Around 10:30 in the morning, however, a detachment of militia showed up, saying he was suspected of espionage. Assured that he was there, the detachment returned to Sigüenza for reinforcements and to receive marching orders. A band of a dozen or so returned to Guijosa around noon. They found Ruiz at the home of the parish priest, and when he came to the door, one of the detachment – like Judas – said to the others: ‘This is Father Ruiz.” Mocked and assaulted, Ruiz fell to his knees and exclaimed: “Virgin of Carmel, I offer my life for the salvation of Spain.”
After desecrating the church, Ruiz was given an image of the child Jesus. “Here, here,” one of his assailants mocked, “die dancing with him.” Ruiz received the image with joy and held it tenderly in his arms as the best gift in that time of pain. Before being driven off to the place of martyrdom, Ruiz exhorted the postulants, who had gathered in the square. “Don’t worry. Nothing is going to happen. The most they will do is take me to jail. They’ll do nothing to you. Goodbye, my sons.”
Ruiz was executed along the road to Sigüenza in the foothills of Mount Otero. He gave his life for the postulants entrusted to his care. Two of the boys, who had fled Guijosa said they had heard rifles fired in that area, but nothing is known of the final moments of Fr. Ruiz’ life.
The militia ordered the postulants back to Sigüenza. Passing the site of the execution, they saw Fr. Ruiz’ body, dressed in his striped suit and his crepe shoes. His feet were together, his hands over his chest and his head riddled with bullets. The shepherd had given his life for his sheep.
- GUTIERREZ, F., Claretian Martyrs of Sigüenza and Fernan Caballero, Madrid 1999.
- RIOL, E., Father José Marã a Ruiz, martyr in Sigüenza, Madrid 1939.
- GARCIA HERNANDEZ, P., Chronicle of martyrdom, 271 Claretian Missionaries Martyrs 1936-1939, Madrid 2000.
- RIVAS, D., Betica Martyr, Seville 1948.