In memory of Fr. Manuel Vilaró, Co-founder, on the centenary of his reinstatement (1922)

Sep 26, 2022 | Congregation, Founders, Historical Notes

The Twelfth General Chapter of 1922 (Aug. 15-Oct. 12), in its 25th session, said, “Not having sufficient instruments to decide critically whether or not the Reverend Father Manuel Vilaró belonged to the Congregation until his death, nevertheless, having been Co-Founder, having accompanied the Venerable Father [Claret] for many years in his missions, before and after the founding of the Congregation, having lived until his death united with ours in the bonds of closest friendship, and, above all, the authority of our Venerable Father Founder, who, Father Vilaró on his death, considered him as a Brother of the Missionaries in the same manner as Most Reverend Fr. Sala, has prompted the Chapter to reinstate his memory by giving him the veneration he deserves with so many titles and considering him united in spirit with the other members of the Institute.” [1]

For many confreres of the Congregation this is a surprising fact. As we mark the centenary of Fr. Manuel Vilaró’s reinstatement, it is worth to have this article of remembrance.

In 1920 Fr. Ramón Ribera wrote the pamphlet La Obra Apostólica del V. Fr. Antonio M. Claret. On pages 106-107 he wrote in a footnote, “It is right to claim here for Fr. Manuel Vilaró the glory of being counted now and always among the Confounders of the Congregation, with the right to the same honors that the Congregation bestows on the other 5.” It is no obstacle to this that he separated from the company of the others to follow the Venerable Founder to Cuba, as secretary, just as the Fathers and Brothers who served him as chaplains and pages for many years did not later cease to belong to the Institute, nor the fact that Fr. Vilaró returned to Spain because he was ill, returning to the bosom of his family, where he died shortly afterwards, aided by our members, for he did so out of a feeling of gentleness, so as not to burden the nascent Institute with his illness, nor hinder the apostolic work of the few Fathers he had at that time. Fr. Claret himself, years after Fr. Vilaró’s death, put him on the same level as the other Founders, stating in his Autobiography, “From those exercises (those of the Foundation) we all came out very fervent, resolute and determined to persevere, and thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary, we all persevered very well. Two have died and are now in the glory of heaven, enjoying God and the reward of their apostolic labors, and praying for their brothers.” These two, at the time the Venerable writes, were Fathers Sala and Vilaró, whom he calls both brothers, and he says they persevered very well. Putting the two concepts together, keeping in mind that the Venerable is talking about the foundation of the Institute, and tell us if the consequence we are looking for does not arise spontaneously.”[2]  When Claret wrote these lines, barely 10 years had passed since Fr. Vilaró’s death. Because of this, his memory and connection with the congregation may have still been fresh in his mind. On the other hand, at that time there were no particular signs of a more spiritual than juridical affiliation. The affirmative judgment of Father Claret, Founder of the Congregation, should serve to resolve any further discussion.

So why was Fr. Vilaró’s reinstatement deemed necessary in 1922? What had happened up to that point? The crux of the matter is found in two comments by Fr. José Xifré on the figure of Vilaró.

In his Chronicle of the Congregation (Annales 1915, p. 193), describing the Founders, Xifré says of Fr. Manuel Vilaró: “Fr. Manuel Vilaró was young, a little small, but of good physical and moral gifts; but because of his temperament, incipient consumption and the indigence of his family, he gave up the undertaking, and after occupying a capitular dignity in Cuba, he died in his own paternal home from the aforementioned illness.”

And in The Spirit of the Congregation (1892, p. 10), he writes: “To this end, on July 16, 1849 […] the Congregation was formed with six people, one of whom, Mr. Manuel Vilaró, left the Institute shortly after for health and family reasons.”

These comments were enough to exclude him from the Congregation’s Obituary [3].

To propose the aforementioned reinstatement after seventy years, it seems that it was the now Blessed Martyr Fr. Federico Vila who presented a lengthy report to the XII General Chapter of 1922, held in Vic, claiming Fr. Manuel Vilaró’s affiliation with the Institute. A year earlier he had written and published in Annales a short biography of Vilaró on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of the Foundation and the 50th anniversary of the Founder’s death.

This was the argument he presented to the Chapter of Catalunya to be discussed at the General Chapter of August 1922, requesting that Father Manuel Vilaró be officially recognized as a true member of the Congregation with the right to the same honors as the Congregation’s other Confounders [4]:

“Reasons to prove that he did not leave the congregation:

a) He did not leave before going with our Venerable Father to Cuba, because, first of all, there is no fact that allows us to suppose that he did. Secondly, the day before he left with our Venerable Father he went to say goodbye to his family, went back to sleep in the mission house and the next day left with Venerable for Barcelona.

b) He did not leave while he was with Venerable Father because 1º it is clear that he was always united with our people with the only ties that existed between them at that time. 2º in his letters he called them comrades. 3º no one will think of saying that accompanying the Founder constituted, in fact, leaving, just as the people who later accompanied the Venerable as chaplains or pages did not leave, just as one would not consider an individual destined to live with a bishop of the congregation to have left.

c) He did not leave later on, since Venerable Father himself 1º clearly states this by saying (just talking about the foundation of the Congregation) that they all persevered very well. 2º puts him at the level of Fr. Sala, since he says that of those who founded the Congregation there were then two in heaven (Fathers Sala and Vilaró) who pray for their brothers (Autobiography 1-34). The words of Venerable Father are clear and categorical, showing that it had not even occurred to him that Father Vilaró had left the congregation.


1st and main point: on the claims of Most Reverend Fr. Xifré. It is necessary to interpret them: a) because they oppose those of the Founder; b) because of the disadvantages of understanding them literally, namely: a) if he left the congregation because of his temperament or character, this does little for the prudence of Venerable Father, who did not know him after having had him for so long as a missionary companion, or chose him knowing that he had a bad temper; b) if he left because of a tisic illness, even if incipient, how did he endure the labors of the ministry in Cuba? How did Venerable Father scrutinize so much work on the shoulders of a tisic? c) on the hardship of his family, see the following objection. We must therefore interpret the Reverend Father [Xifre]. We know that he sometimes used forceful and absolute phrases, which were understood in the right sense by those who knew him, but that some of them, if considered, would perhaps not be objectively correct, saying that Fr. Vilaró left the Vic Community, the only one in the Congregation, to accompany Venerable Father, thus giving up helping his confreres in the missions; but the departure to accompany Fr. Claret was only material, not formal, as the reasons given above show.

2. The beneficiary conferred on him by our Father Father. This objection proves nothing, because at that time no vows were made in the Congregation. If the solemn profession of Fathers Carbó and Bernardo Sala were not an obstacle to being members of it, and we would consider the latter as an individual of the Congregation, if he had died there, and considered himself as such, since in the books published then, he added to his name: member of the House-Mission of Vic, much less of a beneficiary in which he did not have vows. This last circumstance is very noteworthy. In addition, we know that a bishop wanted to confer a beneficence on Fr. Xifré to alleviate the poverty of his early Fathers, and it is certain that he did not try to remove him from the Institute. (The difference between this possibly simple beneficiary and that of Fr. Vilaró, residency, is incidental.) Having received a beneficence may at most show that Ven. Father gave it to him because of his family’s poverty, but this did not remove Fr. Vilaró from the Congregation; on the contrary, Ven. Father gave it to him so that he would not have to leave to seek a way of life outside the Institute, for example in parish life. We are aware of Fr. Vilaró’s short permanence in the beneficiary, because he always worked alongside Fr. Claret, as he would have worked alongside his confreres and in the same ministries.

3ª The fact that he did not die in our house in Vic. This is a very slight objection, because 1º he did it out of delicacy, so as not to burden our Fathers who were so busy in ministry. 2º He was daily and almost continually assisted by our fellows (into whose hands he delivered his spirit), which they would not have done if they had regarded him as coming out of their bosom, as we would now. Then they regarded him as a brother. Then to die outside Vic’s house is a very accidental thing.

In all that has been said, let us not lose sight of the legal status of the congregation at that time.”

Here ends the argument that seems to have been at the origin of the final decision of the XII General Chapter of 1922: Manuel Vilaró, the Founder’s most assiduous companion. Thus Fr. Manuel Vilaró (+27 IX 1852) can be considered the first Claretian to die in the Congregation, a position that until 1922 had been occupied by Fr. Ignacio Carbó (+3 XII 1852).

[1] Sections 23 and 25.

[2] A.G.: 11. 1. 15.

[3] In the first handwritten Necrology of the Congregation (1852-1931) initiated by Fr. Clotet, Fr. Vilaró was absent until someone added: “Año Domini 1852, die 27 Sept. vita functus est Vicia dm. Emmanuel Vilaró, Confundator Congregationis, et socius V.P. Sepultus est in coemeterio vicensi. Eius memoria, qua verum Congr. membrum, vindicata fuit in Cap. Grali. XII” (A.G.: B.H.14.01). In another handwritten Necrology of Fr. José Mata (1852-1906) it is also absent, and in a Statistics of Deceased from 1849 it is also absent and added later (A.G.06.16/2-3). In the first Catalog that we keep with the Priests and Brothers of the first two decades, Fr. Manuel Vilaró appears with the following observation: “He left the Congregation when Mr. Claret went to Cuba, where he also went and where he obtained a prebend to be able to help his family in whose bosom he came to die”. (A.G.: H.C.01.01.).

[4] A.G.: G. V. 04. 14.

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