Blessed Martin de San Nicolas:
the Master of Novices
by Enrique A. Eguiarte , OAR
While the missionaries were on board a boat to Japan on 4 August 1632, Blessed Martin de San Nicolas could not but help reminisce some years before very near the place where they were that he had embarked with missionaries from other religious orders on a defective sea craft which was earlier acquired by various religious corporations. However , shortly after putting out to sea , because of the very inclement weather they were shipwrecked and had to return to the Philippines. Consequently, they felt the frustration of their dream and aspiration of reaching Japan. That was why when Father Martin embarked again not only did he ask God so that the boat would not suffer another shipwreck but also that they could safely reach Japan in order to continue the evangelization work of his Augustinian Recollect confreres and very probably to receive the gift of martyrdom on Japanese soil.
So when he boarded once more another boat which belonged to some Chinese and seemed somewhat better than the previous one that sank, he lifted up his prayer to God, although his shock lasted only for a moment since deep inside him his excitement and his missionary illusion were burning as he observed the face of his confrere Father Melchor de San Agustin shining with joy and happiness. This brother in the habit not only was to accompany him in this expedition to Japan but was also his companion in martyrdom and in his journey to the City of God.
And such joy which again shone brightly in his heart reminded Father Martin about the joy that reigned in his life at the novitiates of the Order of Augustinian Recollects because he was for seven years the master of novices at Saint Nicholas Convent in Manila from 1625 to 1632, the year he embarked for Japan. As the master of novices , he could not forget the example, the austerity and the profound spirit of his own master of novices at the Augustinian Recollect convent in Zaragoza, Spain –Father Juan Bautista Coronas –who enjoined them to recollection and prayer that attracted the attention and interest of young Martin. He observed how the Recollects of the convent and school in Zaragoza lived. It was in Zaragoza where Father Martin was born in 1598. For this reason, he decided at age eighteen to embrace the Augustinian Recollect life at their convent of Borja in the province of Zaragoza and make the profession at their convent in the city of Zaragoza on 1 May 1619.
Three years later, despite the fact that he had not finished his theologizal studies yet, he volunteered for the Philippine missions and embarked at Cadiz on 7 July 1622. Father Martin and his companions followed the customary route for the voyage to the Philippines with a stopover at Mexico.
Nevertheless, the trip was to have a special significance for him since after having disembarked at Veracruz on his way to Mexico City, Father Martin was ordained as priest in this city. He could not forget one thing. The memory of the colors and majesty of New Spain [ Mexico] where he received his presbyteral ordination would accompany him for the rest of his life. And not only this for sure, Father Martin had also prayed before the image of what would not long after become the patron of Mexico City and the first Mexican saint –Saint Philip of Jesus by Pope Urban VIII in 1627 was still four years away, but his reputation and veneration occupied a prominent place in the life and devotion of the Mexican people.
As the master of novices of the convent in Manila ,Blessed Martin excelled not only in his impressive observance of all the statutes but also for his great fervor of spirit and special interest and attention for the sick and the dying emulation through it the example of his own master of novices. On the other hand, the missionary zeal did not cease to burn in his heart. For that reason, he had volunteered on several occasions for the mission in Japan despite the risks involved because going to Japan practically meant going to martyrdom in view of the violent persecutions against the Christians there. Hence, when he embarked for Japan once more in 1632, he gave thanks to God and asked Him to able to follow His will, whatever it would be.
And his prayer were heard for the attempt to reach Japan this time was successful. After a tedious and unusually long voyage in China Sea, they arrived at Nagasaki on 4 September 1632. From a distance they could view the smoke on a zenith of one of the mountains of Nagasaki. They were the last embers of the martyrdom of their Augustinian Recollect confreres –Father Francisco de Jesus and Father Vicente de San Antonio –who were martyred exactly a day before their arrival. The smoke that timidly rose to the sky was not only the last trace of martyrdom of their confreres but also the witness that the –Father Martin de San Nicolas and Father Melchor de San Agustin –were getting at that time in order to proclaim the Gospel in Japan and to be steadfast in their Faith until death. And that was what Father Martin did.