The early year of his life
Nineteenth Century Spain
A traveler venturing through dusty Spanish towns a hundred and fifty years ago, would not have heard or read about Josep Manyanet. Like Nazareth, he too, remained hidden from the world's eyes.
Manyanet came into a world of civil wars, social upheavals, power voids and repeated shifts in political structures. Spain had settled into an uneasy blend of Catholic Faith and special interests. What had worked through centuries of agriculture, became unraveled after the French Revolution and Napoleon's invasion. Cities outgrow their medieval boundaries swelled by the beginning of industrial concerns; the church tries to stem the tide in a losing battle; old monasteries are razed to the ground to make room for new city squares; monks and nuns forcefully scattered become citizens of the new state.
A substantial growth in population puts a strain both on family structures and educational facilities. In some measure all of Europe shares in these growing pains and the Catholic Church can no longer afford to ignore it. Beginning with Pope Pius IX in the 1850's, some recognition is awarded to the dawning reality of a modern world. Devotion to the Holy Family of Nazareth becomes a new and important element. His successor, Pope Leo XIII continues in the same vein. "No one dares ignore -He would write- that family life will be everywhere strengthened and made holy when husbands and wives, parents and children take after the model of Jesus, Mary and Joseph".
To this interesting generation and in a home where the Catholic Faith is genuinely practiced, is born a new child: Josep Manyanet. His life will be marked by a steady allegiance to the church, a conscientious following of the Gospel and a sensitive awareness of the signs of the times.
His heritage will be honored because it makes a valuable contribution to the Church as the people of God and because he pioneers the celebration of family life as God's precious gift.
Family, Parish, School
January 7 in the year of 1833 marks the date of the birth of Josep Manyanet in the town of Tremp in Northeast Spain. On the very same day he receives the Sacrament of Baptism.
His parents, Antonio and Buenaventura have a large family. Josep becomes their ninth child, the youngest in a family teeming with daily home events. Antonio, the father, will die before Josep's second birthday. More than one of his siblings will also be dead at a very young age.
The family home stands even today right next to the Parish Church of Our Lady of Valldeflors (Valley of flowers) and young Joseph, who moves between home, school and parish church learns to appreciate a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, venerated as the Patron Saint of the town and the surrounding countryside.
Years later, Josep would write of one of his early childhood memories: His mother takes him by the hand and walks into the church with him. All is quiet and Josep listens as his mother offers the life of her youngest son to the Blessed Mother. The boy would remember that moment for as long as he lived, sensing a deep religious experience and the starting point of his calling to the priesthood and his mission as founder of new religious orders.
At the age of seven he makes his first Holy Communion; then, already a teen-ager he moves out of Tremp to nearby Barbastro where he enters a Boarding School staffed by the Piarist Fathers. There, in 1849 receives the Sacrament of Confirmation at the Cathedral Church. He completes Seminary studies in Lleida and Seu d'Urgell all this made possible by Divine Providence, the assistance of Reverend Valentín Lledós one of the priests who knew Josep and believed in him and also by the tenacious persistence inherited from generations of mountain people. Josep Manyanet has grown up displaying a dedication to honest work, a deep sense of duty, a commitment to the truth and total Faith in God.
A priest dedicated to the families
Josep Manyanet is ordained a priest on April 9, 1859, by his Bishop, Josep Caixal, in the Cathedral Church of Seu d'Urgell. Under the leadership of Bishop Caixal, who takes the new priest under his wing, Manyanet spends long hours in prayer, reflection and study, deepening his knowledge of Scripture, living the Eucharist and practicing all virtues especially poverty, humility and obedience.
He assists Bishop Caixal in the Pastoral Visitations through the different parishes of the Diocese and further in details of his decision-making and administration. He is assigned to his native town of Tremp where he is placed in charge of the Parish Church and the Catholic Hospital. He is also appointed Spiritual Director of the Immaculate Conception Nuns’ convent.
Tremp today remains grateful for the ministry and hard work displayed by Josep Manyanet who shored up the religious and even civic life of his contemporaries.
Founder of two religious families
Josep Manyanet had been blessed by an intense family life. This will enable him to dedicate his energies and his sensitivity to the needs of families and children. He is guided, through prayer, to proclaim the Holy Family of Nazareth as the God-given model for every family. His entire life will be an effort to carry this message into every home.
For this very purpose he initiates the Religious Congregation of the Sons of the Holy Family Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The year is 1864. Six years later, on February 2, 1870, at the Chapel of the School of Saint Joseph in Tremp, Josep Manyanet makes his first Profession of Religious Vows and receives that of his early companions and followers. In 1874, in obedience to his Superiors, he initiates the Religious Congregation of the Daughters of the Holy Family Jesus, Mary and Joseph, now the Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
The very name of these religious families already states what will be their calling and mission: Sons-daughters in the home of Nazareth as called by God. Witnesses through the religious experience of Nazareth and through a life of holiness. Apostles of the «Gospel of the family», for every family. Josep Manyanet lived to see the day when the Holy See approved the Congregation of the Sons of the Holy Family and its Constitutions.
As of today, both religious families witness to his insight in many different countries, offering their ministry in the fields of family life, priestly service and Catholic Schools.
Apostle of the Holy Family: heart, school and home church
Jesus comes down to Nazareth, there to dwell under the authority of Mary and Joseph and shape a family. Thus, the Gospel of the family is proclaimed by Jesus himself, at Nazareth in word and in deed. Josep Manyanet recognizes in this mystery a gift for the world: It will be the religious experience and charism that gives meaning to his life and determines specific details of his ministry.
To him, the Holy Family is the original home-church, kernel of the universal church, earliest community of consecrated life and prototype for every family. Manyanet's motto will be: All for the Holy Family, with the Holy Family, in honor of the Holy Family.
«The Trinity on earth Jesus, Mary and Joseph» --he relishes to say- offers every family throughout history the opportunity to discover, following the patterns of the Gospel, its own identity and purpose.
God's will as revealed in the Holy Family of Nazareth, will guide his life, his mission and his striving for holiness. It will also be his bequest to both Religious Congregations and to the Associations of the Faithful inspired by his ministry. His writings and his devotional practices, like his Trisagio to the Holy Family, will evidence the same conviction. Barcelona is home to the Expiatory Temple dedicated to the Holy Family, spiritual world-wide home to every family. The project and the very idea grew out of the prayer life, love for the Church and inspiration of Josep Manyanet. The unfinished work follows the dream and architectural genius of the Servant of God, Antonio Gaudí.
Prophet of the Family
Josep Manyanet is the Prophet of the Family. Inspired by the Holy Spirit he grasped how many threats a family has to face. His answer, over a century ago, was to dedicate his entire life to minister to families.
He sees the Sacrament of Marriage between a man and a woman as the natural foundation for all families. They have been called by God to develop their mutual love as an echo and reflection of the divine love and to create a community in the service of life. The family thus becomes the spring and source of all social goods and a precious jewel for the church and for the world.
Manyanet issues an invitation to all families interested in discovering the fullness of their mission, to consider Nazareth as the mirror and the Holy Family as the image reflecting their potential and their goals. His aim will be to build a Nazareth in every home and to make every family into «a Holy Family».
In 1899 he began a monthly magazine dedicated to the Holy Family and that same year he published his Precious family jewel, a guiding manual for family life. Even earlier (1868 and 1874), he had given impulse to a Movement and Lay Association of followers of the Holy Family.
He became convinced that the Good News of the Holy Family offers an abundance of Pastoral opportunities because it proclaims the fundamental values of family life and fosters the celebration of the home as the place where husbands and wives and parents and children will find their joy. «At the School of Nazareth, every family will learn the gift of love, the ideal of unity and the service of life».
Teacher and Educator children and youth
Manyanet's ministry to families comes down to details: he seeks to train his followers as educators and teachers: «The best way to bring a family to the Gospel and with it all of society, will be to raise the children in a thoroughly Catholic environment».
Pope John Paul II has insisted on «the Gospel of Nazareth» as an Educational System. Josep Manyanet, addressing the same idea' refers to the mystery of Jesus growing up at Nazareth in wisdom, age and grace before God and the people. He then, speaks, of the loving care exercised by Mary and Joseph who make their home into a church and a school to establish a «culture of mind and heart» for the child. What educational institutions are staffed by Josep Manyanet and by his followers, honor that same paradigm.
His Religious Congregations focus today on a holistic approach to education. They help children and youth learn with their parents. This is the first step towards a civilization of love solidly set on the Gospel. The goal is that while young people earn an education, the family becomes a community of love in the service of life, marriage vows are strengthened and both children and grown-ups accept their community responsibilities, fostering families for a better society that walks towards «a civilization of love».
If the grain of wheat...
Looking back at the life of Josep Manyanet we may remember his important dates and places, we may read many of the letters he wrote and even study the books he authored. We may retrace his steps and repeat his pilgrimages to Montserrat, Zaragoza, Lourdes, Rome and Loreto... Yet, all of this would hardly make us notice him. It would help us realize, however, that he lived his love for God and for God's people through the mystery of Nazareth.
Physically, Josep Manyanet endured long years of ill health. In his early fifties, three consecutive surgeries leave him in constant pain and with five open sores, which he labels «God's mercies». To that was added a series of obstacles and difficulties in his daily ministry, which he had to overcome.
Finally, he died in Barcelona, Spain, on December 17, 1901. His heritage continues to grow. Today’s generation finds that when the people of his time praise his life and his work, they allow us to reap the fruits of his labor. It is the message of the Gospel brought to life once more: If the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it yields a rich harvest. On November 25, 1984, eighty-three years after his death, Pope John Paul II, declared him Blessed.
Joseph Manyanet as a Saint: The fullness of his "desire for holiness"
Josep Manyanet learns from the Holy Family as in a school for holiness. He feels like a younger sibling of Jesus of Nazareth, follows him and learns from him such daily Gospel lessons as his older brother shares with him.
ó In 1895, he publishes a spiritual autobiography, entitled The Holy Family home and Nazareth school. There, Manyanet becomes «Desideria» and through this literary character, we are given a glimpse of his deepest feelings and of his constant links to the Nazareth experience. He fixes his abode in Nazareth. Every hour of the day, he makes reference to the Holy Family and to his personal encounter with Jesus, Mary and Joseph. His outward interventions are but signs of his permanent will to live and die in Nazareth, under the protection of the Holy family.
Further, he proclaims the Gospel of Nazareth as the simple and sure way for anyone attempting to respond to a personal calling. His disciples, indeed all families, may discover, with him, the details of the will of God for every day of their lives. Nazareth lacks spectacular pronouncements, urging instead-a normal and generous all of life. Reminiscent of the words of Saint Paul, Josep Manyanet becomes a saint because he lives a life hidden in Jesus Christ with the Father, in the company of Mary and Joseph.
In this way he is granted the fullness of his desire for holiness.
Assisting every family
Now, we witness the event of Josep Manyanet being declared a saint. Pope John Paul II invites the entire church to welcome the new saint as God's precious gift. Needless to say, we are also charged with the responsibility of taking seriously the message that he lived and preached.
Fixing our abode in Nazareth will foster our ministry to families. It will help us develop Pastoral Guidelines stemming from the Gospel that Jesus reveals to us in Nazareth through the Holy Family.
Josep Manyanet knew how to make Nazareth the core of his daily life. He then, taught the «Gospel of the Family» as an outreach of his desire for holiness. May we relay his message to every family, strive to make the home into the heart of the world and shape every home unto the home of Nazareth.
The Church declares Josep Manyanet to be a saint for a reason: Like the faithful steward of the Gospel, he too remained trustworthy in every day matters. His desire for holiness convinces us to follow him; his method has retained its value.
Our prayer asks for God's Blessing. May the Prophet and Apostle of the family, assist all families. May they discover, with him, the way to Nazareth. May they live in harmony, grow in holiness and become a shrine of love in the service of life. May they joyfully witness to the Gospel in their lives as a family.