Testimony of Mother Maria de las Nieves García
"MY MEMORIES OF CONCHITA IN THE BURGOS SCHOOL (1966-1968)"
(Testimony given in Madrid, summer 2012)
1 – Admission to the Burgos School
In 1966, I had the position of Superior of our school in Burgos. The city of Burgos was the cradle of our Congregation, the MissionaryTeachers of the Conception, (Concepcionistas Misioneras de la Enseñanza), created by our Founder, Carmen Sallés in 1892. In 1966, our school was one of the largest schools in the city and we had a boarding school for girls, which was very common in all religious schools. During the 1966-67 academic years, the boarding school was completely full, so I had indicated not to accept new applications, since we could not accommodate more interns.
During that time, I found out later that Aniceta, Conchita’s mother, came to solicit admission at the boarding school for her daughter, Conchita. She came accompanied by Ascensión de Luis Sagredo, better known as Chon de Luis and by Francisco Sánchez Ventura, Professor of Economics at the University of Zaragoza and author of the first book written about Garabandal. These two persons had witnessed the events at Garabandal from the very beginning of the apparitions. At that time, I knew nothing about Garabandal nor had I followed the news that appeared in the newspapers during those years. Personnel in charge at the boarding school told Aniceta that there wasn’t any place available at the boarding school. After speaking withour chaplain, Rev. Manuel Guerra, they went to another school in the city which also had a boarding school with very good references.
When they went to the other school, the superior was not available and then they went to Rev. Manuel Guerra’s home. This priest was interested in the case personally and offered to accompany Aniceta, Conchita’s mother, to talk with me. Providentially, it happened that between the first and this second visit, one of the interns hasleft and therefore there was a place available for Conchita. It was then that I found out that Conchita was one of the four girl’s seers at Garabandal. They put me abreast of what I should know to help Conchita in her human and spiritual formation.
We decided that Conchita remained at school hiding her identity, so that her peers, her teachers and the nuns didn’t know who she was. Only the mother superior of our Congregation and I will know it. It was agreed that Rev. Manuel Guerra would be her confessor and I will be her counselor. They also gave me a list with the people that could visit her, to protect her from curious and opportunistic people. As Conchita was baptized with the name Maria Concepción, it was agreed to call her Mary, a name that was used throughout her life and continues to use in diverse occasions, to avoid being recognized as Conchita, the seer of Garabandal.
Conchita attended our school throughout the year 1966-67 and the first quarter of the next school year. As instructed by our general mother, Conchita’s real identity was revealed to the nuns and school friends just a few days before she left the school. Until then, nobody knewanything, which
says a lot about the strength of her character. She knew how to keep quiet and go unnoticed. Any comment could have made her the center of attention, bringing vanity to her adolescent years. In addition to a strong character, she demonstrated maturity uncommon for her age.
Conchita brought a very low academic level. I remember her misspellings when she arrived at the school. Certainly, she attended the school at the village of Garabandal, where, despite the good teacher, the teaching resources where scarce. In addition, in the rural Spain of those years, the school duties ceased when there was a need of an extra helping hand in the fields, so for a girl of this remote village, in the middle of the Santander mountains, mathematics and language were not priorities. To bring her up-to-date, we gave her general culture courses and typing, which were much generalized studies among adolescent girls on the 1960s.
Conchita was very smart, but she had a huge cultural gap. She asked questions about very elementary things that she was unaware of, having lived in an environmentally isolated village in Santander. But at the same time that I say she was smart, she was not a know-it-all kind of a kid. She was very simple and made questions with great confidence. I remember that on one occasion she asked me the meaning of communism, which she had heard from the Virgin and she didn’t know what it was.
This brings to mind something that happened also to the shepherds of Fatima. When they commented that the Virgin Mary had told them that Russia would extend its mistakes around the world, Francisco commented among them that the Virgin should have referred to their uncle Joaquin’s donkey called “Rusa”. To which Lucia, the oldest of the three shepherds, affirmed that Russia should be the name of a very bad woman.
2. The life at school
Conchita remained in our school a full academic year and the first quarter of the next school year. I must say that during the school year 1966-67, her stay was complete in a superlative manner, she totally immersed herself into our school and during the summer holidays she requested to stay a month of summer vacation at our school.
Conchita felt welcome at our school and the understanding on my part made her feel very good, because from the very beginning of the apparitions she suffered incomprehension from people closest to her. There was admiration by the people that visited Garabandal, but at the same time she found misunderstandings and gossip from many from the beginning. Conchita herself recounts these facts in the journal she wrote between 1962 and 1963, which is well known since it has been published.
The angel’s first apparition took place on Sunday, June 18, 1961, and in her journal you can read the following:
“The 19th day has come. When we woke up, the people were already talking about (…) Everybody wanted to talk about the same thing during the entire day (…) But most people were laughing about us, but we didn’t care because we knew that is was the truth. These conversations were spoken in the morning, on the way to school.”
And this was nothing more than a slight beginning of what awaited us: The sessions with the Commission, the trips to the Archdiocesis of Santander, the interrogations.
Conchita look for any possible time in the afternoons to talk with me in one of the entrance halls. I never forced her, she came voluntarily. A Claretian father, father Joaquin María Alonso, who was studying the Lucía case by order of the Congregation of the Faith, found out and came to see me more than once. He spoke with the Mother General and told me that everything spoken with Conchita should be written and preserve, even if 100 years have passed.
In addition to the journal I wrote scoring the discussions that we held, I also keep Conchita’s diary among my papers. I advised Conchita that if she needed it, especially as inner relief, to write her diary in the school. So she wrote a diary. I kept her two agendas, given to me when she left the school, without me asking for them. These writings include constant expressions such as these:
“Every day I give less value to the things of the Earth, and pray to Mary for everyone”. “I love God above all”. “Help me, my God, to do thy will always”. “I love you very much, Lord!” “What great happiness I felt when seeing the Virgin!” “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thank you for helping me so much!” “Until yesterday, I had never thought that the Virgin Mary is a daughter of Adam and Eve. This has made me think that she is the daughter of my own father and have made me love her more strongly, although now I have her as my mother, friend and sister…”
I tried to counsel Conchita with prudence, listening to what she said, without prying questions. We cover themes about Prayers, to love Christ, the will of God, the Eucharist, respect for others, faith, and trust in God. Everything is written in my journal. I had and have a well-rounded opinion of Conchita, whom I have not stopped to communicate by letter and phone. I have been with her several times in Fatima, where she has a home. She stays there often, if family responsibilities allow her to.
Because of all of these facts, I can qualify Conchita as a woman of great character, not acting like being in the limelight, delicate, charitable, and humble, with sense of humor and always looking to fulfill the will of God. Not with excessive piousness, as confirmed to me by one of her visionary friends, Maria Cruz. These personal characteristics have been transmitted to the current Holy Father,Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent letter written by me.
From the school years, Conchita and I have not stopped to communicate and we are united by a great friendship. My diary covers our conversations while in the school, but I also have the diaries that she wrote while in school. I have kept everything I have received, personally or in writing.
In terms of her docility to the Church, a common friend of Conchita and me told me recently the following: About two years ago, she was in Fatima with Conchita, praying the rosary at night on the Esplanade, in a place that Conchita is accustomed to pray, about thirty meters from the Capellina, so there was no one nearby. As it is known, in Fatima there is a custom to sing a religious song between every decade.While the faithful were singing, this person said to Conchita:
-Conchita you don’t say in the Hail Mary “Mother of God and our Mother”, as it is said by the faithful in Garabandal.
-No, she answered, because they can only say it in private.
And this person told me, with a certain dose of humor, that being separated from the rest of the faithful, nobody could hear how they were praying the Hail Mary’s. She thought that by “private”, Conchita should be understood to be alone in her house and with the blinds down. Those extremes show the delicacy of this woman, not to give in any judgment of the Church about Garabandal, even to her closest friends.
But let return to the Burgos school. In dealing with their peers, she was one of them, and she stood out as being a good prankster. I remember that, while being at the village on vacation, she wrote me a first letter and when I opened it, a butterfly came out of the envelope, things that normal girls will do for fun.
When we informed Conchita’s identity to her school companions, I introduced her to four serious and formal girls to accompany her for some time outside the school. Two of them were later admitted into our Congregation and one of them, very prominent in our missions in Africa, told me that she owed her religious vocation to Conchita.
When Conchita arrived at our school, she was experiencing rough times. The people at the Diocesan Commission, despite their good intentions, they did not have the slightest psychology to treat a girl, and hence derive much of the misinterpretations that caused so much suffering to Conchita, in addition to the remembrance of memory denials and doubts, so natural in all these processes. At this point, I have no difficulty in transcribing literally what I wrote in my journal on those days after speaking with Conchita:
“We didn’t start with any lie and I can assure you that we did not plan any of this (…)” “It is not true that we rehearsed. How can they think that? (…)”. “If I were to see the Virgin again I will feel grief and sadness because of my denials.” “From the 15th of August I had doubts. I saw everything as if it had been a dream that has already passed”. When I do deny, however, I feel inside something that doesn’t allow me to be peaceful.”
During the many conversations held with Conchita, she complained often about the people’s curiosity for The Warning, The Miracle and The Chastisement, without worrying about the messages. She told me that people were too fixed in the Miracle, and in many cases, miracles do not convert people, as it happened with the Pharisees and the miracles performed by Jesus. Again, I was talking with her about all those subjects that were related to her human and religious formation, which were recorded in my journal. But, of course, we talked about everything, like The Warning, The Miracle and The Chastisement, without dedicating extra time on these subjects. I have no difficulty in transcribing what I wrote in my diary about it:
“I know what The Warning is, but I don’t know when it will happen.” It will come directly from God, for example, itwill not be atomic bombs, since this would be done by men. The Warning, not The Chastisement, will serve as purification. It doesn’t imply that people will die, but it could happen because of the impression they will receive. It is something that will happen in the sky. The Virgen told me the name, but I don’t know its meaning. It is a word that starts with an “a”. I need to consult the dictionary”.
So with that simplicity Conchita opened her heart and she found peace in those conversations. Also, we prayed together in our chapel and when we were alone in the chapel we kneeled in the presbytery, to be closer to the Tabernacle. She found so much peace during those months that when his mother decided to take her out of the school, in the farewell she cried in my arms. Conchita went to the Valdecilla hospital in Santander, to take nursing studies. These studies served her well initially, when she moved to the United States, but this is another story that I only know by references.
3. Conchita and the Holy Eucharist
In the message of October 18, 1961, the Virgin asked the girls, and by extension all of us, that we frequently visit the Blessed Sacrament. From the beginning and until the end, the Eucharistic manifestations of Garabandal have been very numerous. At last, on the message on June 18, 1965, Conchita heard heaven’s reproach, which has remained one of the defining characteristics of Garabandal. “The Eucharist is no longer given the importance it deserves.”
Devotion to the Eucharist was a constant in Conchita since childhood and has so remained until today. She promoted the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in her parish in the United States and she has subsequently maintained contact and supported priests, such as Father Justo, who promotes perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, day and night, without interruption throughout the world.
I heard from a person that had the opportunity to be with Conchita in Fatima that Conchita normally sits in a secluded place when praying the Rosary on the Esplanade. On Thursdays, when the Custody
is in the procession, instead of the Virgin of Fatima, Conchita finds a way to be as close as possible to the Custody, looking at it with great devotion.
These facts are nothing more than the continuation of the same behavior experienced at our school chapel, when we kneeled in the presbytery to be closer to the Tabernacle. Precisely, one particularly memorable moment was Conchita’s birthday Eve, at eleven at night on February 6, 1967. We prayed together while all her classmates were already asleep. On that occasion, Conchita had written a prayer to the Virgin Mary, whose text I keep and give to you now for the first time, without removing a single word:
Today, the last day of my 17 years, at the end of the day, I want to end everything in me that it is not to your liking. Alone I am powerless, that’s why I come tonight to count on you, now and forever.
First, I would like to thank you for these 17 years, and I offer them to you with all my imperfections and good works that would be in them. I also apologize for how badly I administered these years. With these 17 years I want to leave with you my imperfections: laziness, vanity, and bad tempers, especially with my family, my whims and my lack of charity with some people. Perhaps, my arrogance, I also leave with you. And especially I want to offer you tonight the sacrifice not to buy magazines again. All those things I leave with you with your help, because I could not do it alone.
Now, reaching 18 years old, I would like to live like I have never lived before, and I ask you to grant me my greatest wish, that the following virtues be born in me: Faith, Hope and Charity, to love you always and at all times, both experiencing sufferings and happiness.
To be more docile with others, especially with my family.To be more understanding and generous with God and with everyone. Always, and above all, to tell the truth. To participate in the Holy Mass with fervor and love. To pray the Rosary everyday. To be always united and forever to God. I want to love you in the midst of suffering, misunderstandings, incomprehension, annoyances and for everything that you would like to send me, I thank you.
Mary, I love you now and forever. Thank you, thank you very much for everything!
Conchita’s Eucharistic devotion was a vigorous practice withoutsentimentality. I can say that she had to overcome darkness and dryness on many occasions. Perhaps, most illustrative would be toquote a few paragraphs from my journal about Conchita’s conversations, as to understand well what I mean:
“I would like to suffer for my things, not mixed with Garabandal, but everything is so intertwined that I cannot act without the facts of the apparitions.” “I wish to go to my village and, at the same time, it gives me much grief to leave the school, where also at the same time I have suffered and I have been so happy, although we will suffer always (…)”. “In my village, there was barely any time for prayer (…)”. “You already know that the other day I felt much fervor, but I returned to my dryness. Tne Eucharist presents itself as something representative, but not real. It seems impossible to me that Christ is there and when I go to communion, I secretly look at others to see if the same doubt is reflected in their faces. When we received benediction with the custody, I can only think that it is the hand of the priest who blesses us, never from a real and truly present Christ.”
It is true that in the midst of this dryness, she had moments of special clarity and consolation. I left proof of one of those moments in my journal, with what Conchita told me:
“I felt this sentence: ‘I love you and I have forgiven not some but all things’. I felt a great happiness.”
And on another occasion, Conchita wrote the following experience in her agenda-diary: “I felt a great joy receiving communion, because I felt the presence of the Virgin like being with Christ in that moment”.
As I said, the devotion to the Eucharist is something evident in the life of Conchita up to the present. I knew that during a recent summer, while at her home in Fatima, she was visited by a priest from Galicia with whom she maintains a friendship. During their conversations, Conchita showed him some of the relics in her possession. One very important relic is from Padre Pio, and at a particular moment, when the priest mentioned that those material objects were relics, by having been in contact with holy people, he remembered what happened in Garabandal and said:
-Conchita you are a living relic -Yes, she immediately responded. I am a living relic, because every day I receive Jesus in Holy Communion.
4. Conchita and her devotion to the priesthood.
Along with the reproach from heaven about the neglect in the treatment of the Holy Eucharist, Garabandal is also characterized by its priestly message. It is true that in this case the heavenly reproach was terrible: “The Angel told me that many Cardinals, bishops and priests are on the road to perdition and carry many more souls with them. When the Angel told me this – is still Conchita who narrates in her journal – I was very ashamed, and the Angel repeated it to me for the second time: “Yes, Conchita, many Cardinals, bishops and priests are on the road to perdition and carry many more souls with them”. To say such a thing in the Spain of the sixties and also to credit the authorship of the phrase to a Messenger from heaven, explains the treatment that Conchita received from part of
the clerical establishment. Unfortunately, very shortly thereafter, events did nothing more than corroborate the Angel’s denunciation, which was aimed to encourage priests to move decisively towards holiness, to save their soul and help so many Catholics who are spiritually dependent on them.
In no way the Garabandal message can be interpreted as a disrespect to the priestly dignity. All the contrary, Conchita told me and wrote in her diary something that has been published a thousand times:
”The Virgin told us, that if we both saw an Angel and a priest, we should salute the priest first”. But as sure as Conchita had always recognized the immense dignity of the priesthood, it is a reality that the specific lives of some priests do not follow the priestly pattern. It was at the time of the apparitions that she began to notice. On one occasion Conchita said: “Before the Virgin said it to me, I thought the all priests were good. I never thought that they commit mortal sin. I have known many priests. At the beginning, some priests seemed to be saints, and then I saw things that I did not like. I understood later how people can deceive”. And, of course, during our conversations during her stay at the school, I could see that Conchita was not referring to generalities, but to very specific cases. Moreover, on a certain occasion, Conchitatold me that the Virgin Mary had told her that the message that refers to the priests was communicated through the Angel, because the Virgin felt great grief to tell it to me.
Remembering now specific cases, I want to refer to the talks that Conchita maintained with Padre Pio, the capuchin saint of Pietrelcina, who is so linked to Garabandal. So many things have been said… It have been affirmed that Conchita was never with Padre Pio. It is worth it that I should tell something about it. During the years I spent in our school of El Escorial, I was in charge of our former students. On one occasion, one of them told me that she had been in Garabandal and that she had even seen the girls going down the pines walking backguards. We were to broaden the conversation and she came with another former pupil and two friends who had not studied at our school. I told them many things, while illustrating them with photos from my files. When I spoke of her trip to Italy to see Padre Pio, organized by Cecilia de Borbón, I showed them a photograph of Conchita at the Coliseum in Rome, in a group with Aniceta, her mother, with Father Luna, Cecilia of Borbón and another lady. And it was then that one of the guests to our meeting, one of the two who were not former students, stated that the young lady in question that appeared in the photo was her, then working as secretary of Cecilia de Borbón.
Obviously, Conchita communicated with Padre Pio. For this reason, I wrote to Padre Pio from the school and he replied briefly on January 19, 1968. I keep his reply as a precious relic from one of the greatest saints of the Church of all time.
I have many memories of Conchita’s prayers and what she does specifically for the priests. For a time, while she was at her house in Fatima, she went daily to an older priest’s residence to volunteer as a cleaning lady. As in other occasions, she went there using the name of Mary, not to be recognized. One day, someone recognized her. At the point, all the resident priests knew that the woman who swept the floors of their residence was Conchita of Garabandal. From then on, nothing was the same. Conchita told me that when the priests discover who she was, they changed the way they treated her. She said she felt better while nobody knew who she was, serving those elderly priests from anonymity.
To summarize what I am able to contribute on the concept of Conchita and her devotion to the priesthood, searching through my papers I found a letter written by Conchita at the request of a woman and for her priest son. The letter was published by the Legion Magazine on November 26, 1967, and it was written by Conchita four months earlier, when she still was at our school in Burgos. The text reads as follows:
“What the Virgin wants of the priests is first, his own sanctification. To fulfill their vows for love of God. To bring many souls to Him with example and prayer. In these times, it is difficult otherwise.
That the priest be sacrificed for love of souls in Christ. To withdraw from time to time in silence. To listen to God, who speaks to them frequently. To think often on the passion of Jesus, so that their lives can be more united to Christ the Priest, inviting the souls to penance and sacrifice, and also to make more bearable the Cross that Christ sends to each of us.
The priest must speak of Maryas the safest way to Christ. Also make them believe that there is Heaven, and there is Hell.
I think that this is what Heaven asks of their priests.”
Since her youth, Conchita had a high esteem to the priesthood. I was struck during our conversations when we talked about the isolation she had while living in Garabandal. When I asked what she liked more the few times she went out of the village, she answered: “To see so many priests in the town of Comillas”. She didn’t refer to people, to the great buildings in Santander, or the sea…but the joy of seeing so many priests together. She demonstrated her great love for the priesthood many times.
Signed: Nieves Garcia - Missionary Teachers of the Conception (Madrid, summer of 2012) -
(Special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Sala for the translation and Mr. Aurelio G. for management)
A.M.G.D. y la B.V.M.
Estas páginas están dedicadas a nuestra Madre del Cielo
y a D. Rafael Jardón Méndez (1946-2011)