Testimony of Mother María de las Nieves García
"SCHOOL MEMOIRS OF CONCHITA"
1. Admission to the school in Burgos
In 1966, I was the Superior of our school in Burgos. The city of Burgos was the cradle of our Congregation, the Missionary Teaching Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (Concepcionistas Misioneras de la Enseñanza). Mother Carmen Sallés founded our Order in 1892. In 1966 our school was one of the largest schools in the city. As was common in all religious schools, we also had a boarding school. During the academic year of 1966-67, the boarding school was completely full. Since we could not accomodate more borders, I decided not to accept new applications.
I later learned that during that time, Aniceta, Conchita’s mother, came to apply for Conchita’s admission to the boarding school. 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. Both had been witnesses of the events of Garabandal since the very beginning of the apparitions. At that time, I knew nothing about Garabandal, and had I not followed the news that appeared in the newspapers during those years. Personnel in charge at the boarding school told Aniceta that there were no spots available. After speaking with our chaplain, Fr. Manuel Guerra, they went to apply to another school in Burgos, which also had a boarding school and a good reputation.
At the other school, the superior was not available, so they went to Fr. Manuel Guerra’s home. This priest was personally interested in the case and offered to accompany Aniceta, Conchita’s mother, to come speak with me. Providentially, between their first visit and this second one, one of the boarders had left, and therefore there was a spot open for Conchita. It was then that I found out that Conchita was one of the four visionaries at Garabandal. Fr. Manuel Guerra and Conchita's mother put me up-to-date on what I should know in order to help Conchita in her human and spiritual formation.
We decided that Conchita would remain "undercover" so that the students, her teachers, and the other nuns wouldn’t know who she was. Only the mother superior of our Congregation and I would know. We agreed that Fr. Manuel Guerra would be her confessor, and I would be her spiritual former. They also gave me a list of the people that could visit her, so as to protect her from curious and inconvenient visits. Conchita's baptismal name is María Concepción, so we all agreed to call her Maria. That name was later used, and avoided her being recognized as "Conchita, the visionary of Garabandal."
Conchita attended our school throughout the year 1966-67 and the first quarter of the next school year. Conchita’s real identity was revealed to the other Sisters and Conchita's school friends a few days before she left the school, according to the Mother General's instructions. Until then, nobody knew anything, which says a lot about the strength of her character. Any comment could have made her the center of attention and would have been an occasion for adolescent vanity, but she knew how to keep quiet and go unnoticed. In addition to a strong character, she demonstrated a maturity uncommon for her age.
Conchita had a very low academic level. I remember her spelling mistakes when she arrived at the school. Although she had attended her village's school with a well-meaning teacher, the teaching resources there were scarce. In addition, during those years in rural Spain, schooling took second place when extra hands were needed in the fields. Mathematics and language were not a priority for a young girl in a remote village in the middle of the Cantabrian mountains. To bring her up-to-date, we gave her general culture courses and a typing course, subjects that most adolescent girls had already studied.
Conchita was very smart, but she had a huge cultural gap. She asked me questions about very elementary things that she was unaware of due to the isolated environment of her village in Santander. She was smart, but not a "know-it-all" kind of a girl. She was very simple, and asked me questions with complete trust. I remember that on one occasion she asked what communism was. She had heard the Blessed Virgin speak about it and she didn’t know what she referred to.
This reminds me of something that happened also to the children of Fatima: when they commented that the Virgin Mary had told them that Russia would spread its mistakes around the world, Francisco said that maybe Our Lady was referring to their uncle Joaquin’s donkey called “Rusa”. Lucia, the oldest of the three shepherds, responded that "Russia" must be the name of a very bad woman.
2. School life
As I mentioned before, Conchita remained in our school for a full academic year and the first quarter of the next school year. During the school year 1966-67, her stay was full time. She totally immersed herself into our school, and when summer holidays began, she requested to stay for another month.
Conchita found a welcoming environment at the school, and understanding on my part. From the very beginning of the apparitions, she had suffered incomprehension even from those closest to her. Although it is true that many felt admiration for the children when visiting Garabandal, it is also true that they had to carry the cross of misunderstandings and gossip from the very 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 we read the following:
“It was the 19th of June. When we woke up, people were already talking about it. (…) Nobody talked about anything else that day. (…) Most of the people were laughing at us, but we didn’t care, because we knew that it was the truth. These conversations were heard early in the morning while on the way to school.”
And this was nothing more than a glimpse of what awaited them: the sessions with the Commission, the trips to the diocese and bishop’s office of Santander, the interrogations, etc.
In the afternoon, when I was available, Conchita came to find me and we would speak in one of the drawing rooms. I never forced her; she came voluntarily. A Claretian priest, Father Joaquin María Alonso, who was in Fatima studying Lucia's case for 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 I should write down everything that I spoke about with Conchita, and even if 100 years went by, I should not destroy those memoirs.
In addition to the journal I used to write down our discussions, I also have, among my other papers, Conchita’s diary. I told Conchita that if she needed to, she could write a diary as an interior relief. She did so and decided to give me both of her diaries when she left the school, though I had not asked for them. These writings include constant expressions such as these:
“Every day I value less and less the things of this world, and I 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 I saw the Blessed Virgin!”
“Blessed Virgin!” “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thank you for helping me so much!” “Until yesterday, I never thought that the Virgin Mary was a daughter of Adam and Eve. This has made me think of her as the daughter of my own father and has made me love her even more. Now she is my mother, friend and sister…”
I tried to instruct Conchita with prudence, listening to what she said, without asking prying questions. We spoke about prayers, the love of Christ, the will of God, the Eucharist, respect for others, faith, and trust in God. Everything is written down in my journal. I had, and still have, a well-rounded opinion of Conchita, with whom I have kept in touch by letter and by phone. I have been with her several times in Fatima, where she has a home and where, when family responsibilities allow, she often stays. Because of all of these facts, I can testify that Conchita is a woman of great character who doesn’t seek to be the center of attention; she is delicate, charitable, and humble. She has a sense of humor and is always seeking to fulfill the will of God. As one of her visionary friends, Maria Cruz, told me, she’s not a saintly "goody-two-shoes." These personal characteristics have been transmitted to the current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent letter I wrote to him.
Since her school years, Conchita and I have always kept in touch, and we are united by a great friendship. My diary covers the conversations we had at school, but I also have the diaries that she wrote while attending our school. I have kept everything she communicated to me, personally or in writing.
In reference to Conchita's docility to the Church, I would like to recall something a friend of ours told me. This friend mentioned that two years ago, she was with Conchita in Fatima. They were praying the rosary one evening in their usual spot in the square, about 30 meters from the “Capellina” (little chapel), where no one else was around them. As it is well known, during the rosary in Fatima, a hymn is sung between each decade. Whilst the faithful were singing, this friend turned to Conchita and said, “Conchita, you don't pray the Hail Mary with 'Mother of God and our Mother,' as others from Garabandal do.” She replied, “No, because we should only pray it in private.”
This person also told me, with touch of humor, that because they were far from the rest of the faithful, nobody could hear how they were praying the Hail Mary's. Conchita must understand "private" to mean being alone in her house with the blinds shut. Her care reaches these limits. She does not want to give the impression, even to her closest friends, that she decides before the Church concerning Garabandal.
But let's go back to the school in Burgos. With her classmates, she was just one of the group. If she stood out, it was because she was good prankster. When she was in her village on vacation, she wrote me a letter for the first time. When I opened it, a paper butterfly folded like a jack-in-the-box sprung out of the envelope. These are things that normal girls do for fun.
When I introduced Conchita to her school companions, I sent four serious and formal girls to accompany her for some time outside the school. Two of them were later admitted into our Congregation. 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 going through a rough time. Despite the good will of the members of the Diocesan Commission, they did not know how to treat Conchita. There were many misinterpretations that caused Conchita to suffer greatly. She also suffered intensely when she remembered her denials and doubts. At this point, I have no difficulty in transcribing literally what I wrote in my journal during 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 so? (…)” “If I were to see the Blessed Virgin again I would 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 was already over.” “But when I deny it, there is something inside me that doesn’t let me be at peace.”
During the many conversations held with Conchita, she often complained about people’s curiosity concerning the Warning, the Miracle, and the Chastisement, while they did not worry about the messages. She told me that people were too focused on the Miracle, and miracles do not always convert people. This can be seen with the Pharisees, who refused to believe despite the miracles that Jesus worked. I talked with her about all the topics that were related to her human and religious formation. But we talked about the Warning, the Miracle, and the Chastisement without dedicating extra time to these subjects. I don’t mind sharing 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. It will not be an atomic bomb, for example, since this would be done by men. The Warning—not the Chastisement—will serve as a purification. It doesn’t mean that people will die, although they could die because of the shock they receive. It will happen in the sky. The Blessed Virgen told me the name, but I don’t know what it means. It is a word that starts with an 'a'. I need to look it up in the dictionary.”
Conchita opened her heart to me with this simplicity, and she found peace in those conversations. We also prayed together in our chapel, and when we were alone there, we knelt down in the presbytery to be closer to the Tabernacle. She found so much peace during those months! When her mother decided to take her out of the school, she cried in my arms when we had to say goodbye. Conchita went to the Valdecilla hospital in Santander to study nursing, which was very helpful when she first moved to the United States. But this is another story that I only know secondhand.
3. Conchita and the Holy Eucharist
In the message given on October 18, 1961, the Virgin Mary asked the girls—and by extension all of us—to visit the Blessed Sacrament more frequently. From the beginning to the end, the Eucharistic manifestations of Garabandal were very numerous. Finally, in the message of June 18, 1965, Conchita heard the reproach from heaven which is one of the defining characteristics of Garabandal: “The Eucharist is no longer given the importance it deserves."
From her childhood until the present day, Conchita has been constant in her devotion to the Eucharist. She promoted adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in her parish in the United States. She also maintains contact with priests such as Father Justo, who promotes perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the world.
Someone who had the opportunity to be with Conchita in Fatima told me that Conchita normally sits in a secluded place when praying the Rosary on the square. On Thursdays, when there is a Eucharistic procession instead of a procession of Our Lady of Fatima, Conchita finds a way to be as close as possible, looking at Him with great devotion. This is just a continuation of her relationship with the Lord; in our school chapel, when we prayed together, we knelt in the presbytery to be closer to the Tabernacle.
One unforgettable moment was February 6, 1967 at 11:00 p.m. It was the night before Conchita’s birthday. We prayed together while all her classmates were already asleep. On that occasion, Conchita wrote a prayer to the Virgin Mary. I still conserve the text. I'll reveal it here 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 pleasing to you. 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. I also apologize because I haven't taken advantage of the time given to me. After these 17 years, I want to leave with you my imperfections: laziness; vanity; a bad temper, especially with my family; following my whims; and my lack of charity with some people. Perhaps also arrogance. I also leave it behind. And I especially want to offer you tonight the sacrifice of not buying magazines anymore. With your help, I leave all of these things behind; I could not do it alone. Now, turning 18 years old, I would like to live like I have never lived before. I ask you to grant me my greatest wish, that the following virtues come to life in me: Faith, Hope and Charity, loving you always and at all times, both in suffering and in joy. Grant me docility before others, especially my family. Grant that I be more understanding and generous with God and with everyone. Always, and above all, grant that I might tell only the truth. Grant that I participate in the Holy Mass with fervor and love, and pray the Rosary every day. Grant that I might be always united to God. I want to love you in the midst of suffering, misunderstandings, incomprehension, and annoyances. 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, without sentimentality. I can say that she had to overcome darkness and dryness on many occasions. Perhaps, to illustrate this better, I will quote a few paragraphs from my journal of conversations with Conchita, so that you can understand well what I mean:
“I would like to suffer for my own problems, not for things about Garabandal, but everything is so intertwined that I cannot act without the apparitions also being mixed in.” “I want to go to my village, but at the same time, I’m sad to leave school. Despite suffering, I’ve been so happy here! We will always have some form of suffering…” “In my village, there was barely any time for prayer…” “You already know that the other day I experienced great fervor, but then I returned to my state of spiritual dryness. The Eucharist seems to be something representative, but not real. It seems impossible to me that Christ is there and when I go to communion, I discretely look to see if the same doubt is reflected in other’s faces. When we receive the benediction with the monstrance, I can only think that it is the hand of the priest who blesses us, never from a real and truly present Christ.”
In the midst of this aridity, she had moments of special clarity and consolation. I left proof of one of those moments in my journal when I wrote down what Conchita told me: “I experienced this sentence: ‘I love you and I have forgiven not some, but all things.’ I felt great joy.”
And on another occasion, Conchita wrote the following experience in her agenda-diary: “Upon receiving Communion, I felt great joy because I felt the presence of the Blessed Virgin with Christ in that moment.”
As I said, the devotion to the Eucharist is something very evident in Conchita's life up until today. I know that during a recent summer, whilst at her home in Fatima, she was visited by a good 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. At a certain moment, when the priest mentioned that those material objects were relics, from having been in contact with holy people, he remembered what happened in Garabandal and said: “Conchita you are a living relic," to which she replied immediately “Of course I am! I am a living relic, because I receive Jesus Christ every day in Holy Communion.”
4. Conchita and her devotion to the priesthood
Along with the reproach from heaven about the neglect of the Holy Eucharist, Garabandal is also characterized by its message concerning priests. 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 they take many more souls with them. When the Angel told me this I was very ashamed, and the Angel repeated it to me a second time: ‘Yes, Conchita, many cardinals, bishops and priests are on the road to perdition and take many more souls with them.’” To say such a thing
This was not well-received in the sixties in Spain, and also credit the authorship of the phrase to a messenger from heaven. This also explains the treatment that Conchita received from part of the clergy. Unfortunately, very shortly thereafter, events did nothing more than affirm the Angel’s message, which was aimed to encourage priests to move decisively towards holiness, to save their soul and so help many Catholics who are spiritually dependent on them.
In no way can Garabandal´s message be interpreted as being disrespectful to the priestly dignity. On the contrary, Conchita told me and wrote in her diary something that has been published a thousand times:
“The Blessed Virgin told us, that if we saw both an Angel and a priest, we should greet the priest first.” But just as we are certain that Conchita had always recognized the immense dignity of the priesthood, we are also sure that the reality of the lives of some priests leaves much to be desired. She began to realize this at the time of the apparitions. On one occasion, Conchita said: “Before the Virgin Mary said this to me, I thought the all priests were good. I never thought that they committed mortal sin. I have known many priests, and some of them at first seemed to be saints, and then I saw things that I did not like. I later understood how people can deceive”. And, of course, during our conversations during her stay at the school, I could see that Conchita was not speaking in general, but in very specific cases. Moreover, on a certain occasion, Conchita told me that the Virgin Mary had told her that the message that refers to the priests was communicated through the Angel, because it made her so sad to tell her.
Remembering now specific cases, I want to refer to the Conchita’s relationship with Padre Pio, the capuchin saint of Pietrelcina, who is so linked to Garabandal. So many things have been said… It has been affirmed that Conchita never spoke with Padre Pio. I think that it is worth while saying something about the matter. During the years I spent in our school of El Escorial, I was in charge of our alumni. On one occasion, one of them told me that she had been in Garabandal and that she had even seen the girls going coming down from the pines walking backwards. We agreed to continue our conversation and she came with another former pupil and two friends who had not studied at our school. I told them many things and showed them photos from my files. When I spoke of Conchita’s trip to Italy to see Padre Pio, organized by Cecilia de Borbón, I showed them a group photograph of Conchita at the Coliseum in Rome, with Aniceta, her mother, 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 she was the young lady in question that appeared in the photo, at that time she was working as Cecilia de Borbón’s secretary.
Without doubt Conchita had contact with Padre Pio. For this reason, I myself wrote to Padre Pio from our 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 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 on other occasions, she went there using the name of Maria, in order not to be recognized. However, one day someone recognized her and immediately 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 discovered who she was, they changed the way they treated her. She said she was sorry that they had found out who she was because she felt better serving those elderly priests anonymously.
To summarize what I can say about Conchita’s concept of priests and her devotion to the priesthood, I present a letter written by Conchita which I found among my papers. It was written in reply to a request made by a woman asking for a few words for her son, a priest. The letter was published by the Legion Magazine on November 26, 1967, though it had been written by Conchita four months earlier, when she still was at our school in Burgos. The text reads as follows:
“What the Virgin wants above all from a priest is his own sanctification –that he fulfills his vows for love of God and that he might lead many souls to Him through his example and prayers, for any other way would be difficult now a days. She wants the priest to sacrifice himself for love of souls in Christ; to withdraw from time to time in silence to listen to God, who speaks to him constantly; to meditate often on the Passion of Jesus, so that his life can be more united to Christ the High Priest, inviting 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 Mary as the surest way to Christ. Also, he should make others believe that Heaven and Hell exist. I think that this is what Heaven asks of its priests.”
Ever since she was a child, Conchita had a high opinion of the priesthood. I was struck, during the conversations when we talked about the isolation in which she lived in Garabandal, by the fact that when I asked what she liked most the few times she went out of the village, she answered, “Seeing 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 showed her great love for the priesthood many times.
Madre Nieves García (Madrid, summer of 2012)