“This stranger, who was introduced clandestinely into the kingdom, spends his life in the study of things of the heart and in meditation on what is incomprehensible…(From the death sentence of Bishop Ignatius Delgado.)”
Continuing the saga of the martyrs of Tonkin, nearly a hundred years after the death of Blessed Peter Martyrs Sanz and companions, two more Dominicans bishops died for the faith . They were Bishop Ignatius Delgado and Bishop Dominic Henares. With them a tertiary catechist died, Francis Chien, and the group (beautified in 1900 by Pope Leo XIII) also includes a Spanish priest, Joseph Fernandez, Father Augustine Schoeffler of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, who was a Dominican Tertiary, and twenty-one native confraternity members.
Of the early years of these martyrs we know little. Both were born in Spain, Bishop Delgado in 1762 and Bishop Henares three years later. From the sentence of condemnation itself we learn that Bishop Delgado had labored for nearly fifty years in Tonkin, which argues that he must have been a resourceful man as well as a zealous one. In 1838 the two bishops and the catechist were captured, in a persecution recently stirred up by the mandarin. The prelates and a young priest had been hidden in the village of Kien-lao, and were accidentally betrayed by a little child who was cleverly questioned by a pagan teacher searching for the foreigners. Alarmed at the sudden activities, the captors of Bishop Delgado put him into a small cage which was locked around him, and then put into jail with criminals.
Communism had made us familiar with the type of questioning that Bishop Delgado had to face. A copy of his trial, which still existed a few years ago, showed that he answered truthfully and fearlessly where he himself was concerned, but that no amount of questioning or torture could make him reveal the whereabouts of his companions. A young priest in another place had taken to his heels when the alarm of the bishop’s arrest was heard, and was still at large. There was no proof that Bishop Henares had been caught, nor the catechists who worked with him. So Bishop Delgado, an old man of seventy six, endured the tortures rather than give any clue as to where they might be found.
The death sentence was passed on Bishop Delgado, and he was left in the open cage under the summer sun, to exist in misery until it should please the mandarin to kill him. Pagans jeered at him and threw waste in his face, and he was deprived of even the simplest necessities. Worn out by suffering but still silent as to his companions’ whereabouts, he died of dysentery before the mandarin was ready to behead him. The enraged solders cut off his head when they found that he had died, and threw the remains into a swift river. Fisherman promptly set about the dangerous business of rescuing the relics.
Bishop Henares was captured with a companion at the same time as Bishop Delgado. He had hidden himself in a boat, and the nervousness of the boatmen gave him away. Five hundred soldiers were detached to bring in the two “dangerous” criminals, the bishop and his catechist, Francis Chien. They too were questioned endlessly, and kept apart from Bishop Delgado. Two weeks after the death of the first bishop, the second was led out and beheaded in company with this catechist.
The relics of all three martyrs were recovered in part, and were honorably buried by the next Dominicans to come on the scene- Bishop Hermosilla and his companions, who would, as they knew, also be the next to die.
We have no information of the twenty-one members of the Confraternity of the Rosary who was honored with the three martyrs of 1838, nor about the Spanish Father Fernandez. Father Augustine Schoeffler of the Paris Foreign Mission Society should likewise hold a place of honor among Dominicans, as he was a Tertiary. Many of the records of these brave men were lost or deliberately destroyed, and many of them- we hope- may still be found in various neglected spots which war and trouble have caused to be overlooked.
Born: Spain: Bishop Ignatius Delgado (November 23, 1761 at Villafeliche, Spain), Dominic Henares (December 19, 1765 at Baena, Spain)
Died: July 12, 1838 of hunger and exposure in Vietnam (Ignatius Delgado), beheaded on June 25, 1838 in Vietnam (Dominic Henares, Francis Chien), Companions- various dates and unknown causes
Beatified: May 27, 1900 by Pope Leo XIII