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Dominican Martyrs of the South
by Carl B. Trutter, OP (St. Martin)

NEW ORLEANS, LA—In our 21st century, we may not remember—or even know about—some significant Dominicans who preceded us in today’s southern United States.  We may not realize that a few Dominican friars were martyred for their faith—five in the last century and three almost 400 years ago.  These eight men were all Spaniards with stories which touch present-day Florida and present-day Louisiana.

Florida  Fray Luis de Cáncer was the first Dominican prior in San Juan, Puerto Rico, arriving there about 1517.  Later he moved to Mexico and in 1542 he arrived in Guatemala.  (On a return trip to Spain, he was captured by Muslim pirates off the coast of Spain and later ransomed.)

With hopes of evangelizing the Timuacan and Caloosa native peoples in the present west coast of Florida, fray Luis, fray Diego de Tolosa and Oblate Brother Fuentes sailed with Captain Juan de Arana from Vera Cruz (Mexico) in May of 1549. 

Their ship arrived in the area of present Tampa Bay (Bahía Espíritu Santo).  Several of the friars went ashore and, sometime before June 23, fray Diego and Bro. Fuentes were martyred by the natives.  Then on June 26, 1549, fray Luis de Cáncer swam to the shore alone and was quickly attacked and clubbed to death.

450 years after the death of these Dominican martyrs, they were commemorated at a symposium sponsored by the Province of St. Martin de Porres at the University of Tampa, Florida.

Other evangelizing friars were also martyred in the “New World” during the mid-16th century.  Fray Antonio de Montesinos, who had been on an exploratory mission near present-day Georgetown, South Carolina, was martyred on June 27, 1540 in Venezuela.  Fray Antonio de Valdivieso, the third bishop of León in Nicaragua, became a martyr to the faith on Feb.  26, 1550.  And Domingo de Vico and Andrés López were killed by Indians in Guatemala sometime in 1551.

Louisiana   On October 28, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI beatified five Spanish friars who had lived for a number of years in Louisiana.

These men, of Holy Rosary Province, were martyred back in Spain between July 25—Oct. 16, 1936 during the Spanish Civil War (which pitted the Leftist Republicans against Franco’s Nationalists). 

They had left their native Spain to live at the Dominican studium in Rosaryville (54 miles northwest of New Orleans), Louisiana, which existed from 1911 until 1938.  Their Provincial, fr Buenaventura García Paredes, had established this priory in the United States to avoid the civil turmoil in Spain and also so that the friars could become fluent in English before leaving for the Philippines and other areas of the Pacific.

Eventually, these five friars, Jesús Villaverde Andrés, Antonio Varona Ortega, Pedro Ibáñez Alonso, José María López Carrillo and Leoncio Arce Urrutía, returned to their native Spain and suffered martyrdom for their Catholic faith in late 1936.

387 years separate the martyrdoms of these courageous Dominicans: 1549 for Luis de Cáncer and his companions in Florida; 1936 for the five friars who had lived in Louisiana (and then their beatification in 2007).

I believe it is important for us in our 21st century  to remember these Dominican Martyrs of the South.









Read more about the history of the early church in the South.

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