While I was in this town of Beas waiting for the license from the Council of the Order of Knights for the foundation of Caravaca, a Father from the discalced of our order named Maestro Jerónimo Gracián de la Madre de Dios came to see me. A few years before he had received our religious habit while in Alcalá. Throughout his life, he has been a man of much learning, intelligence, and modesty along with other great virtues. It seems, while he was in Alcalá, that he was chosen by our Lady for the good of this primitive order without his having the remotest idea of receiving our habit, although he had considered entering the religious life. His parents had other intentions because of his great talent and their good standing with the king, but he was far from being inclined toward their plans for him. From the time he began school, he was urged by his father to take up the study of law. Yet, while still very young, he felt so strongly the desire to study theology that by force of tears he got his father to allow him to do so.
After graduating with a master’s degree, he took steps to enter the Society of Jesus, and they had accepted him. But for a certain reason, they told him to wait several days. He tells me that he was tormented by all the enjoyments in his life and that he didn’t think they constituted a safe path to heaven. He always set aside the hours for prayer and was extremely recollected and upright.
At this time a close friend of his entered the monastery in Pastrana to become a friar in our order. This friend’s name was Fray Juan de Jesús, and he, too, had a master’s degree. I don’t know how the interest began, whether it did so because of a letter Fray Juan wrote about the greatness and antiquity of our order or in some other way; for Father Gracián enjoyed very much reading everything about the order and verifying, through important authors, what was asserted. He says that he often had scruples about failing to study other things because he was unable to set these studies aside, and he occupied his hours of recreation in this way. O wisdom and power of God! How impossible for us to flee from His will! Our Lord truly saw the great need there was for a person like this to carry on the work that He had begun. I often praise Him for the favor He granted us in this matter. Had I very much desired to ask His Majesty for a person to organize all the things pertaining to the order in these initial stages, I would not have succeeded in asking for all that He, in fact, gave in Father Gracián. May the Lord be blessed forever.
God brought him there in order to give him the habit
Well then, while not having the slightest thought of taking the habit of this order, he was asked to go to Pastrana to speak to the prioress of our monastery there — for it had not yet been abandoned — that she might accept a nun. What means the divine Majesty takes! For had Father Gracián decided to go there to take the habit, he would perhaps have met with so much opposition that he might never have done so. But the Blessed Virgin, our Lady, to whom he is extremely devoted, wanted to repay him by giving him her habit. So I think she was the mediatrix through whom God granted him this favor. And this glorious Virgin was the reason he received it and became so fond of the order. She did not want one who desired to serve her so much to lack the occasion for putting this desire into practice. It is her custom to favor those who want to be protected by her.
While still a boy in Madrid, he often went to pray before an image of our Lady to whom he had great devotion. I don’t remember where it was; he called her “his love,” and his visits were very frequent. She must have obtained for him from her Son the purity in which he always lived. He says that sometimes it seemed to him his eyes were swollen from weeping over the many offenses committed against her Son. As a result, there arose in him a strong impulse and desire to help souls, and he felt it very deeply when he saw offenses committed against God. He has so great an inclination toward the good of souls that any hardship becomes small to him if he thinks that through it he can produce some fruit. I have seen this myself in the many trials that he has undergone.
Well, the Virgin brought him to Pastrana as though by tricking him into the thought that he was going there in order to request the habit for a nun. And God brought him there in order to give him the habit. Oh, secrets of God! But how true that without our desiring it, He disposes us so as to give us favors. And this soul was repaid for the good deeds that he did, for the good example that he had always given, and for his great desire to serve the Lord’s glorious Mother. His Majesty must always repay this latter with wonderful rewards.
Well, when he arrived in Pastrana, he went to speak to the prioress that she might accept the nun; and it seemed as though he had asked her to pray to the Lord that he himself might enter. For he is a very pleasant person so that generally he is loved by those who have dealings with him — it is a grace our Lord gives — and thus he is extremely loved by all his subjects, both friars and nuns. Yet he doesn’t let any fault go by, for he is extraordinarily careful in looking out for the welfare of the religious life. In his actions, he is so gentle and pleasant that it seems no one is able to complain about him.
Well, when this prioress saw him, that which happened to others happened to her; she felt a strong desire that he enter the order and told the Sisters how important it was to get him to join, for at the time there were very few, or almost none like him. And she told them all to beseech our Lord not to let him go without his receiving the habit.
This prioress is a very great servant of God. By her prayer alone I think she would have been heard by His Majesty; how much more would the prayers of nuns as good as those that were there be heard. All of them took the matter very much to heart and with fasts, disciplines, and prayer begged His Majesty continually. Thus He was pleased to grant us this favor. For since Father Gracián went to the monastery of the friars and saw so much religious observance and opportunity to serve our Lord and above all that it was the order of the Lord’s glorious Mother whom he so much desired to serve, his heart was moved not to return to the world. The devil set before him many difficulties, especially the pain this would bring his parents. They loved him very much and had great trust that he would help provide for their children, for they had many daughters and sons. He left this care to God for whom he left all, and decided to be a subject of the Virgin and take her habit. So they gave it to him amid the great happiness of all, especially of the nuns and the prioress. The nuns gave much praise to our Lord, thinking that His Majesty had granted them this favor through their prayers.
Father Jerónimo Gracián of the Mother of God (1545-1614) was an important figure in Teresian history. He was born in Valladolid, the son of one of King Phillip II’s secretaries. He studied at the University of Alcalá and was ordained a priest in 1570. Exceptionally gifted, he entered the novitiate in Pastrana on 25 April 1572. After meeting Teresa in 1575, he worked closely with her until her death. Later, falling into disfavor with Superior General Fr. Nicolas Doria, he was expelled from the order. He died in Brussels.
The Book of Her Foundations: Chapter 23; The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (unless otherwise noted) Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC Copyright © 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.