Joaquín Peña

Joaquín Peña Lerena was the missionary dedicated mainly to the formation of seminarians and religious in Shangqiu, an activity that, upon his return to Spain, he continued to carry out for many years in the monastery of San Millán (La Rioja, Spain). He was a humble and spiritually strong religious.

Joaquín Peña was born on March 3, 1903 in San Millán de la Cogolla. He had two younger brothers, Constancio and Pedro, who would also become Augustinian Recollect religious. During his adolescence, he had a weak constitution and frequently suffered from eye problems.

On January 18, 1920, he made his religious profession. From his first years as a religious, Joaquin Peña was modest and of grave demeanor. He excelled in his philosophical and theological studies due to his extraordinary intellectual qualities and came to possess a broad knowledge of ecclesiastical doctrine.

After being ordained a priest on March 20, 1926, he was sent to the Philippine Islands and resided in Manila for two years.

On the occasion of the foundation of the mission of Kweiteh as an Apostolic Prefecture, Father Francisco Javier Ochoa asked the Prior Provincial for new missionaries for the Apostolic Prefecture of Kweiteh. Fathers Joaquin Peña and Arturo Quintanilla volunteered and were sent to this new mission.

Father Joaquin Peña arrived at the mission on July 8, and his main task, like his predecessors, was to study the Chinese language. However, this time, they did not have the help of the veteran Father Cattaneo from the Kaifeng Vicariate. Instead, Father Mariano Alegria took charge of his propaedeutic formation. In April 1929, he was sent to the newly opened mission of Yucheng with Father Mariano Gazpio to consolidate and deepen the study of the Chinese language and collaborate in the apostolic work.

Despite a difficult beginning, Father Gazpio and Father Joaquín Peña, along with the help of two servants and two local Christians, dedicated themselves to praying day and night for the moral transformation of the people and their openness to the Gospel. From that moment on, attendance at the mission increased, and faith, though still weak, began to take root in the people’s hearts while abundant graces were poured down from heaven on those humble and needy faithful.

Father Joaquin Peña was a pious, religious, gentle, and soft character, excelling in ecclesiastical disciplines because of his love for science, prudence, and wise counsel. Because of these qualities, he was chosen to be in charge of the formation of the youth. On September 25, 1930, he moved to the Central House of Kweiteh [=Shangqiu] to take charge of the seminary, where he would teach Latin, philosophy, and theology.

The seminary was in a perfect place, with a study hall, classrooms, refectory, dormitories, recreation room, and room for the rector. Outside was a beautiful lighted courtyard where the children played soccer and cultivated a garden.

In 1932, there were only fourteen seminarians; one, Joseph Shan, had been in the seminary of Kaifeng for eight years and would become the mission’s first Chinese religious and indigenous priest.

In 1935 addition to his work as rector, the superiors of the Order assigned him the task of novice master and spiritual director of the Chinese religious who entered the Order in those years. He was also an advisor to the bishop, director of religious sisters, confessor of the Holy Childhood Society, and attending to the faithful in general. This immense and fruitful work was always carried out quietly and humbly.

In 1937, he was proposed to be on the list of three candidates for the position of Apostolic Vicar. Still, he was left out of the definitive list because, in the extended survey by the Apostolic Delegate, Monsignor Zanin, he was in fourth place, having been included in the list of seven of the seventeen respondents.

In 1938, the Japanese invasion reached Henan, and on May 20, the city of Kweiteh was bombed. In anticipation of the arrival of the Japanese, Father Ochoa sent the seminarians with Father Pedro Colomo, the mission doctor, to Seliulouw, one of the most remote and least dangerous districts. In this way, the seminarians could be better installed and protected. It was feared that if they stayed in Kweiteh, the Japanese might mistake them for Chinese soldiers and endanger their lives.

The religious, the nuns, and the girls of the Holy Childhood left the mission and sought refuge in a Protestant hospital following the invitation of the doctors. Fathers Mariano Alegría and Joaquín Peña stayed in the city to protect the mission.

After a few days of bombardment, on May 29, Japanese soldiers triumphantly entered Kweiteh. Seeing that the Japanese soldiers were looting the missions and foreign residences and that their lives were constantly threatened, Fathers Mariano Alegría and Joaquín Peña decided to leave the city and join the rest in the hospital. When they were finally able to return to the central house on August 2, they found everything completely ransacked. On August 13, the seminarians returned to the mission.

The building of the minor seminary, after the destruction caused by the bombings, collapsed, and a new one was built, which would be the definitive one. The new seminary did not stand out for its size or architecture but was distinguished by its solidity, internal and external simplicity, and sufficient capacity for many years; it had abundant light and well-ventilated and sunny dormitories. It ensured the excellent functioning of the religious and cultural life within it. There was a large total number of aspirants, and many had to remain outside because there was neither money nor space to accommodate them all. In all the years of the seminary, between sixty and seventy seminarians passed through it, of whom seventeen were ordained.

In 1947, Father Joaquin Peña, ill, returned to Spain, settled in San Millan, and in 1948 became part of the Province of St. Joseph, residing in the monastery of San Millan (La Rioja), where he served for many years as master of novices and professed, leaving a deep impression on the formands by his deep spirituality, his humility and wisdom.

From 1969, he became the solicitous custodian of the monastery’s archives, library and artistic treasure. From then on, he dedicated part of his energies to researching and publishing articles in different magazines. In 1977, he was named a corresponding Royal Academy of History member.

Joaquín was a man of prayer, to which he dedicated many hours, and a faithful follower of the “ordo” of the monastery. After a short illness, he died in Logroño (La Rioja) on January 31, 1983.