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Killer nun

12 March 2019

This being International Women’s Month, maybe it’s time to look at some of the more important, but neglected, historical figures in Mexico, written out of the official history (or at least rather obscured) for no reason other than their gender.  Like “Madre Conchita”, Concepción Acevedo de la Llata, nun, terrorist, political prisoner, and philanthopist.

Born in Queretaro in 1891,she entered a convent at 19, and was mother superior of her convent at 24.  With the passage of the “Calles Laws” which took the Constitutional restrictions on religious activities to an extreme, her convent was closed, and she moved to Mexico City where, with the Churchs closed by the Priest’s stike of 1928, she began preaching her own unofficial services, and — under the guise of private religious discussions — was active in plotting Cristero strikes against the government.  One of her proteges, Juan Torral, a cartoonist and free-lance journalist, would assassinate president-elect Obregón in 1928.

Obregón’s assassination has left a number of “what-ifs” to Mexican historians.  His first term had started with a counter-revolution (Carranza had prevented the Obregón, the overwhelming favorite of the electorate, a chance to run, and had tried to hang on to power when his term ended, leading to a coup, followed by the short interim presidency of Adolfo de la Huerta), and ended with one, when de la Huerta became the figure-head of a counter revolution when Obregón had selected Calles as his candidate to succeed him.  Although his fame came as the self-taught general who’d consolidated the Revolution, Obregón had openly questioned the country’s dependence on military rule, and — perhaps raising more questions about the direction Mexico might have taken had he served a second term (the rationale being that he’d never had a full first term) — was that the self-made millionaire was a Socialist.  Moreover, having seen the violence that grew out of the overly-strict interpretations of limits on religious activity and clerics, he was openly negotiating with Father John Burke and United States Ambassador Dwight Morrow, the unofficial go-betweens for the Vatican and the Mexican clergy in an attempt to work out an peaceful settlement.  Had Obregón lived, Calles might not have taken control of the party for the next several years, and the Mexican economy may have moved in a different direction.

But, all that is speculation.  Madre Conchita was the “intellectual author” of an event which did change the course of Mexican history for better or worse.  In the aftermath of the assassination, justice was, well… rough.  She was arrested, tortured (how much is hard to say) and sentenced to 20 years.  Sent to Islas Marias, the recently closed prison colony off the coast of Nayarit, she married a fellow prisoner, and, was paroled in 1940.

In an attempt to rehabitate her image, she became the head of a foundation meant to improve the social conditions of Otomí people, raising money for an orphanage and making a show of donating her car to be used by Otomí mothers needing to visit local heath clinics.  From time to time, she would lecture, or allow herself to be interviewed, or write (or at least have appear under her name) defenses of the more conservative views of the Catholic Church, and of the right to religious dissent.  She never, however, spoke of her role in the Cristeros, going so far as to deny even having even met with them.

By special permission of Pope Paul VI, she was buried in her nun’s habit in 1978.

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