Vicente Ferrer, the ex-Jesuit , beloved Spanish philanthropist, and winner of the 1998 Premio Príncipe de Asturias de la Concordia, passed away today at 89 years of age. In his honor, we are publishing a brief biography of him with supplemental information from other news articles and his foundation's Web site. For those who are interested in the "married priest" angle of this story, there is a wonderful interview with Anne Perry in El Mundo which talks about their romance. Perry has also written a book about the couple and their work titled Un pacto de amor. Mi vida junto a Vicente Ferrer (Editorial Espasa, 2009).
From Barcelona to India
Vicente Ferrer was born in Barcelona, Spain, on April 9, 1920. During his youth, he entered the Company of Jesus (Jesuits) with the dream of fulfilling his greatest wish and vocation: to help others.
In 1952, he arrived in Mumbai as a Jesuit missionary to complete his spiritual formation, and there he had his first contact with India. From that moment on, he would dedicate his life to working to eradicate the suffering of the poorest in that country.
Unfortunately, his work generated suspicion among the ruling sectors, who saw him as a threat to their interests and got an order expelling him from the country. Over 30,000 peasants, supported by intellectual, political and religious leaders, mobilized in a 250 km march to protest the expulsion decree.
In an interview with Ferrer, then prime minister Indira Gandhi acknowledged his great work, committed herself to help find a solution and sent this telegram: “Father Vicente Ferrer will leave the country for a short vacation and then will be well-received again in India.”
In 1968, Vicente left the country and returned to Spain.
In 1969, he returned to India and settled in Anantapur, one of the poorest areas of the country, to continue his struggle for the least fortunate. That same year he left the Company of Jesus and in 1970 he married British journalist Anne Perry, whom he met when she interviewed him for the British magazine “Current” and with whom he would go on to have three children. The couple established the Vicente Ferrer Foundation in Anantapur.
Nonetheless, the harassment continued during the 1970s, this time from regional authorities who were suspicious of the Foundation’s work and even tried to imprison Ferrer. After denouncing the abuse of power to which he was being subjected, Ferrer was able to obtain a favorable judicial ruling.
Years later, in 1996, he established an offshoot of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation in Spain to ensure the economic continuity of the projects in India. From that moment on until his death today (June 19, 2009), he led a project that continues thanks to a team of 1,900 people and the support of over 139,000 contributors.
The Foundation’s achievements are detailed on its Web site and include 1,696 schools, 3 hospitals (275 beds), 14 clinics, and over 26,000 housing units. It has also done substantial work in ecology and the rights of women and persons with disabilities.