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Pedro Poveda from a historiographical perspective: A cultural and educational debate in the twentieth century

By ARMANDO PEGO PUIGBÓ.- This article seeks to provide an overview of the historiographical treatment of the life and work of the priest and educator Pedro Poveda (1874-1936). Here are presented features of a unique Catholic teaching proposal in a secularized age. Poveda wanted to present the Christian message in state educational structures by encouraging dialogue between faith and knowledge. This modernization program also includes the hermeneutical keys of an era marked by the activities of the ILE (Initials of Institución Libre de Enseñanza).

Pedro Poveda (Linares, 1876-Madrid, 1936), priest and Spanish educator of the first third of the twentieth century, and founder of the Teresian Association, ought to be given a noteworthy prominence in the political and social circumstances of Spain and even Europe at the beginning of the XXI century. Such a role has been obscured by a set of historical, educational, and religious factors that should be analyzed and thought over at a time when the limits of secularism in Western democratic societies are being discussed.

In the following pages I will focus my presentation on the historiographical reasons that seem to have postponed the originality of Poveda’s work and on the new paths that are opening in the study of a key individual in Spanish education -not only Catholic- from the final stage of the Restoration to the Second Republic. Thus this is a contribution to the reception and analysis of one of the most unique proposals of Spanish Catholicism in the twentieth century from the viewpoint of cultural understanding.

Therefore, I will first analyze the literature on the protagonist and his work, both from the civil and religious points of view. Then I will raise some of the paradoxes that have occurred when studying his educational contribution (biographies, historical and social analyses, history of the Teresian Association, etc.). I will end with an assessment of future prospects offered by current research on our author and the traces he may leave on the approach to the study of contemporary religious history.


Seventy years after his death, when observing with perspective the image of Pedro Poveda projected by ecclesiastical and/or educational literature, one has the feeling of not being able to claim completely another one of the forgotten in contemporary Spanish culture. There are several reasons. Some are political. Among them, his tragic death on July 28, 1936, in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. Other reasons are religious, such as his efforts to embody the Christian faith through the practice of lay women, mainly in public education. To this, as a cultural explanation, ignorance of his writings may be added.   Neither his recognition as "humanist and pedagogue" by UNESCO in 1974 on the centenary of his birth, nor his beatification in 1993 or canonization in 2003 have led to a greater dissemination of his life and work, hardly spread among the general public, misinterpreted or reduced in his originality to schemes that do not realize his complexity or his nuances.

Poveda did not found, in any way, a new religious congregation dedicated to teaching, but for the first time, even if relying on similar experiences in the field of private education, such as home teachers Associations promoted by Jesuit Fr. Tarin, he designed a program that would offer teachers and Christian teachers the opportunity to organize and participate in the process of building a national school of state character based on the principles of their faith. Inspired by the theological and spiritual model of "the early Christians,” citizens with equal rights and duties to others in a society immersed in a period of secularization, he wrote Ensayo de Proyectos pedagógicos. Following this publication, he founded what later became known as the Teresian Association. As an association of lay women dedicated to teaching, primarily in public schools, his ideal began to crystallize around his Academies as training centers, in close collaboration with official Teacher Training schools. The idea was to contribute to achieving the ultimate goal of making present the Christian message, through adequate preparation of teaching professionals, in state educational structures.

Both the emphasis on the associative character, in line with professional and pedagogical concerns of the time, and the thrust to the leading role that women could eventually develop in academia, beginning with primary education, make Poveda a thinker and organizer that can not be just confined to the scope of Catholic "intelligence." He should be studied in the historical context of one of the most fruitful stages of Spanish culture, which influenced him and in which he would leave a mark. Note also his constant social concern, since his years as a young priest in Guadix, where he founded a school for children of the caves in 1902, until the end of his life, having been a member of both the Central Board against Illiteracy and the Hermandad del Refugio. As Dolores Gómez Molleda said:

«his concern about the education of the popular classes, the professional association of teachers and social advancement, the pedagogical updating of teachers, and the renewal of teaching methods and their achievements in the social-educational field, place him in an important place in the modern and reformist educational movement.»

His innovative vision of lay apostolate, through the Christian presence in state structures, precisely reflects the profound impact of the modernization process experienced by Spanish society between the Revolution of '68 and the Second Republic. Trying to overcome a confessional stance marked by catechetical zeal, Poveda tried to harmonize the exemplary witness of a Christian life with a scientific training in accordance with the requirements of the moment, beyond controversies over teaching catechism, while remaining faithful time to Papal teaching. For him, faith and knowledge are not set against each other, in a time when certain sectors supported an antagonism between the two with conviction. What could be done, in his opinion, was, on the contrary, articulate a dialogue, taking into account the complex power relations of a society that demanded the autonomy of public life: "Thinking about the amendment of the legislation, when each new law is a step towards secularism, would be equivalent to thinking of an unattainable remedy.” Faced with this attitude and through the foundation of what he called Catholic Institution of Teaching, which failed to materialize, he proposed the following in his Ensayo de proyectos pedagógicos:

«Train, according to the Christian spirit and according to the best teaching methods, a body of teachers of primary education, who would take annually the required competitive exams in order to obtain the largest number of positions in public schools; and second, maintain by all means possible, and exerting the best efforts, the Christian spirit and professional union in all teachers belonging to the Association."»

Assuming the novelty of such an approach, as well as the difficult balance that caused this proposal to be placed on the borders of the usual Catholic practice in those years, the following pages are an endeavor to account for both the historiographical reception of this proposal and indicate the possible lines of action, making them historically intelligible. Otherwise, it should be recognized, with Cioran, that in the case of Poveda, it has an ironic validity to affirm that "man makes history; in turn, history destroys him. He is the author and subject, agent and victim." 

(To read the full article, in Spanish, download the attachment to the bottom of this page)

ARMANDO PEGO PUIGBÓ. Universitat Ramon Llull,
in Hispania Sacra, LIX 120, July-December, 2007, 707-740, ISSN: 0018-215-X