In recognition of the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, the patron saint of religious brothers, we share the story of Brother José María Torres Valentines, C.M.F.
Brother José Torres was a Spanish-born Claretian whose self-sacrificing nature and missionary spirit has inspired decades of Claretians priests and brothers alike. After completing his Claretian spiritual formation and medical studies in Spain, Brother José was assigned to join the third Claretian expedition to Tunki, China. After five weeks on a steamship, he arrived at his destination three days shy of his 26th birthday. He quickly began work in the mission’s dispensary, Dispensary Claret, where he was said to have seen hundreds of patients each day. In addition to his responsibilities at the dispensary, he also started “The School for Little Doctors” where he trained local men as medics. When the communists overtook China, Brother José spent nearly a year in house arrest and was the last Claretian to leave the country in 1952.
After his departure from China, he was transferred to the city of Lamitan on Basilan, an island of the Philippines. Soon he was back to seeing hundreds of patients each day and became well-regarded in the local community. Although he loved his family and often wrote to his brother, he never returned home to Spain to visit, citing his deep devotion to the mission cause and the patients who needed his medical expertise. The closest he allowed himself to a vacation was being sent to the United States to receive medical treatment after the grueling conditions he endured during his last few years in China. It was there he was able to gather inspiration on how to run a hospital back in the Philippines. Shortly after his return in 1955, he founded St. Peter’s Clinic, which became the medical base of the Claretian mission. During the violent civil unrest with the clash of Muslims and Christians, Brother José was known to treat anyone, regardless of their religion or political affiliation.
At midnight on December 18, 1977, rebels attacked the Claretian mission in Lamitan. When Brother José awoke and saw the clinic engulfed in flames, he was reported to have simply said “If God allows this…then who am I to complain?” He turned his attention to the victims of the attack and rushed to the government clinic to care for the wounded. St. Peter’s Clinic burned to the ground that night. But, through tireless fund-raising efforts, it was able to be rebuilt and was blessed in 1982.
Unfortunately, Brother José passed away later that year after suffering complications from an untreated ulcer. After 47 years in the mission fields, his remains were put to rest in front of St. Peter’s Clinic, where he treated thousands. Brother José’s legacy lives on in Lamitan in the form of Dr. José María Torres Memorial Hospital.