The Monk Who Lived Again
By B.H. Pearson
Cowman Publications, 1954, 178 pages
Few American evangelicals know the name of Walter M. Montaño these days, but 70 years ago he was widely known as the ex-priest who did tremendous missionary work among Roman Catholics throughout Central and South America. I was blessed to read this thirteenth printing of his biography.
Walter was born to an aristocratic family in Cuzco, Peru in 1903. His mother died when he was very young and his father remarried shortly thereafter, but the second wife had no affection for the boy and he was sent away to be raised by his uncle, a Roman Catholic priest. Young Walter eventually aspired to the priesthood himself and entered the Dominican seminary in Lima in 1920 at the age of 17. He was ordained as a friar and earned a doctorate degree in philosophy.
Walter had assumed that his membership in the “elite” Dominicans would quell his spiritual restlessness, but such was not the case. The legalism and ritualism of the order’s daily religious routines brought no spiritual satisfaction. The blatant hypocrisy and scoffing of his mendicant brothers was unexpected, disappointing, and unnerving. Because of his continuing academic pursuits, Walter came to the attention of the superiors of the Peruvian Dominicans and he was chosen to write the biography of Martin de Porres as a part of the campaign for his canonization. It distressed Walter that he was ordered to include several fabricated miraculous events in the book.
Walter was then assigned to oversee his monastery’s library, which included a restricted collection of Protestant literature to which access was granted solely by the order’s superior. Walter was curious and secretly brought a book, “Nights with the Romanists” by M.H. Seymour, back to his small, personal quarters, which caused him great spiritual distress. Walter then borrowed a second forbidden book, but was caught by his prior (superior) and punished. However, Walter’s inner spiritual turmoil could not be quelled and he escaped the monastery one January morning in 1927.
Walter made his way to a nearby Protestant mission and after talking and praying all day with one of the pastors, he repented of his sin and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Shortly afterwards, he began assisting the ministers and eventually began going out on preaching assignments by himself. The Catholic people of Peru were curious to hear this ex-priest who had become a Protestant, but the notoriety also drew the attention of the Catholic hierarchy, who regularly dispatched the civil authorities to harass Walter. Attempts were made on his life. His father and the rest of his family cut all ties.
Walter Montaño married an American missionary and spent his life criss-crossing the Americas in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Grateful converts to Christ bestowed upon him with affection the moniker of “Martin Luther of the Americas.” He would serve as executive director of Christ’s Mission, a former outreach to Roman Catholics that is of special interest to me, from 1951 to 1960. Walter went home to the Lord in 1981.
I really enjoyed this biography, even with its flowery, 1940s-era prose. Praise God for Walter Montaño and others who reached out to Roman Catholics with the Gospel. Where are the Walter Montaños of today?
Three years ago, I reviewed an excellent book written by Montaño titled, “Behind the Purple Curtain,” in which the missionary described the longstanding Catholic persecution of Protestants throughout Latin America. See here.