In 1926 students enrolled in Mexico City’s exclusive Catholic preparatory schools faced a crisis that threatened to ruin their academic careers. They were in a serious quandary because officials at the government-supported National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) were placing what were viewed as unfair obstacles to their plans of matriculating into the university, thereby threatening the aspirations that these students and their parents had for their futures. Their predicament was directly related to the deteriorating political climate that would soon produce the religious civil war known as the Cristero Rebellion of 1926-1929. These students were being victimized by pro-government UNAM officials because of their Catholic Church affiliation; this at a time that the Church was locked in a bitter struggle with President Plutarco Elías Calles (1924-1928). The heart of the conflict was Calles’s steadfast determination to enforce the anticlerical provisions contained in the Constitution of 1917. This landmark document encapsulated many of the central demands of the men and women who, like President Calles, had fought in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). Calles was a dedicated anticlerical who believed that the nation’s social, political, economic, and educational development required a dramatic reduction in the Roman Catholic Church’s influence within Mexican society.
By mid 1926 these affected students had organized themselves into a citywide student group, the Union of Private School Students, with the goal of defending themselves from what they perceived to be the arbitrary, ideologically driven actions of university officials. However, the evolution of this nascent student organization changed dramatically when its activities drew the attention and interest of the country’s most important Catholic official, the Archbishop of Mexico José Mora y del Río.