Blessed Anselm Polanco was born in Buenavista de Valdavia, Palencia Spain, on 16 April 1881. He entered the Order of Saint Augustine in the Province of the Philippines and professed vows in the monastery of Valladolid in 1897. There he studied philosophy, then theology and was ordained to the holy priesthood in December 1904. After priestly ordination he was sent to continue studies in Germany, and then returned to Spain to teach in Valladolid and La Vid.
He was placed in various positions of the religious formation of novices and, from 1923 to 1929 was prior of the community at Valladolid. In that year he went to the Philippines. Gaining a reputation for prudence and sanctity, in 1932, he was named Prior Provincial of the Province of the Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines (Spain).
In his new responsibilities, he assiduously carried out the visitation of the communities under his jurisdiction, giving careful attention to each house of his province. Now at that time, his circumscription had houses in many countries. Consequently, such an endeavor of visitations meant traveling to China, the Philippines, the United States, Columbia, and Peru. At every visitation he brought encouragement to his brethren in their work of evangelization, and fraternal exhortations to live a genuine Augustinian religious life.
In 1935 the Holy Father in Rome appointed Blessed Anselmo Polanco to be the bishop of Teruel, Spain. This was an extraordinarily difficult time as civil war broke out in Spain and the city of Teruel, located on the battle line and a besieged city, had become a place of cruel and bloody conflict. In such a dramatic situation bishop Anselmo, followed by his vicar, resolved to remain in governance of his diocese and to stay with the people entrusted to him, despite the fact that he and his vicar could have gone to safety as many advised them to do.
Steadfast in his faith and committed to the flock entrusted to him by holy Church the Blessed Bishop Anselmo Polanco put into practice the word of our Holy Father Augustine to Bishop Honoratus: “When all are threatened by the same danger, that is, bishops, clergy, and laity, those who need the others must not be abandoned by those of whom they have need” (Possidius, Life of Augustine 30,11).
At length, the city fell into the hands of the rebel troops, and Blessed Anselmo was arrested. He suffered great pressure from his captors, especially that he should remove his name from a pastoral letter of the Spanish bishops which was denounced before the world public opinion, the religious persecution the church was suffering. Blessed Anselmo, knowing that such resistance put his life at risk, he refused to remove his name, in spite of threats, as well a promises. According to witnesses, his captors went so far as to offer him the office of archbishop of Barcelona. Faithful to his ecclesial communion with the Holy Father, and with his brother bishops, he steadfastly refused such trumped up honors, which were not theirs to give.
He patiently endured prison, where they confined him for more than a year. During this time of trial he was rarely permitted to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Still, faithful pastor that he was, he organized with the other prisoners, an intense life of prayer, based on the practices of piety and meditation.
Blessed Bishop Anselmo Polanco, together with his vicar general, Father Felipe Ripoll, were cruelly assassinated on 7 February 1939, shortly before the war ended, and so are counted among the last victims of this Spanish civil strife.
Blessed Anselmo was a priest of deep faith, sincere piety, and constant prayer. Even before his martyrdom, many considered a saint. His total dedication to God and to flock entrusted to his care, was perhaps, the best spiritual preparation for his martyrdom. Our blessed brother is regarded as a model, through the different events of his entire life; for his pastoral commitment to his Augustinian brethren and to the faithful of his diocese, his availability, and his uncompromising dedication to the Gospel. Blessed Anselmo was Beatified in Rome on 1 October 1995. Among the Augustinians his feast is observed on 7 February.