The Jesuits in Davao: 1868 to present

The Jesuits in Davao: 1868 to present

Sch. Amado T. Tumbali, SJ
Asst. Province Archivist
July 4, 2016

A royal decree in 1860 ordered the Jesuits to replace the Recollects in Mindanao. Consequently, the Jesuits first arrived in Tamontaca in 1862, then Tetuan a few months later. When the first Jesuits of Davao arrived from Zamboanga on 7 October 1868, there were only about 100 Christians, excluding soldiers. With a cost of 400 pesos, the Jesuits bought from the Recollects a house with furnishings and a garden. The names of these Jesuits are: Fathers Ramon Barua, Domingo Bove, Ramon Pamies, and Brother Antonio Gairolas. Barua, who also pioneered the Jesuits’ restoration in Tetuan in 1862, was the superior. Immediately, they began the construction of a new residence and church.  On 17 December, accompanied by the governor, the Jesuits crossed Davao Gulf to plan for a mission in Samal Island. But due to the natives’ unwillingness to contribute their resources, the idea of a permanent station failed, although Samal continued as an area of ministry, until 1898 when a residence was established finally in Peña-Plata.

Jesuits riding boats and crossing the gulf were regular sights in the last half of 19th century Davao. From the town, the missionaries travelled to the Pacific coastal areas ranging from Sigaboy to Sarangani. Growth of Christianity was averagely successful. In every visitation, there usually had around 200 to 300 natives baptized. As reinforcements of Jesuits gradually increased, residences were eventually built in Mati (1889-1894), Sigaboy (1896-1897), Peña-Plata (1898), and Malalag (1899).

Jesuits administering baptism to natives along Davao River in 19th century. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives.

Jesuits administering baptism to locals along Davao River in the 19th century. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives.

The Jesuit missionary expedition also comprised of geographical excursions like the ascent to Mt. Apo of Fr. Mateo Gisbert and Dr. Montano in 1880 and the overland journey of Fr. Saturnino Urios and Fr. Juan Bautista Llopart from Davao to Agusan in 1892 which gained them familiarity of a land route between the two areas, plus more areas potent for exploration. When the Spanish soldiers were recalled to Manila due to the Revolution, the Jesuits were looked up to maintain civil peace and order among rival factions in the town. But as the tide of revolt escalated, Fr. Pio Pi, mission superior of Philippine Jesuits, also ordered his men in Mindanao to return to Manila. Out of obedience, 22 Jesuits from Davao, Mati, and Baganga embarked on steamer Labuan on 9 March 1899 and left their thriving missions in 40 developing reductions or towns.

When the period of peace begun, 3 Jesuits returned to Davao on 10 October 1900 but found no trace of their missionary works although 1908 census records, there were still around 33,000 Christians in Davao. On 6 June 1909, soldiers of the constabulary staged a mutiny against their officers and held the town in their captivity. During the ordeal, the governor, foreigners, women and children, 222 in all, found their safety in the stone-built Jesuit rectory, at that time, the strongest edifice in Davao. When the mutineers failed to forcibly open the rectory’s door, they moved back to the plaza and, from there, fired their rifles toward the house for three hours. The siege finally ceased when the rebels fled to the foothills upon the arrival of constabulary reinforcements from Mati and American soldiers from Zamboanga. In a report by General Bandholtz, commander-in-chief of the constabulary, the Jesuits were praised for their valuable role.

In 1934, Jesuit Bishop Luis del Rosario of the Diocese of Zamboanga went to Montreal to request the Foreign Mission Society of Quebec (P.M.E. Fathers) to work in his diocese which then included the parish of Davao. The Canadian fathers accepted the bishop’s offer and arrived in Davao in 1937. Fr. Tomas Puig, the last Jesuit parish priest of a church that would later become a cathedral, finally turned-over San Pedro Parish to the P.M.E. Fathers.

San Pedro Parish and Convent in the 1930s. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives; Side by side with Davao Photo 3; write below: Interior of San Pedro Parish in 1936. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives.

San Pedro Parish and Convent in the 1930s. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives.

It could have been the last time that the Jesuits were seen in Davao but after they left the curacy of San Pedro with Fr. Tomas Puig’s departure to Zamboanga in 1939, prominent lay persons did not cease to petition for the return of the Jesuits; this time, to establish a school. Bishop del Rosario sent the request to Fr. John F. Hurley, Jesuit mission superior. Immediately, in 1940-41, plans for setting up a Jesuit school in Davao had begun, with Fr. Hurley’s permission, but World War II happened and the plans were interrupted.

Diocesan Eucharistic Congress, San Pedro Parish 1936. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives.

Diocesan Eucharistic Congress, San Pedro Parish 1936. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives.


In December 1947, Bishop del Rosario and the regional superior of the P.M.E. Fathers, Fr. Joseph Geoffrey again requested the hesitant Fr. Leo Cullum, the new Jesuit mission superior, to raise the plan to establish a school to the Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Jean-Baptiste Janssens. In February 1948, the approval arrived. Immediately, a 6-hectare lot site was selected where a new building was constructed under the supervision of Fr. Merlin Thibault. The school opened in July 1948 with Frs. Theodore Daigler (Rector), Alfredo Paguia, Grant Quinn, and Scholastics James Donelan and Rodolfo Malasmas as first members of the community. This is the beginning of Ateneo de Davao.

The first building of Ateneo de Davao which stood for almost half a century. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives.

The first building of Ateneo de Davao which stood for almost half a century. Courtesy of Jesuit Archives.

Source: Repetti, William C. S.J. The Society of Jesus in the Philippine Islands: The Philippine Mission 1859-1938. Manila: Unpublished, 1938.