Jesuits in the Philippines

From Mission to Province (1581-1768)

In 1581, the first Jesuits from the Province of Mexico arrived in the Philippines. The mission was headed by Fr. Antonio Sedeño, the Superior. His companions were Fr. Alonso Sanchez and Brother Nicolas Gallardo. A fourth member, Scholastic Gaspar Suarez de Toledo, had died during the voyage from Acapulco. In 1585, the first novice was accepted, Juan Garcia Pacheco, a Spaniard. In 1591, mission stations were established in Balayan, Batangas, in Taytay, and in Antipolo, Rizal. In 1593, the first Jesuit mission stations were established in the Visayas in Tibauan, Panay. There, Fr. Pedro Chirino opened the first school of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines. It was a catechetical school for natives. Later the school was expanded with an elementary school both for Spanish and Filipino boys. The first Filipino in the Society of Jesus was a certain Martin Sancho or Sanchez. He was received into the Society in Rome. In 1601, he returned to the Philippines but died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis.

In June of 1595, Fr. General Claudio Acquaviva made the Philippine Mission into a Vice Province dependent on the Province of Mexico. Fr. Sedeño was its first Vice-Provincial. In September of the same year, the College of Manila was opened in the Jesuit compound in Intramuros on Calle Real (later Calle General Luna). The College offered courses in grammar, philosophy, theology, and canon law.

In the same year, residences of Jesuits were established in Cebu, in Leyte, and in Samar. Sometime later, residences were also built in Bohol and in Mindanao. The residential College of San Jose, attached to the College of Manila, opened on August 25, 1601. In 1605, just 24 years after the arrival of the first Jesuits, Fr. General Acquaviva made the Philippine Vice Province into an independent Province. By that time, the Province had 67 members who labored in one college of higher studies (the College of Manila), one residential seminary (San Jose), seven mission residences, and two mission stations.

In 1606, a novitiate was opened in Antipolo, but later the novices were transferred to the College of Manila. From 1622-1630, the novitiate was located in San Pedro, Makati, but in 1630, it again returned to the College of Manila. The novitiate building in Makati became a house of retreats and a villa house.

In 1656, 50 years after the establishment of the Province and 75 years after the founding of the Mission, the membership of the Province had risen to 108 (74 priests, 11 scholastics, and 23 coadjutor Brothers). There were five colleges, one novitiate, one Seminary-College, nine mission residences, and the spiritual administration of 73 towns. In these 75 years, 372 Jesuits had come to the Philippines from Europe and New Spain. 143 Jesuits had been admitted to and had persevered in the Society in the Philippines. Three had been received as priests, 23 as scholastics, and 117 as coadjutor brothers.

In 1668, the Philippine Province established a mission in the Marianas Islands. This mission later became a Vice Province dependent on the Philippine Province. By 1755, the Philippine Province had the spiritual administration of 80 parishes and missions in the Philippines and the Marianas, caring for a total population of 212,153 persons.

In 1768, the Jesuits were banished from the Philippines. On February 27, 1767, King Charles III of Spain had issued a decree banishing the Society of Jesus from Spain and the Spanish dominions. This decree reached Manila on May 17, 1768. Between 1769 and 1771, the Jesuits in the Philippines were transported to Spain and from there deported to Italy. The possessions of the Province were declared forfeit to the crown except the obras pias, which were maintained as ecclesiastical property. Among these was the College of San Jose, which continued to exist, first under the administration of the secular clergy and later under that of the Dominicans. The Jesuit parishes and missions were transferred to other religious orders.

From Mission to Province (1859 to the Present)

Ninety years would pass before the first Jesuit mission of the restored Society would return to the Philippines.  On June 14, 1859, a Tuesday morning, ten Jesuits of the Aragon Province, six priests, and four coadjutor brothers, disembarked from the frigate Luisita. They were led by their Superior, Father José Fernández Cuevas. They entered Intramuros where they were warmly welcomed by the Augustinian Friars, who took them to their villa house. There, the Jesuits stayed for some time while their own residence was being built. On the day of arrival, they presented themselves to the authorities and informed them of the special purpose of their coming, namely the missions of Mindanao and Jolό.

Soon after their arrival, the Jesuits began the exploration of their new mission territory. They set up missions, built parishes, opened mission schools, administered the sacraments, and taught children catechism. They wrote the first grammars and compiled the first dictionaries in Maguindanao, Tururay, and Bagobo. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Society of Jesus had taken over all the mission posts of Mindanao and Sulu.

Manila residents were unwilling, however, to let all the Jesuits travel to far off Mindanao. On August 5, 1859, less than a month after their arrival, a group petitioned the Spanish Governor-General for the Jesuits to begin a school. The Superior, Father Cuevas, refused because the mission of the Jesuits was to be in Mindanao. The people insisted, and after discussing it with his men, Father Cuevas decided to refuse unless the Governor would issue a written order. This was done on October 1 of the same year transferring the direction of the Escuela Pia to the Jesuits. The school was renamed Escuela Municipal, and classes began under the Jesuits on December 10, 1859 with just 23 boys. Three months later the school had increased to 170 students.

By 1909, the school was formally renamed the Ateneo de Manila. It had primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Since that time, other Ateneos were founded in Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro, Naga, and Davao, along with other schools from the former Chinese delegation and likewise in many small parishes in Mindanao and Culion. The same ideals of excellence, of seeking to do more for love of God and neighbor and country imbued them all.

In 1919, the College of San Jose was restored to the Society as a Seminary for the education of Filipino secular priests.

By 1920, the Philippine Jesuit Mission had 157 members: 78 priests, 17 scholastics, and 62 coadjutor brothers. There were mission residences with 20 additional stations in Butuan, Cagayan, Caraga, Cotabato, Culion, Dapitan, Davao, and Zamboanga. In Manila, the Mission ministered at the Ateneo de Manila, San Ignacio Church, the House of Probation and the College of San Jose, and the Observatory. In Vigan, Jesuits ran a seminary and college.

1921 saw the arrival in Manila of 22 Jesuits (12 priests and 10 scholastics) from the combined Provinces of Maryland, New York, and New England, USA. In 1927, the Philippine Mission was transferred to the Province of Maryland-New York from the Province of Aragon by Fr. General Wlodimir Ledochowski. The first American Superior appointed in April of 1927 was Fr. James J. Carlin, S.J. At that time, the Mission had the following membership: 76 Americans, 68 Spaniards, 42 Filipinos.

On February 2, 1952, the Philippine Mission became the Philippine Vice-Province, with Fr. Leo A. Cullum, S.J. as the first Vice Provincial. Another milestone was reached when, on February 3, 1958, the Philippine Vice-Province was made into an independent Province. Fr. Francis X. Clark, S.J., who had served as Vice Provincial, became the first Provincial. By this time, the Province had 442 members: 239 (54%) Filipinos and 197 (45%) Americans. The Province maintained residences in Cagayan and Zamboanga. There were seven Ateneos: Cagayan, Davao, Manila, Naga, San Pablo, Tuguegarao, and Zamboanga. The Province maintained a novitiate and juniorate in Novaliches, and Berchmans College for philosophy studies in Cebu City. In addition, it maintained a retreat house (La Ignaciana, Manila), an observatory in Baguio, an institute of social order (Manila) and the Provincial’s residence in the same city. The Society also administered two seminaries, San Jose, Manila and San Jose, Mindanao. It also served in the Philippine General Hospital and maintained the Culion and Zamboanga Sanitarium Chaplaincies.

In 1965, Father Horacio dela Costa, S.J. became the first Filipino Provincial. In the sixties, too, a long-time dream came true: the Philippine Province opened its own theologate, Loyola House of Studies, now known as Loyola School of Theology, in the campus of the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. Today the Philippine Province, in addition to all the works in the Philippines, sends young men once more to foreign missions — to Cambodia, Myanmar, and East Timor.

We remember with gratitude more than 200 years of the presence of Jesuits in the Philippines. We thank the Lord for the blessing of Jesuits from Europe, the United States, Asia-Pacific, and the Philippines, who have labored in the different ministries of the Province: as scientists at the Manila Observatory, professors in the different Ateneos, pioneers and explorers in Mindanao, as catechists and pastors, as teachers, and spiritual guides for many who desired a deeper relationship with their God.

The article above is based on an outline by Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J. (published in 1958 in the Philippine Clipper) and the homilies of Fr. Jojo Magadia, SJ about the 150th anniversary of the return of the Jesuits to the Philippines.