St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary

The St. Vincent Seminary is the fifth oldest and the last founded in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial regime.

It was established around the same time as the creation of Jaro as a diocese separate from Cebu through a papal bull issued by Pope Pius IX on May 27, 1865 and put into effect by Manila Archbishop Gregorio Meliton Martinez on October 10, 1867.

Fray Mariano Cuartero, the first bishop of Jaro, took possession of his diocese on April 25, 1868 and immediately put into motion his plans for the establishment of a diocesan seminary.

Aware of the great work of the Vincentian Fathers in the formation of native secular priests in other areas, the bishop sought their help in the creation of a seminary where he could train good pastors for the different parishes that were then almost entirely under the spiritual administration of the Augustinian friars.

First Vincentian priests

Vincentian priests arrived in Jaro in December of 1869, according to parish records, to organize and direct the seminary, and Fr. Ildefonso Moral was appointed as its superior.

Fr. Moral was joined by Fr. Aniceto Gonzales, who oversaw the construction of the seminary building and later succeeded as rector, and newly ordained priest Fr. Juan Miralda. They made up the community of Vincentian Fathers that first came to Jaro.

At the start, the seminary operated out of the bishop’s residence.

Through the generous donations of parishioners, in particular the sisters Ana and Maria Sitchon, the priest Mariano Sitchon, and Doña Gregoria Hingson, all from Molo, and from other smaller contributions, Bishop Cuartero was able to buy a 22,000-square meter lot near the Cathedral and his residence for the seminary. Not long after, on March 11, 1871, the cornerstone was laid and construction started under the direction of Fr. Aniceto Gonzales.

Third seminary building

The current St. Vincent Seminary building is the third erected since its founding in 1869. It was completed on June 19, 1954 with then Jaro Bishop Jose Ma. Cuenco spearheading efforts to raise funds for its construction.

Two previous structures were destroyed, the first by fire in 1906 and the other in a bombing run by American liberation forces on February 20, 1945 near the end of the Second World War.

The seminary complemented its new and modern building with an enlarged plan of studies. Its Departments of Latin and Philosophy received government accreditation and soon the number of enrolled seminarians broke previous records.

In 1959, seminary obtained government recognition of its studies to grant the AB degree.

Flourishing times

The first seminary building, put up under the rectorship of Fr. Gonzales, was completed in November 1874. A parish book described it as quadrilateral in shape measuring 54×52 meters, with a central 23-square meter patio. The ground floor was stone and brick and the second floor made of hardwood.

When it was opened to lay students in 1875, the number of enrollees became so high that another 46 meters was added to the right wing of the building.

An entry in “Exposición General de las Islas Filipinas en Madrid, 1887 – Memoria” recorded a total seminary enrollment of 5,344 from 1875-1885.

The most flourishing period for the seminary during Spanish times was between 1891-1925 when it introduced five-year course of studies leading to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. It was the first of the Vincentian-run seminaries to become a first-class college, getting fully incorporated into the University of Sto. Tomas in 1891.

Filipino-Spanish hostilities

In the course of its 150-year history, seminary life was interrupted twice by war. School days came to an abrupt end during the outbreak of Filipino-Spanish hostilities at the close of 1897 and returned to normal only in 1904-1905.

Filipino revolutionaries in the Visayas, taking their cue from the proclamation of Philippine Independence in Kawit, rose in arms against Spain and on November 17, 1897 formed their own revolutionary government in Santa Barbara with Roque Lopez as president and Martin Delgado as commander-in-chief.

Spanish forces surrendered Jaro to rebel forces after five hours of savage fighting in December 15. They then took over the use of the seminary and ordered the priests expelled over fears they acted as spies.

In the early months of 1898, American soldiers managed to wrest the city away from Delgado’s forces that withdrew to the outskirts and began a guerilla war that lasted for two years

The death of Cuartero’s successor Bishop Leandro Arrue Agudo shortly before the war on October 24, 1897 left the Diocese of Jaro an orphan at its most critical time and the situation was exacerbated by a third of Filipino priests refusing to accept a Spanish friar, Andres Ferrero, as his replacement and their animosity towards the Vincentians who were also Spanish.

Schism of Panay

The Schism of Panay, as it was called, dragged on until Bishop Ferrero was forced to hand in his resignation to the Holy See. He sailed back to Spain on October 27, 1903.

Monsignor Frederick Rooker took over that November and required all priests to renew their oath of obedience and reverence to the bishop. A special meeting was also held in Manila for all major superiors of religious communities and bishops to bring the conflict to an end.

Everything returned to normal beginning in school year 1904-1905 only to be interrupted again by a fire that hit the seminary and reduced it to ashes in 1906. It was caused by a candle left burning in the sacristy by a seminarian.

Classes proceeded but housed temporarily in a spacious building owned by Don Teodoro Benedicto.

With financial support of the priests, people of Jaro, his friends in America, and a substantial amount from Pope Pius X, Bishop Rooker began reconstruction just two months after the fire. The seminary was substantially finished and able to house 100 interns in less than a year. It returned to its own home on September 17, 1907. Just a day after, Bishop Rooker suffered a heart attack and died just hours after.

Seminary, college separation

Two great benefactors of the seminary came in the persons of Jaro Bishop Dennis Dougherty, who succeeded Rooker, and seminary rector Fr. Mariano Napal.

They took on the job of completing the building and achieved this on March 12, 1912.

While enrollment was at an all-time high, accepting lay students affected the original purpose of the seminary which was to train the youth for priesthood.

Vincentian priests took this strong admonition of Pope Pius XI to heart and created a separate Colegio de San Vicente Ferrer that operated out of the Jaro Cathedral convent. However, it closed down definitively two years later.

The separation proved beneficial to the seminarians but caused the seminary to suffer economically as the college was its main source of income.

Bishop McCloskey remedied this by subsidizing the seminary through a system of burses beginning in 1925. While admitted at a hospital in Manila in 1942, he even instructed Msgr. Luis Capalla, Vicar General, to continue assisting seminary.

Japanese occupation

Another interruption to seminary work occurred during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that generated alarm in the Philippines.

The incident prompted Fr. Mariano Auzmendi to close classes, perhaps prematurely. The seminarians went home to the provinces while the priests, 12 of them, and 10 ordinands remained.

Japanese forces began to occupy Iloilo on April 16, 1942, causing a state of terror. The rector brought the ordinands with permission from the Japanese to Bacolod for their priestly ordination in June 29. The priests were allowed to leave for safer places and three of the nine that remained including the rector were said to have died as a result of tension and fear.

Shortly after his consecration, Bishop Jose Ma. Cuenco came to the Jaro Diocese in February 1943 as Auxiliary of Bishop McCloskey who was being treated for an illness in Manila.

Despite the efforts of Cuenco and his newly appointed rector, Fr. Eliseo Rodriguez, the seminary only began to operate normally beginning in January 1946.

Rising from destruction

Iloilo City was liberated from the Japanese by American forces on May 19, 1945, but their bombing runs had levelled the seminary’s home just a few months before.

The task of rebuilding the diocese, which lost not only the seminary but 60 percent of its churches and rectories, fell to Cuenco, who was appointed residential bishop in November 27 of that year with the death of McCloskey.

After a vote of confidence from the Jaro Diocese, the Vincentian fathers returned and focused their efforts on clearing out debris and covering the walls that remained standing with bamboo strips and nipa leaves just to be able to reopen the seminary. On January 7, 1946, classes did resume attended by 32 major seminarians.

The St. Vincent Seminary slowly got back on its feet and a new building, the one you see today, once again rose from the destruction through the efforts of Bishop Cuenco.

Work on the last part of the construction, the right wing, took 10 months and was completed on June 19, 1954.


Santa Monica Parish Church

Pavia was founded both as town and parish by Spanish authorities in 1862 and a church was built almost at the same time but of less solid material.

Fr. Policarpio Minayo, the first priest of the parish established under the advocation of Saint Monica of Africa, oversaw the construction of this church from 1862 to 1864.

Reconstruction of the Santa Monica Parish Church with the use of bricks began during the tenure of Fr. Antonio Fermentino, who served from 1882 to 1887 and then from 1889 to 1890. A stone convent was added by Fr. Calixto Fernandez in 1887.

Work on the structure continued under the term of Fr. Lazaro Ramirez from 1895 to 1899, when it was finally opened for public worship.

Unique church features

The church is of Byzantine mold, with exterior and interior walls made entirely of red bricks, according to parish records. It is the only one of its kind in the whole island of Panay.

Mass goers and visitors can still see two Greek crosses that decorate the facade today.

Unlike many Spanish-period churches of cruciform design with rectangular transept, Santa Monica’s is round and set against the rear wall.

Fr. Felix Caronongan Jr., writing about parish history in the souvenir program for its 100th founding anniversary in 1988, said the structure is unique because it combines elements of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. He added that it looks like a simpler and smaller version of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in the Iloilo town’s namesake of Pavia in Italy.

The first native priest, Fr. Mansueto Zabala, took over the parish in 1911.

Years of construction, repair

When war broke out in 1941, Japanese forces used the church as garrison and it became the subject of constant raids by Filipino guerillas resulting in the walls getting defaced.

The structure was further damaged by bombing runs of American liberation forces.

After the war, rehabilitation works were undertaken throughout the years by a succession of parish priests. Fr. Melicio Rubrico (1946-1951) repaired the main altar in 1946, Msgr. Ciceron Tumbocon (1951 to 1953) replaced the roof with salvaged galvanized iron, Fr. Vicente Declaro (1953-1958) started on four of the current 18 columns, Fr. Victor Casa (1959-1964) added new wooden benches made possible by donations, Fr. Domingo Tabifranca (1964-1967) had a new wooden altar table made so the priest could face the congregation while saying Mass (Vatican II), and Fr. Victor Piansay (1969-1977) installed steel windows and as well as new marble altar table.

Fr. Casa was also behind the building of a single level wooden rectory because the old two-story structure was already dilapidated and unsafe. Other works by Fr. Piansay included marble flooring for the main altar and cement for the whole church. He added a concrete arch in the man altar.

A new concrete two-story rectory was built under the term of Msgr. Juanito Ma. Tuvilla, who took over the parish on August 27, 1978. With subsidies sourced from West Germany, Msgr. Tuvilla also continued construction of the concrete columns in the church. Incoming priests up to the 1990s contributed their share to building the church and parish.

Solemn, festive celebrations

The Catholic Church decreed Sta. Monica’s day of honor every August 27, moving it close to the feast day of her son St. Augustine, which is every August 28.

While the Santa Monica Parish celebrates it with the usual 9-day novenario and concelebrated mass, it is without the food and funfare characteristic of traditional Philippine fiestas.

Instead, according to parish records, the revelry that marks Fiesta Day happens every May 4.

No one knows why this is so, said Fr. Caronongan. It may be because November weather is not conducive to outdoor activities or it is before the harvest time of the town’s main crop of palay and household funds are already depleted.

Whatever the reason, the townspeople continue to fulfill the spiritual aspect of St. Monica’s feast day in August 27 and conduct festive activities by May 4.


Molo Church

St. Anne’s Church, more popularly known as Molo Church, is one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines. It was declared a national landmark by the National Historical Institue in 1992.

The church is of Gothic Renaissance architecture and is the only Gothic church in the country outside of Manila, according to an article in The News Today published last July 24, 2007.

The newspaper wrote that the church was was constructed in 1831 under Fray Pablo Montaño and further expanded and finished by Fray Agapito Buenaflor in 1888 under the supervision of Don Jose Manuel Locsin.

MOLO FIESTA. An undated photo of a fiesta celebration in front of the Molo Church.
MOLO FIESTA. An undated photo of a fiesta celebration in front of the Molo Church.

The church is dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has 16 larger-than-life images of female saints arranged in two rows. These female saints are Sta. Marcela, Apolonia, Genoveva, Isabel, Felicia, Ines, Monica, Magdalena, Juliana, Lucia, Rosa de Lima, Teresa, Clara, Cecilia, Margarita and Marta.

On August 4, 1886, national hero Jose Rizal dropped at Molo on his way back to Manila from exile at Dapitan in Mindanao. He went to see his friend, Raymundo Melliza who showed him the church.
In his diary, Rizal wrote, “We went to Molo to see the church painted by a lad who has left the locality. The church is pretty (iglesia bonita) outside with paintings inside mostly copies of Biblical scenes by Gustave Dore.”

A composite of images of Molo Church and plaza taken in the early 1900s.
A composite of images of Molo Church and plaza taken in the early 1900s.

During World War II, it served as evacuation center under parish priest Msgr. Manuel Alba.

One of the church’s original towers was destroyed on March 18, 1945. It was used as a machine gun nest by Japanese forces and was shelled by the Americans.


St. Thomas of Villanova Parish Church

When it comes to structures built during the Spanish colonial period, the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish Church is among the more notable ones in the Philippines.

The present edifice, constructed from 1786-1797 under the supervision of Fray Francisco Gonzales Maximo, is the third built in Miagao during Spanish times and was intended not just to serve as sanctuary from pirate raids but also to withstand earthquakes and typhoons.

Its simple and massive form points to its function as fortress, while the ornate details on the facade embodies its spiritual function as the House of God, according to the book Great Churches of the Philippines co-authored by priest historians Pedro Galende and Rene Javellana.

The first church of Miagao was built in 1734, three years after it was established as town and parish, in a low-lying area called Ubos but it was burnt during the pirate raid of 1741.

The destruction of a second church constructed in 1754 by Fray Fernando Camporredondo in another raid prompted the Spanish authorities to move it to a higher elevation in Tacas Hill where it now currently stands.

Spanish colonial Baroque church

Completed in 1797, the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish Church depicts the typical “Spanish colonial Baroque style” in the Philippines.

What makes the edifice an architectural masterpiece are the features and elements uniquely its own: explosion of botanical motif on its facade, centerpiece relief of St. Christopher carrying the Child Jesus on his shoulders that dominate the pediment, massive buttresses that serve to reinforce walls that are already one and a half meters thick.

A book on “The Miagao Church” published by the National Historical Institute described it as a single-nave edifice that follows the Augustinian pattern of “church-convento-atrium.” It added that the bulk of the structure consists of “tabriya” stone blocks quarried from the mountain of Igbaras.

The book also cites the uneven configuration of the bell towers added in 1830: the left side has four tiers and low-pitched dome while the right one only has three but with a steeply conical roof that somehow balances out the whole composition.

Facade embellishments

Galende and Javellana talked about the exceptional elements on the facade, including:

  • A heavily drawn frieze and balusters that set the first level apart from the second as well as the integrated pediment.
  • Relief of overlapping palm fronds that suggest movement.
  • The columns flanking the arched entrance that reinforce this suggestion.
  • Curvilinear undulation of the facade intensified by oval and arch openings that partly eases the upward motion.

They likened the two-dimensional quality of the Miagao church reliefs to “de gajeta” or cookie cutouts, which was also how 16th century Mexican architectural reliefs were described.

A statue of the patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova, stands on an elaborately framed central niche above the arched entrance.

The church was declared a National Shrine through Presidential Decree No. 260 dated August 1, 1973. It was included in the World Heritage List in 1993, the only one in the Visayas and Mindanao.


Santa Maria Parish Church

This church dedicated to Our Lady of China developed from a lowly Quonset hut into the imposing structure you see today.

There are two beginnings to its story: in 1953, when Mexican missionary Padre Miguel Pardenas came to Iloilo for a retreat and, about a decade earlier, when the rise of atheism led to the expulsion of the Jesuits from mainland China.

Fr. Pardenas, among the Jesuit missionaries expelled from China, was pastor of the newly created personal parish for the Chinese and Chinese-Filipino Catholics in Cebu City when he came to Iloilo City in 1953 for an Ignatian retreat at Assumption.

The Mother Superior, herself Mexican, told him there was also a need to minister to the big Chinese and Chinese-Filipino population in Iloilo.

Parish beginnings

The idea to create a personal parish for the community got strong support from then Jaro Archbishop Msgr. Jose Ma. Cuenco, and Jesuit China mission superior Fr. O’Brien that same year gave the task to 39-year-old Italian missionary Fr. Guerrino Marsecano.

Marsecano was expelled from Mengkuang, China in December 1952 after four years of hard work in communal farms.

He spent a few months studying the work of Fr. Pardenas in Cebu before going to Iloilo with only 30 pesos in his pocket and with nothing arranged in advance for accommodations.

Marsecano arrived on March 1, 1953 to a warm welcome from the leaders of the Iloilo Catholic Chinese Association (ICCA) and a sizeable crowd of Chinese-Filipino Catholics.

Pope Pius XII decree

On July 5, 1953, during the Holy Mass in Assumption chapel, Msgr. Cuenco read the decree from Pope Pius XII authorizing the creation of a personal parish for Chinese and Chinese-Filipino Catholics in Iloilo City.

Fr. Marsecano became the first priest of the parish dedicated to the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary that first appeared in Donglu, China in the 1900. Although Archbishop Cuenco had given him leave to use any church in the city, Fr. Marsecano had taken to regularly using the Assumption chapel for services.

After a year of services in various churches, Fr. Marsecano and the community realized the need for the Santa Maria Parish to have its own church.

With money raised by ICCA and the Propaganda Fide, Fr. Marsecano bought a lot by the strait of Guimaras not far from the city center with two Quonset huts that housed hospital services during the Second World War and became later on as repair shops for buses.

Quonset huts for chapel, convent

One Quonset hut became the convent and the other was renovated into a chapel under the supervision of the Italian Jesuit missionary Bro. Schiatti. The new chapel was inaugurated on July 25, 1954.

With the parish growing and attendance at church services increasing, plans were made for a bigger structure as the chapel could only sit around a hundred.

Fr. Marsenaco oversaw the initial preparations for a new church but this was cut short when he was transferred to Formosa, the present Taiwan, to work among the French Canadian Jesuits in the Kuangshi district in 1956.

A French Jesuit missionary, Fr. Andre Joliet, who was pulled out of the Chinese apostolate in East Malaya, took his place. The 60-year-old priest spoke English with a heavy accent and had problems with the languages spoken by the Chinese and Ilonggos but he made up for it with his evangelizing zeal. Helping him out beginning in June of 1956 was assistant parish priest Fr. Santiago Leon, who completed a course in the Xiamen language Amoy.

First church mass

When Msgr. Juan Velasco, a Dominican bishop of Amoy and national director of the Chinese mission in the Philippines, came for a pastoral visit in November 1956, he discussed with the Parish Board and ICCA the need for a bigger and more permanent church.

This refreshed efforts to put up a new structure, estimated at 80,000 pesos, and work immediately started with the money left over from Fr. Marsecano’s tenure and donation of 25,000 pesos from Swiss Catholics. A committee chaired by Trinidad Chu organized fund-raising activities to come up with the rest of the funds.

Work on the new church was primed by a donation of 2,000 hollow blocks from the Lopez family. The building design was conceptualized by Benjamin Hilado, dean of the College of Architecture of the University of San Agustin. Construction was undertaken by Oriental Lumber.

Christmas Day of 1957 became a significant milestone for the Santa Maria Parish when it celebrated the first mass in the new church.

Solemn blessing

The Santa Maria Parish Church was solemnly blessed by Msgr. Teofilo Camomot, D.D., auxiliary bishop of Jaro, on April 27, 1958.

After five years, the Chinese-Filipino community finally had a church to call its own. With the donation of a lot and house to serve as parish rectory by Mr. and Mrs. Eduardo Lopez, the physical structure was strengthened for an evangelized and evangelizing Chinese-Filipino community in the city.

Then dean of the College of Fine Arts of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Francisco Ricardo Monti, sculpted the bas relief of Our Lady of China that dominates the facade of the church. He based his work on Chinese artist John Lu Hungnien’s drawing.

Miraculous cross replica

On the wall of the altar in the sanctuary is a cross inspired by the miraculous crucifix of Limpias in the Church of St. Peter in Santander, Spain.

Its Chinese inscription in stained glass is the work of sinologist Fr. John Wang Chang Chi. It reads: Offering-Sacrifice (above the cross beam); The world has been saved by the instrument of torture (under the cross beam, right side); and To feed your soul, you must have spiritual food (under the cross beam, left side).

The statues of the Sacred Heart and the Holy Family are also from Spain. The bell was made by the makers of America’s Liberty Bell.


San Miguel Archangel Parish Church

Built in 1842, the San Miguel Arcangel (St. Michael Archangel) Church in this southern Cebu town has served the people of Samboan for close to 200 years.

Fr. Felipe Redondo, church historian, described the Samboan Church in his book Breve Reseña published in 1886 as a building made of mamposteria with only one nave, quite unlike other Spanish-built structures of worship in Cebu which are cruciform in design.

The edifice also distinguishes itself by its bare facade, bereft of the bas relief and other embellishments present in many other colonial churches.

Except for the four urn-like finials found above the horizontal cornice that serves as the pediment’s base and the niche for the patron saint above the semi-circular arched entrance, the Samboan Church’s face is devoid of decorations.

The structure’s interior as well is characterized by utter simplicity. The indoor design is plain and uncomplicated and it is this that lends this church a prayerful atmosphere.

Permanent structure

From being a visita of Barili, Samboan became an independent parish early on in 1784. However, the construction of a more permanent church – out of coral stones and the best of hardwood – happened only in 1842 under the stewardship of Fr. Romualdo Avila.

Fr. Redondo, who visited and documented Catholic churches in a book published in 1886, wrote that the edifice in Samboan has tile roofing and lime mortar floors. Attached to the right side of the church, he added, is a bell tower also made of mamposteria or coral stone slabs.

The structure underwent reconstruction in 1915 under Fr. Ubalde Enriquez, but there is no record of the extent of work done and the alterations that were implemented.

Visible on a portion of the interior wall are the holes that mark what was once the beams of a pulpit but has now disappeared, according to the book Balaanong Bahandi.

Church interior

It added that the retablo appears to be recently painted but the woodwork is clearly of colonial origin.

According to the book, the church flooring of black and white machuca tiles done in chevron and harlequin patterns dates back to the 1930s. Still intact too is the choir loft supported by massive pillars of coral stone and lime mortar.

Since the Samboan Church was built on a plateau about 65 meters above sea level, a stairway made of flat stones and lime was built on the side of the hill in 1878 to make it easier for town parishioners coming from the coastal area to go to mass.

Called Jacob’s Ladder or Escala de Jacob, the staircase of 147 steps is still the easiest way to get to the town center from the lowlands.


Santa Ana Parish Church

Elevated as a Diocesan Shrine in 2005, the Santa Ana Parish Church in Barili has gone through several reconstruction and renovations since the first structure was erected at its present site in February 1889.

Two things set Barili apart from other parishes: it was the only one in the Archdiocese dedicated to Sta. Ana, the mother of the Virgin Mary, and the first in Cebu to be run by secular priests.

It was founded in 1614, according to the book Balaanong Bahandi, citing other historians. Writing about Barili, Felipe Redondo in Breve Reseña said the date of its creation was uncertain but the oldest entries in the parish books date back to October 15, 1748.

Original stone foundations

Fr. Juan Alcoseba, who served as parish priest from 1889 to 1910, was credited with the construction of the first structure at its current location. The first church site was near a river and would occasionally get flooded so parishioners agreed to transfer it to a safer place.

Since Alcoseba’s time, the Santa Ana Parish Church had been renovated in the late 1950s by Fr. Emilio Vicentillo, who also added the concrete belfry, and in 1974 by Fr. Francisco Boltron.

“Despite modern alterations, the church still retains its original coral stone foundations and walls which rise up to a meter then give way to the cement walls,” added the Balaanong Bahandi.

Special church features

Some notable characteristics of this church: memorial to Bishop Juan Gorordo in the church’s right side, beautifully carved statue of Santa Ana at a niche in the facade, four huge reliefs of the Evangelists in the interior corners, antique image and relic of the parish patroness enshrined in the altar at the gospel side.

The Santa Ana Parish was believed to be located in the old barrio of Giloctog. In his book, Redondo named Fr. Alonso Roman de Castañeda as incumbent parish priest of Barili when he was named Vicar Forane of the district on October 16, 1619.

With the brief time period between 1614-1619, the Balaanong Bahandi believes it is likely that Fr. Castañeda was also Barili’s first parish priest.

Eastern Samar

St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish Church

Eastern Samar

Madonna and Child

Eastern Samar

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