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.
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.
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.
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.