Founded in 1620, Dumaguete City is one of the older parishes in Negros and its parochial administration included the southeastern part of the island from Sibulan up to Bayawan as well as Siquijor.
Administration of the parish was entrusted in the beginning to the secular clergy, and Fr. Juan de Roa y Herrera served as its first resident priest up to 1623.
It was however during the term of another Spanish diocesan priest, Fr. Jose Fernandez de Septien, that the St. Catherine of Alexandria Church was built. Septien, who was pastor of Dumaguete from 1754-1776, built a strong church, according to the book “Handurawan: Visita Iglesia Negros Y Recoletos.”
He was also responsible for the construction of the convent, watchtowers, and fortress in the form of a stone wall that once surrounded what was then the town center. Remnants of the Septien’s fortifications, including one of the four watchtowers that has been turned into the church belfry, remain.
The Recollects took over the running of the parish in 1855 and stayed for close to a century. Until 1954 when Dumaguete was handed over to the secular clergy, a slew of Recollect fathers came to serve as resident priests.
Handurawan identified the first as Fr. Antonio Ubeda who served from 1855 to 1856. One of the more popular ones was the “zealous and active missionary” Fr. Antonio Moreno, who was credited with many church improvements as well as the building of two modern schools.
IN 1901. The photo above was taken in 1901 and shows the church, convent, and bell tower of the St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Dumaguete City. This photo is part of the University of Michigan Special Colletions and posted on Flickr by John Tewell.
Another priest who undertook church renovations was Fr. Mariano Bernad, who devoted 16 years of intermittent service (1866-87, 1879-91, and 1894-97) to the parish. His contributions include improvements to church interior, completion of portico, roof replacement, and new flooring.
During his time, the parish had new vestments for its patron St. Catherine as well as for liturgical services and precious vessels. Beyond this and such infrastructure as principal avenues , streets, bridges, culverts that were attributed to him, Fr. Bernad succeeded in the fruitful evangelizing of the people of Dumaguete. Two famous devotions he successfully taught to parishioners were for St. Joseph and the perpetual adoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
A redesign of the beautiful tabernacle and replacement of floors with fine and special wood happened during the term of Fr. Juan Felix de la Encarnacion as parish priest from 1867 to 1879.
The Recollects left the care of the parish to the secular clergy when the Revolution of 1898 broke out and returned after the war in 1909. It was during the time of Fr. Francisco Ortuoste from 1925 to 1931 that construction of the belfry on what used to be the old watchtower was completed.
When Dumaguete was established as a diocese in 1955, the church became the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral.