Seventy years ago, in February of 1945, the 337-year old history of Saint Nicholas Intramuros in Manila was crushed under the weight of bombs. It was the mother house of the Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, the missionary province of the Order of Augustinian Recollects.
The scene would play out frequently, and it was always touching: each shipload of Augustinian Recollect missionaries proceeding from Spain, upon arriving in Manila (Philippines) after months of sailing, would cross the city in procession until they entered the church of San Nicolas de Tolentino. And there, together with the conventual community, all would join in singing a Te Deum of thanksgiving for having arrived safe and sound at the mother house of the province.
Thus it was for centuries, from the year 1608 when the convent’s foundations were established until 1945, when it was destroyed, 75 years ago. Intramuros – as it was fondly known both as a physical space as well as a human community – was the dreamt-of arrival point for the 140 Recollect missions that came to the Philippines bringing in Augustinian Recollect friars from the Spanish convents who had volunteered for the missions in the Far East.
Intramuros was also the headquarters, common house, place of rest and healing for more than the 2,000 religious who worked in that archipelago during 337 years. Moreover, it served as its institutional see and place of decision-making during 324 years as a provincial curia and residence of the Prior Provincial and the venue of meetings with his council.
Luis Aguirre (1913-2007) and Miguel Navarro (1911-2013) were the last two Augustinian Recollects who came to live in Intramuros; and they have been with us until not so long ago. They were the last who experienced the cozy warmth of that motherly home.
This grateful and heart-felt commemoration we are offering would like to fan the embers, albeit gently, and to prevent that warmth from vanishing altogether.
NOTE: The images of the old convent of Intramuros can be enjoyed today because they are in the General Archive of the Order, located in the general curia of Rome (Italy). For the images related to the Battle of Manila, we have relied on the public archive of the Presidential Museum and Library PH. The rest of the images in this report correspond to the Graphic Archive of the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino of the Order of Augustinian Recollects.