Nine Recollect Bishops of the Past with a Lesson in Service to the Church for the Present

The Augustinian Recollect Pablo Panedas brings us closer to nine bishops of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Juan Ruiz (1728-1796, bishop of Nueva Segovia); Joaquín Encabo (1740-1818, Cebu); Eugenio Sesé (1750-1803, Santa Marta, Colombia); José Aranguren (1801-1861, Manila); Mariano Cuartero (1830-1887, Nueva Segovia); Leandro Arrué (1837-1897, Jaro); Andrés Ferrero (1846-1909, Jaro); Toribio Minguella (1836-1920, Puerto Rico and Sigüenza, Spain) and Gregorio Espiga (1912-1997, Puerto Princesa).
News | 2021 Sep 27

No one is surprised, today, to learn of a religious who has been made a bishop. But it was not always so frequent, in part because bishops were in the past much fewer, in keeping with the global population also being smaller.

The Philippines today has almost 110 million inhabitants, but in 1735 it had one million, four in 1850 and almost six in 1887. Today the Philippine Church has 86 dioceses, but until the second half of the nineteenth century the entire Archipelago was distributed in four:  Manila, metropolitan see, plus three suffragans (Cebu, Nueva Cáceres and Nueva Segovia).

Perhaps so the number of seven bishops of the Order of Augustinian Recollects  in the Philippines does not seem so small, plus two others who, coming from the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino and having worked in the Asian country, were recommended for American Dioceses.

  1. All Spaniards

This fact should not be surprising, in the case of characters from the colonial period. It was normal for bishops (as well as civil leaders) to come from Spain. All these Augustinian Recollect bishops, in fact, were formed in Spain.

The three oldest were formed in their respective Recollect Provinces of Castile (Ruiz and Encabo) andAragon (Sesé). Then, already in the nineteenth century, from Aranguren (first own promotion) they were formed in the houses of formation of the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino of the Philippine Islands in Spain, first in Alfaro  (La Rioja, 1824) and then in Monteagudo (Navarra, 1829).

The series of Spanish bishops concludes with the colonial period; and the gallery of the Recollects is closed by Andrés Ferrero, granted bishop in 1898, the year of the Revolution.  From this date, during the North American protectorate (1898-1946), the shepherds who occupy the Philippine headquarters are usually of that nationality; and then, already, Filipinos of nation, at least in the ordinary dioceses. There are some exceptions, as is the case of the Apostolic Prefecture of Palawan, a missionary territory that between 1955 and 1987 was directed by the Spanish Recollect Gregorio Espiga.

  1. Intellectuals, pastors, parents

At the risk of schematizing a lot, we can say that there are three intertwined experiences that characterize the Augustinian Recollect bishop in the Philippines: teacher of young religious, active pastoral life and priorexercise of authority within the Recollect community.

The Recollect bishops had an above-average philosophical and theological formation, which is important at a time when the formation of the clergy was deficient. Most of them were teachers; some, before moving on to the Philippines: this is the case of Sesé, Aranguren, Cuartero or Ferrero. Several of them even repeatedly asked to be released from the chair to have the opportunity to mission in the Philippines.

To the mission and pastoral care, they are dedicated for years, although in different circumstances. Juan Ruiz, for example, was soon removed from parish life, being appointed president of the Hospice of San Nicolás de Tolentino in Mexico City and in charge of organizing from Spain the mission of 1767-1769. Another, Eugenio Sesé, had less than four years of pastoral activity in the Philippines.

On the other side would be Arrué and Ferrero. The first was totally dedicated to completing the church and convent of  Bácong  (Negros Oriental) when he was informed of his appointment to the see of  Jaro. He even refused to accept it if it was not formally ordered by the religious superior.

Ferrero, for his part, was fully identified with the Parish of Pontevedra, the only one in which he worked, from which the superiors never took him out because the faithful insisted on having it. He oversaw this parish of Negros Occidental for 18 years, in alternate periods, in which the church, the convent and the cemetery were built.

The third facet common to almost all the Recollect bishops of the Philippines is that they were provincial priors, in addition to other important positions within the Order. Of the nine only three were not provincial:  Sesé and Minguella for living many years in  Madrid representing the Province before the Court; Espiga already lived a different context, that of the twentieth century, when the Philippines was already another vicarage within the extensive Province and its provinciality was in Spain.

This reflects the vision of these characters had their brothers, who chose them for these positions for their ability to face the problems of practical life and for their sensitivity to personal treatment.

  1. In their Philippine dioceses

We have mapped out the common features. Let's try to outline the personal characteristics of each one, according to the territory that has fallen into luck.

Diocese of Nueva Segovia: Juan Ruiz (1784-1796) and Mariano Cuartero (1874-1887)

Juan Ruiz focuses his efforts on the most pressing need after the transfer of the seat of the Diocese from the peripheral city of Nueva Segovia (today Lal-lo,in  Cagayán) to the more central andmonumental Villa Fernandina de Vigan:  it still had no cathedral or structure.

By the time he was ordained bishop (1786) he had already built the residential see and had the cathedral advanced. Both buildings form one of the most harmonious ecclesiastical ensembles in the philippines; and are the most notable of the Historic City of Vigan, which in 1999 deserved to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The necrology of Bishop Juan Ruiz points out that:

"He died, truly, as a poor religious; for all that he received as Bishop, he spent it on making his palace and his cathedral and on adorning it with precious jewels of gold and silver and ornaments."

And he could still have added that he spent even his life, because being so on site led him to get sick and, ultimately, to death, which occurred in Manila on May 2, 1796.

The main problem that Cuartero faced, a hundred years later, was pastoral: the abandonment of the diocese after several years without a pastor. That is why he was received with extraordinary expressions of joy, to which he corresponded by turning to pastoral activity: visiting parishes several times and exhorting the faithful, with words and examples, to holiness.

Diocese of Cebu: Joaquín Encabo (1804-1818)

The life of the only Recoleto placed at the head of the second Philippine metropolis runs in parallel with that of Juan Ruiz: same origin and similar activities, they even lived together in Vigan and, finally, Encabo had topronounce ruiz's funeral prayer.  Encabo also completed and inaugurated cebu Cathedral, as Ruiz had done with Vigan.

The social dimension of Encabo was extraordinary. Detached and generous, he used almost all his resources for the needs of the most disadvantaged, such as lepers, abundant in the area. For them he created a hospital and a foundation for their sustenance. The Order collaborated in this work until the beginning of the twentieth century.

Diocese of Jaro: Leandro Arrué (1885-1897) and Andrés Ferrero (1898-1903)

If we divide the Philippines into two north/south halves, the whole south corresponded for centuries to the Diocese of Cebu, very extensive, unfathomable. In 1865, the Holy See made it two, and the southeastern part became the Diocese of Jaro, based in the present-day city of Iloilo. Over time it has been deged into as many as six new jurisdictions. The first bishop was Dominican and the next two were Recollects.

Leandro Arrué was an enthusiastic apostle, totally dedicated to his parish of Bácong (Negros Oriental). He only accepted the episcopate when his superiors ordered him to do so. From then on, and for 12 years, he dedicated himself to touring the Diocese.

He was not an office bishop, far from the streets, but a born visitor; he was present in up to two parishes a day, in direct contact with the people, involved with their well-being, as with the construction of a hospital for the sick without resources.

The situation in which Andrés Ferrerolived, "failed bishop" who many saw as a martyr, was decisive. Recommended on March 14, 1898, in the middle of the Revolution, he could hardly go to Manila to be ordained bishop, almost clandestinely, in the archbishop's palace.

When the United States takes power, the five Spanish bishops are forced to resign. In a matter of months they return to Spain except Ferrero, who resists five years. On October 27, 1903, with all the bells of Manilaringing and a long entourage, the last Spanish bishop of the Philippines left the convent of Recoletos on his way to the ship.

Archdiocese of Manila: José Aranguren (1847-1861)

Archbishop in the only metropolitan see of the Philippines, his curriculum has nothing special about the other Recollect bishops; but the capital sees did have its added difficulties. He thus had the opportunity to demonstrate his gifts of prudence, tact, and patience.

He showed a special predilection for the poor and spared no effort to visit all the parishioners, the closest and the most distant, by land and sea. Up to two times he turned the pastoral visit to each one of the ministries of Luzon.

The Church then had a leading role in social life, and Aranguren knew how to rise to the occasion. From her position she supported such important initiatives as the foundation of the Spanish-Filipino Bank or the establishment of the Sisters of Charity to attend ministries dedicated to teaching and health.

Puerto Princesa, Palawan: Gregorio Espiga (1955-1987)

When Espiga is ordained a bishop it has been a little more than half a century since Ferrero's departure;  but the situationin the  Philippines has changed radically: it is no longer a colony and the bishops are almost all Filipinos; we only find foreigners in marginal missions, such as Puerto Princesa  (Palawan), the see where Espiga is bishop.

Espiga closes the list of Spanish bishops in the Philippines, and the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin, takes note of this when he officiated his funeral on April 19, 1997. In a Eucharist entirely celebrated in Spanish, Sin bids him farewell with heartfelt words:

"You have worked very well. Rest now, proud and satisfied... contemplating the remoteness of the future, dreaming in the golden harvest, in the rich harvest that the Church you have loved with all your soul will gather".

  1. "Filipino" Bishops for America

If until 1898 the Philippines is in the same orbit as Spain, the same goes for Spanish America until the early nineteenth century. It should come as no surprise that clergy based in the Philippines, or elsewhere in the Spanish Empire, are appointed bishops to American dioceses.

This happens to two Augustinian Recollects, friars of the Philippine Province who reside in Madrid as procurators before the Spanish Government of their Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino.

Santa Marta, Colombia: Eugenio Sesé (1801-1803)

Eugenio Sesé had only been able to enjoy the Philippines for a little more than three years and had been in Madrid as a representative of the Province for a whole six-year term when, on September 28, 1801, he was appointed bishop of Santa Marta,in the north of present-day  Colombia;and there he will end his days on October 31, 1803.

The fact that his Philippine Province extended him a diploma of brotherhood dated April 9, 1804, does speak clearly of his estrangement, unaware that he had died more than five months earlier.

Puerto Rico and Sigüenza: Toribio Minguella (1894-1898)

Toribio Minguella worked in the Philippines for 18 years, during which he fell in love with the country and became an expert connoisseur of its main language, Tagalog.

In 1858 he was appointed procurator in Madrid and then was re-elected up to five times, until 1894. His good work in this strategic position earned him to be elected to the episcopal see of Puerto Rico, the current archdiocese of San Juan de Puerto Rico, which has five suffragan dioceses.

He made his entrance on November 11, 1894, and there he resided for just over three years, practically until the independence of the Island: in March 1898 he was already granted bishop of Sigüenza, in Guadalajara, Spain.

Little time in America, but enough to leave a mark of a zealous, spiritual, and enlightened pastor, worthy successor of the apostles, as the chronicler will say of him, who adds:

"having deserved him the deepest veneration and affection of the faithful entrusted to him."

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