During the time of the great explorations, Christopher Columbus discovered the West Indies (the Americas) in 1492, with the support of the King and Queen of Spain. In this venture, the territory of Spain expanded and the Catholic faith was propagated to different places of the globe as far as the Philippines.
Mexico was founded and became a Diocese on September 2, 1530. More than a decade and five years later, Mexico was elevated to a Metropolitan See on April 12, 1546 of which the Philippines was included as Spain claimed jurisdiction over the Philippine Islands as part of her territorial domain.
Since then, the Philippine Islands became part of the Ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Mexico. The Philippine Church was founded and the seed of the faith was planted by the missionaries. The first missionaries who came to the Philippines were members of the regular clergy.
The Augustinians came with Legazpi in 1565, the Franciscans followed in 1577, the Jesuits in 1581, the Dominicans in 1587, and the Augustinian Recollects in 1606 and the rest of the Religious Orders came later.
Archdiocese of Mexico : Mother Diocese of the Philippines
On February 6, 1579 the Holy See erected the Diocese of Manila as a suffragan Diocese of Mexico.
It was undeniable that the Philippine district had a wide area of coverage and very far from Mexico, the Metropolitan See.
The first Bishop of Manila, Fray Domingo Salazar, OP, found it difficult to do his functions as Bishop of the Philippine Islands and at the same time a Suffragan Bishop of Mexico.
Fortunately, after some time, King Philip II instructed his Ambassador in Rome to propose to the Holy Father to elevate Manila into a Metropolitan See.
The proposal was approved on August 14, 1595 by Pope Clement VIII in the Papal Bull entitled, Super Specula Militantis Ecclesiae”, together with three Suffragan Dioceses, Nueva Segovia (Province of Cagayan), Nueva Caceres (Naga) and Cebu.
Practically, the whole island of Mindanao became part of the Ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Cebu.
Archdiocese of Cebu : Mother Diocese of Mindanao
The Diocese of Cebu, of the first four dioceses in the Philippines was the most extensive and the most taxing in her ecclesiastical jurisdictions. It included the Visayan Islands, Mindanao and the Marianas Islands.
Because of this vast area, the Bishop could rarely make his periodic visitations. The Marianas Islands were even deprived of an Episcopal visitation. It was practically a failure as this was one of the important functions of the Bishop’s office due to the vastness of the territory and the difficulty of travel during that time.
To address this dilemma, the Bishop proposed that the Diocese of Cebu divided in two but it fell on the deaf ears of Ecclesiastical authorities.
The division happened practically after two centuries and after incessant requests and difficulties.
The Bishop of Cebu obtained a government decree from Spain, dated 17 January 1865, creating the diocese of Jaro.
According to the articles of the decree, this new diocese would include the provinces of Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Calamianes islands, Negros, Zamboanga and Nueva Guipuzcoa (Davao provinces) in Mindanao. Officially, this was made into a diocese by virtue of a papal bull of Pope Pius IX on May 27, 1865. Cagayan de Oro remained part of Cebu.
III. The Development of the Church in Mindanao
In 1594, King Philip II partitioned the Philippines into missionary districts because of the emergence of the Missionaries from the different Religious Orders. The Visayas and Mindanao Islands were given to the jurisdiction of the Jesuits. They came directly to Mindanao but with the withdrawal of the government forces due to threats of the Moro raids, they had to forego the missions.
Consequently, the Bishop of Cebu, wrote a decree to assign the Recollects to Mindanao on March 1, 1621. They were known to be evangelizing in Butuan, Tandag, Lanao, Surigao, etc. and founded the towns of Cagayan de Oro and Camiguin.
In 1624, the Jesuits returned to Mindanao. The presence of the Recollects in Mindanao created a tension with the Jesuits aggravated by the issue of religious jurisdiction. To resolve the problem, Governor General Fernando Tello, established the territorial boundaries for religious ministries in Mindanao on February 26, 1624.
This was done by drawing up a territorial line, from Punta Sulauan, (Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental) to Cape San Agustin in southeastern Mindanao. The area west of this line was assigned to the Jesuits, while the Eastern side was left to the Recollects. (see figure 1)
The Jesuits established their mission stations but unfortunately, they were expelled in 1768 from the Philippines. As a consequence, Mindanao was turned over to the Recollects. They founded parishes and labored hard in evangelizing the Catholic faith to the natives.
The Society of Jesus was restored in 1814. In 1859 a Royal Decree was issued to the Jesuits to take over all the parishes under the charge of the Recollects. Thus, all the parishes under the Recollects care were handed over to the Jesuits.
On April 10, 1910, forty-five years after the creation of the Diocese of Jaro and after so many trials and struggles experienced by the missionaries in establishing the Church in Mindanao, Zamboanga was created as the first Ecclesiastical Diocese in Mindanao.
Twenty-five years later, in 1933, Cagayan de Oro was also raised to a Diocese in Northern Mindanao. Since that time until 1983, there were additional 17 ecclesiastical territories in Mindanao-Sulu formed by the Vatican.
II. The Church of Cagayan de Oro
On January 20, 1933, Pope Pius XI in a Papal Bull entitled, “Ad maius religionis” divided Mindanao into the Diocese of Zamboanga and the newly erected Diocese of Cagayan de Oro, of which Fr. James Thomas Gibbons Hayes, SJ, was appointed as the first Bishop.
Hence, exactly 75 years ago, the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro was founded with the grace of God. The original territory, in 1933, included the provinces of Surigao, Agusan, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Lanao and the island of Camiguin.
In 1938, the first ten Columban missionaries arrived in Cagayan de Oro as a response to the Archbishop’s invitation. They served the Diocese with utmost generosity and dedication.
However, in 1939 the provinces of Surigao and Agusan were constituted into a separate diocese (later subdivided into the 3 dioceses of Surigao, Butuan and Tandag).
In 1951, Misamis Occidental and Lanao were made a separate prelature (later also subdivided into the Diocese of Ozamiz, now an Archdiocese and the prelatures of Iligan and Marawi, now dioceses).
In 1969, the Province of Bukidnon was made a separate prelature, now a diocese, with its seat in Malaybalay. As a result of these divisions, the present territory of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro includes only the Provinces of Misamis Oriental and Camiguin.
It was in June 29, 1951, Pope Pius XII, elevated the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro into an Archdiocese in a Papal Bull entitled, “Quo in Philippina Republica”, the first Metropolitan See in Mindanao with Bishop Hayes also as the first Archbishop.
Archbishop Hayes had requested the Religious women to assist him in various apostolates. He founded Lourdes Academy for girls, now Lourdes College run by the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM), the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartes(SPC), to administer Maria Reyna Hospital and also the Carmelite Monastery for the Carmelite Nuns.
He also erected San Jose de Mindanao Seminary run by the Jesuits which was later turned over to the Diocesan Clergy. He was also responsible for the establishment of Ateneo de Cagayan, run by the Jesuits. After those fruitful years of service to the people of Cagayan de Oro and with dogged determination to put up the foundation of the Archdiocese from 1926, Archbishop Hayes, the modest and humble shepherd of Cagayan de Oro for almost half a century, retired on October 13, 1970.
The late Archbishop Patrick Cronin, one of the first ten Columbans who came to Mindanao, succeeded Archbishop Hayes. He served the Archdiocese with utmost love and concern for his priests and for the people. He retired on January 05, 1988 and built the House of Ars (St. Patrick’s House), his retirement house, which at present serves as the house for the Archdiocese’ aged and ailing priests. This is also a home where the clergy can rest and relax. Archbishop Cronin first conceived the idea of building a Regional Seminary during the last years of his tenure of office. He died on January 19, 1991.
The Most Rev. Jesus B. Tuquib, the Coadjutor Archbishop, the 3rd Archbishop of the Metropolitan of Cagayan de Oro succeeded Archbishop Cronin on January 05, 1988. He was responsible for the establishment of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, the House of Prayer, the Deacons House and the Deacons’ Formation Center. His hard work in finishing these projects was not in vain. With his old age, he retired on March 04, 2006.
The Most Rev. Antonio Ledesma, S.J., D.D., the fourth Archbishop of the Metropolitan was installed by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales on March 04, 2006. New to his assignment he made several changes in the system. He started the standardization of the living allowance of the clergy with the assurance of medication, hospitalization and security of his priests, which was the dream by many before his episcopacy.
He also established the AD-INTRA and AD-EXTRA Ministries in place. He is a man of action and a man for others. His exemplary work and dedication gives hope and inspiration to everybody, priests and lay alike, to work together for peace and solidarity. Thus, he has this motto, “Opus Solidaritatis Pax.”
The Archdiocese is divided into six (6) Districts, namely: City West, City East, Initao, Balingasag, Gingoog and Camiguin. There are 45 parishes, 9 Chaplaincies and 1 Apostolate for the Chinese.
Today, there are 97 Diocesan Priests working actively with the lay in different apostolates in the Archdiocese, be it AD INTRA OR AD EXTRA.
The growth of the Metropolitan See of Cagayan de Oro is very remarkable and truly indeed, it was only by God’s design that it unfolded beyond all telling. We are the fruits of the labor of our predecessors to whom we are grateful for. We acknowledge that without their sacrifices, faith, determination and love, we will not become what we are today. Indeed, the Church of Cagayan de Oro continues to advance by leaps and bounds and to stand firm on its solid ground because it is blessed with the grace of the Lord of History.
May this Diamond Jubilee be a testament of love, faith, hope, devotion, determination and dedication as we continue to journey toward the 21st century. May God bless the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro as it celebrates the 75th jubilee as a Diocese. (first published in 2008 on the occasion of the 75th Diamond Jubilee of Cagayan de Oro as a Diocese).