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Establishing a Living Church

The early foreign missionaries engaged in a variety of educational endeavors and social services as an effective means of spreading the Christian faith and serving the concrete needs of the Filipino people. Fortunately, many of these initial efforts remain vibrant institutions today.

The year 1611 saw the beginnings of the Dominican University of Santo Tomás; in 1640 the Dominicans also took charge of the College of San Juan de Letrán. 

Various religious communities of women established themselves in Manila and frequently they undertook the education of girls. The sisterhood started by Ignacia del Espírito Santo, a Chinese mestiza, in 1684 called the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM), deserves special mention as the first locally founded religious institute, specifically for indigenous women.

By the end of the sixteenth century, Manila had three hospitals: one for Spaniards, another for natives, and a third for the Chinese. The first two were handled by Franciscans, the third by the Dominicans.  Later (1611) the Hospitallers of Saint John of God came to make medical work their special field of activity.  In 1595 the Jesuits opened a grammar school for Spanish boys that had attached to it the residential college of San José, founded in 1601 and today is known as the San José Seminary.

Building a Native Clergy.  Catholicism had taken permanent root in the Philippines as the religion of the people by the eighteenth century. However, it had one serious weakness: the retarded development of the native clergy. The unsatisfactory results of early experiments in Latin America had made the Spanish missionaries extremely cautious in admitting native candidates to the priesthood. Improvements in formation came with the arrival of the Vincentians (1862).  Even so, the departure of a large proportion of Spanish clergy after the transfer of sovereignty from Spain to the United States (1898) left more than 700 parishes vacant.

Tensions and Conflicts.  The Patronato Real approach to evangelization was a mixed blessing.  A crisis arose when the government decree of 1862 transferred the Mindanao missions from the Augustinian Recollects to the newly-returned Jesuits (they had been expelled in 1768) and giving the former an equivalent number of parishes in Manila and Cavite, which were consequently removed from the native clergy.  

Naturally, the Filipino priests assailed this government policy. Among their active leaders were Fathers Gómez, Burgos, and Zamora who were executed in 1872. Their deaths gave a powerful impetus to the emergence of Filipino nationalism.  The revolution of 1896-1898, which was markedly anti-friar though usually not anticlerical or anti-Catholic, was cut short by United States intervention after the Spanish-American War.  Only by God’s grace has religious faith survived these many historical challenges! 

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