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First residential bishop of Hagåtña

To Bishop Apollinaris W. Baumgartner belongs the honor and distinction of taking a church nearly decimated by World War II and rebuilding it out of the ashes of war into a strong and vibrant Diocese. In 1945, when Bishop Baumgartner was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Guam, most of Guam’s churches were damaged beyond repair. Only one Chamorro priest survived the war, and all the American missionary priests were still imprisoned in a war camp in Japan. There were no Chamorro nuns on the island. Finding himself in this daunting situation, Baumgartner chose as his emblem the mythical Phoenix bird, who resurrects out of the ashes of its demise.

Bishop Baumgartner was born on 24 July 1899, at College Point, a section of Queens, in New York City. His parents, William Lawrence Baumgartner and the former Elizabeth Wurtz, christened him William. He attended Catholic elementary schools in College Point, and by the time he was ready for high school, had decided to become a Capuchin friar. He enrolled in a high school operated by the Capuchin Order, the St. Lawrence College at Mount Calvary, Wisconsin.

Finishing high school in 1919, Baumgartner immediately entered the Capuchin novitiate and took the religious name Apollinaris. His novitiate year was spent in St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, Michigan. In 1920, Brother Apollinaris started his six years of priestly training at the Capuchin Seminary of St. Anthony in Marathon, Wisconsin. On 30 May 1926, he was ordained by Bishop McGavick of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and became “Father Apollinaris, OFM Cap.”

After his priestly ordination, Fr. Apollinaris asked his superiors for permission to study for a degree in a subject that not only interested him, but which would also play an important role in the church’s mission on Guam after the war – journalism. He was given permission to study at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York City from 1926 until 1928, when he obtained a Master of Science degree. His thesis was entitled, “The Development of Catholic Journalism in the United States.”

First assignments as a Capuchin priest

While pursuing his journalism degree at Columbia, Fr. Apollinaris was also teaching at a Capuchin-run high school near New York City, Mary Immaculate Seraphic School. After one year there, he was then reassigned as assistant pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Yonkers, N.Y. He stayed at that post for nine years. While assisting at Yonkers, he was also confessor at the New York Archdiocesan Seminary of St. Joseph in Dunwoodie, N.Y. He would also go on the road at various times, preaching and directing retreats in different places. He also helped edit various Capuchin publications, such as the monthly Seraphic Chronicle and the Mission Almanac.

In 1936, Fr. Apollinaris was transferred to St. John Church in downtown Manhattan, New York City, as pastor and guardian (religious superior). This was considered an important position; the pastor of such a central parish had more contact with the Archdiocesan Chancery and the active life of Manhattan. For example, he organized the Pennsylvania-Long Island Railroad Holy Name Society, which eventually numbered 3,000 members. He was involved in the Sacred Vesture Guild, which used profits from the sale of liturgical vestments for the missions. (Some of these vestments are still on hand at the Agaña Cathedral-Basilica.)

Fr. Apollinaris’ rise within the Capuchin Order was evidenced by his election as a Councilor to the Provincial Superior of Detroit in 1939. In 1942, due to the war in Europe interfering with normal church procedure, it was none other than the Pope who appointed Fr. Apollinaris an assistant (Custos) to the Provincial Superior.

Appointment as a bishop

By 1945, Guam had been liberated from Japanese occupying forces by the US The Spanish bishop, Miguel Angel Olano, OFM Cap., was able to return to Guam by way of India, Australia and the Philippines, but the American Capuchin missionaries who had been on Guam when the Japanese attacked the island in 1941 were still in a prisoner-of-war camp in Kobe, Japan. To make up for their absence, two new American missionaries – Fathers Anselm Leahy and Paul Toschik—were sent to Guam by the Capuchin Province of Detroit.

In August, Fr. Apollinaris was selected to succeed Bishop Olano and on 18 September, he was consecrated a bishop and returned to his baptismal name of William. In time, however, Bishop Baumgartner would revert to his Capuchin religious name, often styling himself Apollinaris William Baumgartner. Because Guam was not yet a diocese, Bishop Baumgartner had to be given a titular See (in name only), that of Joppe. Bishop Baumgartner arrived on Guam on 23 October 1945.

Post-war churches and schools

One of Bishop Baumgartner’s greatest challenges was the repair of damaged churches and construction of new churches in post-war Guam. Of the pre-war churches, only three were deemed worth repairing – those in Inarajan, Yoña and Umatac. In addition, the population of Hagåtña (about 20,000 people at the time) was no longer able to live there. Instead, the islanders were scattered all over central and northern Guam in newly established villages. This necessitated the construction of altogether new churches. Typhoons in 1962 and 1968 also hampered progress, but by the time of his death in 1970, Bishop Baumgartner had dedicated all but two of the twenty-four new churches. Principal among them was the impressive Cathedral in Hagåtña, completed in 1958.

Prior to the war, the US Naval Government did not allow the existence of Catholic schools. However, after the war, the establishment of Catholic schools became a crucial goal of the community. Bishop Baumgartner spearheaded the construction of an all-boys’ high school and minor seminary in Ta’i, Mangilao, named after the late Fr. Jesus B. Dueñas. The bishop succeeded in securing the services of the Stigmatine Fathers of Waltham, Massachusetts, to staff the seminary and school.

He also was instrumental in bringing the Sisters of Mercy (of Belmont, North Carolina) to Guam to open the all-girls’ high school, the Academy of Our Lady of Guam, in Hagåtña. Under Bishop Baumgartner’s administration, the School Sisters of Notre Dame (of Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (of La Crosse, Wisconsin) came to Guam to help operate the parochial schools. Parish priests took the lead in opening these schools under Bishop Baumgartner’s guidance.

And in Saipan, which was then Bishop Baumgartner’s responsibility, the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz (Spain), with Fr. Arnold Bendowske, OFM Cap., opened Mt. Carmel School. Later, the Mercy and Mercedarian Sisters opened nursery schools, and the Notre Dame Sisters opened their own high school. The Capuchin Friars took over the Father Dueñas Minor Seminary and High School in 1959.

Developing Chamorro clergy, perhaps, was the single most important task of the local church. Although ninety-eight percent of the local population was Catholic before the war, only one Chamorro had been ordained a priest before 1938, namely, Msgr. Jose T. Palomo. In 1938, Fr. Jesus B. Dueñas became the second Chamorro priest, and in 1940, Fr. Oscar L. Calvo (later Monsignor) became the third. A fourth Chamorro priest, Fr. Jose Manibusan, died from war-related illness in the Philippines. The only Chamorro seminarian known to Bishop Baumgartner when he was appointed was Felixberto C. Flores.

The opening of the Father Dueñas seminary in 1947 was a significant event in the eyes of Bishop Baumgartner. Dozens of young Chamorro men entered the Minor Seminary and by the late 1960s, Guam could be proud of its rising number of Chamorro diocesan priests, most of them alumni of Fr. Dueñas. Bishop Baumgartner believed in the necessity of forming a well-educated and empowered native clergy. He sent a number of diocesan priests for further education and assigned most of the important diocesan offices to diocesan priests. By the time of his death, Bishop Baumgartner had ordained about a dozen Chamorro priests, both diocesan and Capuchin.

The women religious also proved very successful in fostering vocations. The Mercy Sisters and Notre Dame Sisters especially, the Franciscan Sisters to a lesser extent, and the Mercedarian Sisters in Saipan, all had a sufficient number of Chamorro vocations. It was these sisters who made possible an extensive Catholic school system and the Catholic Medical Center. Towards the end of Bishop Baumgartner’s tenure, the contemplative Discalced Carmelite Nuns from Borneo, Malaysia, opened a monastery in Malojloj, Inarajan, also attracting a few Chamorro and Pacific Island vocations.

The Capuchins, too, received a number of Chamorro vocations. By the end of Baumgartner’s tenure, the Diocese counted some 170 religious sisters, twelve Chamorro diocesan priests, and several Chamorro Capuchin priests.

Parish societies and lay organizations

Another important goal of Bishop Baumgartner was the re-establishment of the pre-war lay associations according to newer American lines. The pre-war Cofradía de la Correa de la Virgen de la Consolación (the married women’s group) was reconstituted as the Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers. The pre-war, single women’s group, the Hijas de María, was reborn as the Sodality of Mary. There was no longstanding, pre-war men’s organization, but there had been a Knights of Christ the King group shortly before the war. After the war, Bishop Baumgartner gave great impetus to the organization of the Holy Name Society for men. By the 1960s, there were some 8,500 registered members of these three associations.

Before the war, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was a thriving association with its own two-story hall next to the Cathedral in Hagåtña. After the war, Bishop Baumgartner revived the group. The pre-war Third Order of St. Francis also continued and expanded after the war, fostered mainly by the Capuchin friars.

In the ‘60s, the Knights of Columbus also opened a council on Guam. In 1968, the Cursillos in Christianity Movement was invited to Guam by Bishop Baumgartner. Baumgartner also was the first bishop of Hagåtña to award local laymen papal knighthoods, such as the Order of Pope St. Sylvester.

Bishop Baumgartner established the annual Catholic Charities Appeal in 1951, and served as chairman for its first few years. Ostensibly organized for the material assistance of the needy, its funds were primarily used for the education of local seminarians, because Baumgartner saw that as an urgent need of the Vicariate. Indigent persons needing medical attention received this care, gratis, at the Catholic Medical Center opened in 1955, another of the Bishop’s projects.

Catholic press

Bishop Baumgartner, himself a journalist, also started a modest Catholic publication almost as soon as he arrived on Guam. Named “Umatuna si Yu’us” (Praised be God), the mimeographed weekly newsletter became a standard, tabloid-format publication over time. As it is today, though now called Pacific Voice, the Umatuna si Yu’us was distributed free of charge in all the parishes.

Baumgartner made sure that the church, in addition to the weekly Umatuna, had other outlets—a Sunday radio broadcast of Catholic news on both Guam and Saipan, and a weekly TV rosary program on Guam.

Vatican II

Bishop Baumgartner had the distinction of being a participant in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). He implemented the reforms of the Council as they were promulgated, usually preparing the local church for them through clergy conferences on the new laws and norms. When various parts of the liturgy were allowed to be celebrated in the vernacular, Baumgartner authorized various Chamorro translators (e.g. then-Monsignor Felixberto C. Flores and Fr. Arnold Bendowske, OFM Cap.) to translate the texts into Chamorro.

Diocese of Agana

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the success of Baumgartner’s work of rebuilding the church of Guam after World War II was the elevation of the Vicariate Apostolic to diocesan status on 4 October 1965. The new Diocese of Hagåtña included all the Mariana Islands, as well as Wake Island, and Baumgartner became its first residential bishop.

Towards the late 1960s, Bishop Baumgartner’s physical and mental health started to show signs of decline. More and more daily responsibilities were passed on to other diocesan officials. On May 2, 1969, Msgr. Flores (later Bishop and Archbishop) was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, an indication that Bishop Baumgartner was no longer physically able to run the Diocese. On 18 December 1970 Baumgartner passed away at the age of 71. Four days later, he was laid to rest in the sanctuary of the Cathedral that he had built.

By Eric Forbes, OFM Cap.

For further reading

Rogers, Robert F. Destiny’s Landfal: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 1995.

Sinajaña, Fray Eric de, OFM Cap.. Historia de la Misión de Guam de los Capuchinos Españoles. Pamplona: Curia Provincial de Capuchinos, 2001.

Sullivan, Julius, OFM Cap. The Phoenix Rises: A Mission History of Guam. New York: Seraphic Mass Association, 1957.