Change in leadership

The period between 1907 and 1911 when German Catholic missionaries were officially in charge of Guam is a relatively unfamiliar time in the history of the island’s Catholic mission. In 1899, the Spanish Augustinian Recollect missionaries who had been on Guam since 1769 were expelled by US Naval Governor Richard P. Leary. This left aged Father Jose Palomo the only priest on island. The Recollects still had religious charge of the northern Mariana islands, which had been sold by Spain to Germany.

In 1907, Rome entrusted all the Marianas to the German Capuchin friars of the Rhine-Westphalia Province. Even though Guam was administered politically by the US, the Catholic Church was grouped together with the German Marianas and given the status of Apostolic Prefecture, with its headquarters in Saipan. A German Capuchin, Father Paulus Fischer of Kirchhausen, was appointed Apostolic Prefect.

It took some time before Father Paulus was able to find a German Capuchin to be assigned to Guam. In 1909, he sent Father Basilius Graf to Guam. Immediately, leaders of all sections of Guam society rejected this transfer simply because the Chamorros of Guam were used to the Spanish priests. The Spanish Capuchins, who were assisting Father Palomo in a provisional way, hesitated. The United States naval government expressed its disapproval. Civic leaders among the Chamorro population signed a petition protesting the move. Father Basilius left Guam shortly thereafter.

One German Capuchin, Brother Joachim Petry, remained in Hagåtña for some months, working on a house intended for American sisters who in the end did not come. When the likelihood that German friars would come to Guam diminished, Brother Joachim left the island as well.

In 1910, Father Paulus escorted a second appointee to Guam, Father Callistus Lopinot. Father Callistus was a former missionary in Saipan and was fluent in Chamorro. But he was also controversial and had strained relations with a former district administrator in Saipan, Georg Fritz. Fritz wrote the American Governor of Guam warning him about Father Callistus.

When Fathers Paulus and Callistus arrived at Apra Harbor in June of that year, the naval officials denied them permission to land. Another petition signed by Chamorro leaders protested their attempted transfer of the mission to German hands. After a brief stay at Cabras Island, the two German priests left Guam. The following year, Rome separated Guam and established its own Apostolic Vicariate entrusted to the Spanish Capuchins of the Catalonia Province.

The German Capuchins never assumed control of the Guam mission, which was assigned to them by Rome for four years. The Chamorros on Guam, including Father Palomo, were used to Spanish missionaries and the Spanish Capuchins on Guam at the time were favored by the people. The Spanish friars also were not inclined to leave the island. Finally, the American naval government found it politically unacceptable for the island’s influential church to be governed by priests of the neighboring colonial power.

By Eric Forbes, OFM Cap.

For further reading

Lopinot, Callistus, OFM Cap. The Caroline Mission of the Spanish and German Capuchins 1886-1919. Rome, 1964.

Müller, Kilian, OFM Cap. Bericht über die Missionen der rhein-westfälische Kapuziner Ordensprovinz auf den Karolinen-, Marianen-, und Palau-Inseln. Limburg: Limburger Vereinsdruckerei, 1908.

Russell, Scott. Tiempon Alemán. A Look Back at German Rule of the Northern Mariana Islands 1899-1914. Saipan: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Historic Preservation, 1999.

Schmidlin, J. “Die Kapuzinermission auf den Marianen.” Die Katholischen Missionen in den deutschen Schutzegebieten. Münster: Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1913.

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. Aurora Australis: The German Period in the Mariana Islands 1899-1914. Saipan: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Historic Preservation, 1999.

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. Mount Carmel in Garapan (Saipan) during the German Period. Forthcoming: Heritage Futures International.

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