Replaced the Jesuits in 1769

The second religious order of Catholic missionaries, who were given responsibility for the Marianas mission in 1769, were the Augustinian Recollect friars. The Recollects were sometimes called in the past the Discalced Augustinians. They were founded as a reform branch of the Augustinian Order in 1588 when the Augustinian monastery in Talavera, Spain adopted a stricter observance of the Augustinian rule. From there, the reform movement spread rapidly throughout Spain and the Recollects were numerous enough to send missionaries to the Philippines in 1606.

When the King of Spain decreed the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain and its colonies in 1767, it took some time for the decision to reach the shores of Guam and the Marianas.

News of the impending expulsion came to Guam in 1768, but the Jesuits stayed on till the next year, when, in August, the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe from Cavite brought the first two Recollects to Guam, Fathers Andrés Blázquez de San José and Antonio Sánchez de la Concepción. The Recollects had the custom of taking on a saint’s name when they joined the Order, as can be seen in the names of these Recollects. Three other Recollect priests and one lay brother arrived on Guam later that same year from Acapulco, Mexico.

Father Andrés was the superior of the group and head of the mission. The Jesuits were deported on the same ship that brought the first two Recollects to Guam.

Difficult times in the Marianas

The Recollects came to the Marianas at a time of decline and stagnation on almost all fronts. The population stood at about 3,000 to 4,000 inhabitants on all the islands, principally Guam (with the large majority living in Hagåtña) and Rota. Poverty and isolation hampered the social, economic and religious development of the Marianas. The mission and its Colegio, or school for boys, depended on an annual subsidy (situado) from Spain that grew smaller over the years, was often not administered by the mission superior himself and which frequently came late to Guam, sometimes in the form of marketable goods rather than cash. The end of the Galleon trade from Acapulco in 1815 ended the influx of Mexican coinage to Guam. The people in the outlying villages were too poor to pay church fees. Economic hardships were always a factor in Recollect mission life in the Marianas.

Travel and communication from home was so infrequent that, even in the Philippines, an assignment to these islands was considered a journey with no return. Still, despite these difficulties, the Recollects sent missionaries to the Marianas. At times, not all the villages on Guam could be assigned its own resident priest, and Rota at times was also lacking a resident pastor. The mission stations of the Marianas at this time were: Hagåtña (including chapels at Anigua, Asan-Tepungan, Sinajaña, Apotguan, Mongmong), Pago, Agat, Umatac, Merizo, Inarajan and Rota (made up of four stations).

The Recollects carried on the normal work of the missionaries celebrating the sacraments, building or repairing churches and teaching in the Colegio in Hagåtña or in the village schools. The Colegio was not doing as well then as it had been in Jesuit times but it was still in operation. The Recollects moved the Colegio, founded by Father Diego Luís de San Vitores, to a smaller building closer to the church. In 1895, the Colegio was torn down and a new building erected on a new site near the Tribunal.

Two Filipino priests sent to Guam

The Recollects, who had averaged four or five missionaries at any given time in the Marianas, decreased to just two members by the early years of the 19th century. Lack of enthusiasm for such a small, isolated and poor mission may have contributed to this reduction in personnel, but, by 1808, the War of Independence in Spain against French Napoleonic incursions disrupted normal religious life in Spain for six years. During those years, religious orders and seminaries could not take in new recruits in regular fashion.

By 1814, the depletion of missionaries coming from Spain was so grave that the Recollects pleaded with civil and ecclesiastical authorities in the Philippines for the relinquishment of the Marianas mission.

The Archbishop of Cebu, who had been given responsibility for the Marianas in 1807, though the Recollects would continue to staff the mission under his direction, agreed in 1814 to send two Filipino diocesan or secular priests to the Marianas who arrived in 1815 and the Recollects withdrew from the mission. Just at this time, the war in Spain was subsiding and the Recollects began to recover.

In 1819, the Recollects agreed to resume care for the Marianas and were able to send missionaries by the following year. One of the Filipino diocesan priests, Father Ciriaco del Espíritu Santo, remained on Guam for many years until his death in 1849. The other, Father Ignacio Ladislao de Mojica, died on Guam shortly after arriving on the island.

The second phase of Recollect ministry in the Marianas saw more progress. The number of Recollect missionaries slowly grew such that, by mid-century, there were five and sometimes six Recollects in the Marianas, and, by the end of the century, there were six or seven.

In 1856, a smallpox epidemic killed more than half the population of Guam and two-thirds of the village of Pago died. The survivors were relocated to Hagåtña and the mission there was closed. About this time, Sumay became a mission station dependent on Agat.

A significant extension of Recollect work in the Marianas was the resumption of the mission in Saipan, closed since the first half of the eighteenth century. After more than a hundred years’ absence, the Recollects opened a mission station in Saipan in 1858 attended from Rota. A few years later Saipan was able to get its own resident priest.

A Catholic bishop, Romualdo Jimeno from Cebu, visited Guam in 1865. It was the first recorded time that a bishop had been to the Marianas.

Relations between the friars and the colonial government were not always cordial. Earlier in their history, the government, for example, apparently questioned at one time its historic obligation to provide wine and oil to the missionaries for religious services. In the 1850s, there was much conflict between the Spanish Governor, Lieutenant Colonel Pablo Perez, and the priest of Hagåtña, Father Vicente Acosta. It was only when both of them were transferred out of the city that peace between church and state returned.

It was under Recollect tutelage that the first Chamorro priest, Father José Palomo, was groomed for the priesthood. Recollect Father Pedro León del Carmen of Pago tutored the young Palomo and Father Aniceto Ibáñez del Carmen did the same. Palomo was ordained in Cebu in 1859 and served on all four principal islands of the Marianas during his sixty years of priesthood.

Earliest Chamorro language dictionary

The Recollects also produced the earliest published works in the Chamorro language that are still extant today. Father Aniceto Ibáñez del Carmen produced in 1865 a Spanish-Chamorro dictionary, which has been suggested as a work primarily or with the assistance of Padre Palomo. In 1863, Ibáñez wrote El Verdadero Cristiano (The True Christian) in both Spanish and Chamorro. In 1887, four small works were published together, again in both languages: a devotion to San Francisco de Borja, patron of Rota; a catechism on the sacraments; a devotion to San Dimas, patron of Merizo; and a short historical sketch of the Marianas.

Besides the ordinary care of souls, the Recollects also attended to the many Carolinian migrants who came to the Marianas in the 19th century. They also looked after the lazarinos, or lepers, grouped in their own colony which frequently changed locales.

The contact the Recollects had with these migrants was such that, when Spain began to exert its control over Micronesia in 1885, the Recollects entertained the idea of taking on the mission of the Caroline Islands and Palau. This did not materialize and those missions were awarded to the Spanish Capuchins instead.

One Recollect influence on Chamorro piety that survived even after the Recollects left Guam was the Cofradía de Nuestra Señora de la Consolación. This was a pious association, called an Arch-confraternity or Cofradía in Spanish, promoted by Augustinians the world over. Members were given a blessed black leather belt, identical to the one worn by Augustinian friars, called the correa. Women were the majority of cofradía members and the tradition continued into the 20th century in both Guam and Saipan until it was replaced by the Christian Mothers.

The Recollects in the Marianas were members of the Recollect Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino, and the Recollects in the Marianas had a habit of sometimes giving illegitimate children the surname San Nicolás. A barrio of Hagåtña was also named San Nicolás.

Expelled from Guam by US Navy

In 1899, the Recollects were expelled from Guam by the American naval governor, but the friars continued in the Northern Marianas until the German Capuchins replaced them there in 1907. In the early 1970s, Spanish and Irish Recollects, originally working in the Philippines, came to Guam to staff several parishes until they, too, left in the early 1990s.

By Eric Forbes, OFM Cap.

For further reading

Driver, Marjorie G. ed. The Augustinian Recollect Friars in the Mariana Islands, 1769-1908. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 2000.

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

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