First missionary bishop on Guam

Francisco Javier Vilá y Mateu (1851 – 1913) was the first missionary bishop of Guam. He was born Ricardo Vilá y Mateu in the Catalonian town of Arenys de Mar in Spain on 9 May 1851. He decided to join the Capuchin Franciscans but, at the time, the political situation in Spain made this difficult, so he joined the order in Guatemala in 1869. In those days, Capuchin recruits were given a new name and he was given the names Francisco Javier. He studied theology in Toulouse, France, and was ordained a priest in Ecuador in 1875.

Prior to Vilá’s appointment as bishop, the highest church official in Guam had been a priest as the mission was under the care of religious orders such as the Jesuits and Augustinian Recollects or the Archdiocese of Cebu in the Philippines. However, with Vilá’s appointment, Guam now had a bishop living on the island directing the mission. Guam was an Apostolic Vicariate, which is a form of territorial jurisdiction for missions that are not yet a diocese. Since the bishop of an Apostolic Vicariate is not the bishop of a diocese, he is given an historic but extinct diocese called a titular diocese.

Because of political and social opposition in Guam, the German Capuchins were unable to assume responsibility of the Guam mission in 1911. Rome, therefore, assigned Guam to the care of the Spanish Capuchins of the Catalonia Province. That same year, Vilá was appointed Apostolic Vicar of Guam.

Vilá was a capable man tapped for many distinguished religious offices; he was Novice Master in Spain, Provincial Definitor and Provincial Minister (superior) of the Aragon Province (1889-1895) and the Catalonia Province (1900-1906). When he was nominated Apostolic Vicar of Guam in 1911, he was given the titular diocese of Adraa.

He arrived in Guam in 1912, but governed his mission for less than a year, dying on 1 January 1913. He was buried the next day, becoming the first Catholic bishop interred in Guam.

By Eric Forbes, OFM Cap.

For further reading

Cheney, David M. “Bishop Francisco Xavier Ricardo Vilá y Mateu [Catholic-Hierarchy].” Catholic-Hierarchy: Its Bishops and Dioceses, Current and Past. Last modified 19 November 2020.

McGrath, Thomas B. “Records of the American Naval Period on Guam 1898-1950.” The Journal of Pacific History 16, no. 1 (January 1981): 42-53.

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

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

Know my island – Know my history

Guam’s five Apostolic Vicars, in chronological order

  1. Francisco Javier Vila y Mateu, OFM Cap.
  2. Agustin Bernaus y Serra, OFM Cap.
  3. Joaquin Felipe Olaiz y Zabalza, OFM Cap.
  4. Miguel Angel Olano y Urteaga, OFM Cap.
  5. William Apollinaris Baumgartner, OFM Cap., who was appointed as Guam’s first bishop when the vicariate was elevated to a diocese in 1965