Contributed to the Guam mission’s growth

Bishop Joaquín Felipe Oláiz y Zabalza was the third Apostolic Vicar of Guam. He was born in Pamplona, Navarra, Spain on June 6, 1872 and was baptized with the name Felipe. When Oláiz joined the Capuchins in 1887, he was given the names Joaquín María. Oláiz was ordained a priest in 1896, and was a missionary in Venezuela and Colombia, and served as Provincial Definitor (advisor) in his native Capuchin Province of Navarra.

In 1914, Rome assigned the care of the Apostolic Vicariate of Guam (which was a mission and not yet a diocese) to the Navarra Province of Capuchins and appointed Oláiz to head it. He was appointed Titular Bishop of Docimea (or Docimium). He arrived on Guam in 1915.

While he lived mainly in the capital village of Hagåtña, Oláiz did reside in Umatac for a brief period in order to acquaint himself with the Chamorro language and culture as well as to give relief to the pastor.

Accolades from Rome

During his nineteen years as Apostolic Vicar, the Catholic Church on Guam expanded in population, number of missionaries, and churches or chapels. Oláiz lead the effort to organize the Saint Vincent de Paul Society for the Assistance of the Poor, and he built a hall next to the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica for the Society and other programs of the local church. Several Chamorro boys were sent to San Jose Seminary in Manila during his tenure including three who became priests – Fathers Jesus Baza Duenas, Oscar Calvo and Jose Manibusan. A visiting Vatican inspector of the missions declared that, under Oláiz, Guam was the best organized Catholic mission in Oceania at the time.

The one major disappointment of Oláiz during his term was the failure to procure Catholic sisters for the island. Various obstacles placed by the American Naval administration prevented the realization of Oláiz’s dream of establishing Catholic schools under the care of such sisters.

In 1934 Oláiz tendered his resignation to the Vatican and returned to Spain shortly thereafter. He died on 8 December 1945 in his native city of Pamplona.

By Eric Forbes, OFM Cap.

For further reading

McGrath, Thomas B., SJ. “The Capuchins in the Marianas: A Note on Events and
Sources.” Journal of Pacific History 20 (January 1985): 42-53.

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.