Americans unhappy with Spanish influence

In April 1898, war broke out between Spain and the United States. On 21 June 1898, Lieutenant Colonel Juan Marina, Spanish Governor of the Mariana Islands, surrendered Guam to the control of Captain Henry Glass of the United States Navy.

Guam was taken as a United States possession under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (10 December 1898) which ended the Spanish-American War. The first official American Governor of Guam, Captain Richard P. Leary, arrived on Guam the following year, on 7 August 1899.

Three Spanish Augustinian Recollect friars were working on Guam as missionaries when Leary arrived. Father Francisco Resano was pastor in Hagåtña and superior of the entire Marianas mission, Father Ildefonso Cabanillas was priest in Agat, and Father Crisogono Ortin was priest in Merizo.

On 30 August 1899, the three Recollects were given notice from Leary that Navy transport was being furnished for them to depart for Manila. The Recollects took it as a polite request from the Governor to leave the island permanently. The friars went to see Lieutenant William E. Safford, secretary to the Governor, who explained to them that if the request was not honored, the Governor would remove the friars by force.

According to the friars’, the reason for the expulsion was the fear the Navy had of the priests’ influence over the people. Leary had previously abolished all political rights the clergy had historically enjoyed under Spain, and then forbade the public celebration of Catholic feasts just at the time that the village of Agat was to celebrate the feast of its patroness, Santa Rosa de Lima.

All three Recollects left Guam on 7 September; Father Resano departed for Saipan, Fathers Cabanillas and Ortin went on to Manila. The Recollect friars, who had served in the Marianas more years than the pioneer Jesuits, would not serve on Guam again for another seventy years.

One month after leaving Guam, Father Resano tried to gain permission to return to Guam, but Leary denied the request. For a little less than two years, Father Jose Palomo, the first and only Chamorro priest at the time, was the only Catholic priest ministering on Guam. In August 1901, two Spanish Capuchins came to the help of Palomo and ushered in a new era of continued Spanish missionary work on Guam.

By Eric Forbes, OFM Cap.

For further reading

Cabanillas, Ildefonso and Crisogono Ortin. “Memoria: A Description of the Events That Have Taken Place on This Island of Guajan, Mariana Islands, since 20 June 1898.” In The Augustinian Recollect Friars in the Marianas, 1769-1908. Mangilao: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 2000.

Sinajana, 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.