A THUMBNAIL HISTORY OF THE AUGUSTINIAN RECOLLECTS
Life-like a wheel-has its ups and downs. The story of the Augustinian Recollects reveals a life of ups and downs, of glories and pains, of successes and failures. During these four centuries of existence, the Augustinian Recollection-the religious reform movement that commenced in the Augustinian Province of Castile in December 1588-owes its entire life and growth to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. His divine presence had been there from the moment of its birth and He sustained it ever since.
The capitular fathers of the provincial chapter of Toledo in Spain decreed in the fifth ordinance:
Since among us there are, or at least may be, some who have greater love for monastic perfection and want to follow a more austere plan of life, we ought to favor their legitimate desire by not placing obstacles to the Holy Spirit; having previously consulted our most reverend father general and implored his leave, we determine that in our province three or more monasteries of men and as many of women be designated or established; in them a more austere kind of life is to be practised; its manner is to be regulated, after mature reflection, by the father provincial with his definitorium.
Thus the Augustinian Recollection was born-a humble and unheralded birth!
The roots of the Recollection can be traced back to various personalities in the 16th century. One of them was Prior General Girolamo Seripando who labored hard for the implementation of reformist goals: "dignity of worship, seriousness of studies, formation of novices, restoration of an authentic common life, unity of the Order." Such exemplary Augustinians as Saint Thomas of Villanova, Blessed Alonso de Orozco and Fray Luis de Montoya worked for reforms in Castile and Portugal with some measure of success. Thomas of Villanova, as prior provincial, laid the foundations of the Recollection-contemplation, excellence of divine worship, fraternal charity, reading of the Sacred Scriptures, discipline, zeal for the salvation of souls and the practice of walking barefoot according to the spirit of the primitive Augustinian monks. Hence, the Recollects are known as Discalced Augustinians. Another attempt was made by Friar Thomas of Jesus in 1574 in Portugal. After its initial success and papal authorization, the Portuguese reform proved a failure. Its members were then recalled to their mother convent in the same year.
The success of the Recollection in Spain in 1588 was due to divine as well as human factors. The unanimous approval by the Roman Pontiff Sixtus V, the Spanish monarch Philip II and Prior General Petrochini to the idea of a Recollection led to the establishment of houses for Augustinians who fervently wished to return to the primitive observance of Saint Augustine's Rule. The cradle of the Recollection was the Monastery of Talavera de la Reina in Toledo. There they put into practice the Forma de vivir, Way of Life, which was penned almost exclusively by Fray Luis de León and reflected the desire for greater perfection. Prayer was to be center of common life spending no less than six hours a day in it. Their life of piety was deeply Eucharistic, Marian and ascetic.
The year 1602 witnessed the separation of the first Augustinian Recollects from the Province of Castile in order to set up a separate province. More monasteries were founded. But they were not left to govern themselves yet; they were subject to the Augustinian prior general. Fray Juan de San Jerónimo became their first prior provincial in 1602. He was to lead three years after the Augustinian Recollect mission to the Philippines. In July 1605, the group of ten priests and four brothers boarded the ship in Cádiz and only thirteen missionaries reached Cebu on 12 May 1606. The acceptance of the Philippine mission made the Augustinian Recollection-contemplative in its original way of life-both active and contemplative.
The pioneers erected a priory at Bagumbayan, Manila, which was eventually named convento de San Juan Bautista. In 1608, they constructed a bigger one in Intramuros, putting it under the spiritual protection of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. Zambales, Bataan and western Pangasinan were virgin mission fields for the zealous Augustinian Recollects, since earlier groups-the Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits-had apportioned among themselves the pacified regions of the country. It was in Zambales where the Order's protomartyr shed the first Recollect blood that was to flow generously through the years.
In Spain, however, the new Recollect province was suppressed in 1608 due to internal difficulties. Two years later, Pope Paul V restored the rights and privileges to the Recollects after a successful diplomacy of their provincial Gregorio de Alarcón.
The recovery and growth of the Recollection was now unstoppable. With more houses in Spain, the missions to the Philippines kept pouring in. Eventually more souls were added to their spiritual care. The provinces of Bataan, Tarlac, Pampanga, Rizal, Batangas, Cavite, Sorsogon, Romblon, Laguna, Aurora, Pangasinan, Cebu, Capiz, Misamis, Surigao and Zamboanga would witness the zealous pastoral ministry of the Recollects along the centuries. The islands of Mindoro, Lubang, Masbate, Palawan, Negros, Siquijor, Calamianes and Camiguin were also entrusted to them. In Bohol, Romblon, Mindoro, Zambales and Palawan, they planned towns as well as built forts and watchtowers to protect their flock against Moro raids. History records the heroic efforts of Agustín de San Pedro, aptly dubbed El Padre Capitán.
On 5 June 1621, Pope Gregory XV elevated the Recollection to the status of congregation under the governance of a vicar general who held the highest authority over the four new provinces. The missionaries in the Philippines were part of Saint Nicholas Province from 1621 until 1998. Today this province includes Spain, United Kingdom, Taiwan, China, Mexico, Costa Rica, United States of America and Brazil.
The contributions of the Augustinian Recollects to the Filipino society were no different from those of their fellow missionaries of other religious orders. Their achievements include founding towns, improving those already in existence, building roads, canals, bridges and dams, constructing churches, bridges and kumbentos, lending a hand in the development of agriculture and industry, and making effective defenses against piracies.
The sugar industry of Negros looks back to the pioneering work of Father Fernando Cuenca of Talisay. Churches and cathedrals in Cavite, Negros, Misamis, Bohol and Palawan have withstood the ravages of time. During the beatification process early this 20th century, parishioners of Las Piñas, Santa Cruz (Manila), Santo Tomas (Batangas) reminisced the holiness and apostolic zeal of their parish priest Saint Ezekiel Moreno, a missionary in 1870-1885. The world-famous bamboo organ built by Father Diego Cera in Las Piñas City and the all-steel San Sebastian Basilica in Manila are the most readily remembered and most visible of the Recollect contributions to Filipino society.
In the education apostolate, historians record the existence of 630 parochial schools under the Recollects for the instruction of the Filipino youth. Adult education was not neglected. For the training of future diocesan priests, they were entrusted with the administration of Vigan Seminary in Ilocos in 1882-1895. Colegio de San Jose was opened in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, for secondary education in 1896-1898.
Today the Recollects administer two universities: the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos in Bacolod City and University of San Jose-Recoletos in Cebu City; two colleges: San Sebastian College, Manila; San Sebastian College, Cavite City; four secondary schools: Colegio de Santo Tomas-Recoletos in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental; UNO-R High School in Talisay, Negros Occidental; San Pedro Academy in Valencia, Negros Oriental; and San Pedro Academy-Recoletos, in Caidiocan, Valencia, Negros Oriental. Over 41,000 students study in their learning institutions in the first semester of 1998-1999.
The Recollect Order keeps four formations houses in the Philippines: Santo Tomas de Villanueva Formation House (high school seminary) in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental; philosophate at Casiciaco Recoletos Seminary in Baguio City; pre-novitiate and novitiate at Saint Ezekiel Moreno Novitiate House-Recoletos in Antipolo, Rizal; and theologate at Recoletos Formation Center in Quezon City. In 1998, the figures of Recollect seminarians in Philippine formation houses were highly promising: 49 high school seminarians, 88 philosophy students, 14 pre-novices, 9 novices and 36 theology students with the sum total of 196, up from 172 in 1997.
The Recollects minister to the pastoral needs of nine parishes: in Manila (San Sebastian-Quiapo and Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage-Tondo), Quezon City (San Nicolas de Tolentino-Congressional Subdivision and Our Lady of Consolation-Mira-Nila), Cebu (Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Cebu City and Our Lady of Consolation-Laray, San Roque, Talisay), Baguio City (Saint Vincent Parish-Campo Filipino), NegrosOriental (Our Lady of the Abandoned-Valencia) and Negros Occidental (San Nicolas de Tolentino-Talisay). Filipino Recollect priests and brothers are assigned in other parts of the globe. Some either work or study in the Order's houses and ministries in the USA, Italy and Spain. Others are missionaries in Brazil and Taiwan.
The Philippines did much for the Recollection. The missions in the country saved it from total extinction in 1835. For political reasons, the Liberal Government of Spain spared a novitiate house and a theologate of the Recollects despite the edict of suppression of all religious orders. Thus, while thousands of priests and nuns of various orders were evicted from the cloister and their convents and properties were secularized, Recollect missions to the Philippines went on without interruption. Our own Philippine Revolution-though catastrophic to the apostolate, apart from occasioning the death of 25 Recollects-ironically enabled the Augustinian Recollection to spread to Central and South America. Religious houses in Spain were established for repatriated missionaries.
The crowning glory of the Recollects was the papal brief Religiosas familias, issued by Pope Pius X on 16 September 1912, whereby the Augustinian Recollection was raised to the religious order status, totally independent from the Order of Saint Augustine. At the close of 1997, the Recollects numbered 1,258 in 201 religious houses, distributed into seven provinces in four continents. In 1997, the 144 Filipino professed religious comprised 11.44 percent of the Order's total membership-up from 102 or 8.23 percent in 1992. The Filipino Recollects comprised the second largest group after the Spanish religious with 58.90 percent, and were followed by Colombians with 8.58 percent.
A pleasant news reverberated in the whole Order in 1992. The 51st general chapter in Bogotá (Colombia) had laid the groundwork for the new Philippine province. Its capitular enactment no. 24 states: The vitality of the Order consists principally in the strength of our interior life, but is also made manifest in the growth of the number of its members and in the importance and work of the ministries it attends to. The general chapter views with gratitude the evolution of the Vicariate of the Philippines and China toward becoming a future province of the Order.
The 28th of November 1998 marked the birth of the eighth Augustinian Recollect Province. The six years of preparations paved the way for its creation by the 52nd general chapter held at Monachil, Granada, Spain. A rare unanimous vote by the thirty-six capitular fathers approved the decree that says in part:
The general chapter… erects a new province under the title of Saint Ezekiel Moreno with all the rights, privileges and spiritual graces enjoyed by other provinces of the Order. The new Province is constituted by the houses that the Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino possesses in the Philippines, in Linyuan and Santimen (Republic of China), and the mission of Sierra Leone.
The Province of Saint Ezekiel Moreno was inaugurated on 10 February 1999 at Our Lady of Consolation parish church in Mira-Nila, Quezon City. Rome-based Prior General Javier Guerra Ayala, Vicar General Carlos Imas, the provincial superiors of Saint Nicholas and Saint Augustine, over 80 Recollect friars as well as seven bishops with Msgr. Camilo D. Gregorio of Bacolod as main celebrant led the inauguration and the confirmation rites of the new province and of Father Victor Jose L. Lluch as its first prior provincial. Augustinian Recollect Sisters, Secular Augustinian Recollects, priests and religious sisters from various religious congregations, seminarians from four Recollect formation houses, guests and parishioners witnessed the solemn rites where Senate President Marcelo B. Fernan and Ma. Rizalina Bautista-Poblete, SAR national president, were likewise feted with the rare honor as brother general and sister general of the Recollect Order, respectively.
At the close of 1998, the new province consists of 128 members, including 25 simple professed religious. There are 103 solemn professed friars, of whom are 96 Filipinos, six Spaniards and one Chinese. The provincialate under the patronage of Saint Ezekiel is located at Neptune Street, Congressional Subdivision in Quezon City. Erected in September 1970, it had been the central house of the former Vicariate of the Philippines and China.
At the threshold of the new millennium, the vision-mission statement of Saint Ezekiel Moreno Province proclaims its members' steadfast commitment: "As Augustinian Recollects, we hope to live our charism as ardent lovers of Mother Church ever ready to interpret and fulfill the will of the Father by the grace of the Holy Spirit as we continuously strive to faithfully follow Christ and his Gospel through the intercession of Mary, whom we invoke under the special title of Our Lady of Consolation."
Without the Holy Spirit's ceaseless assistance, the Recollection could not have withstood the vicissitudes and extinction threats along the centuries. No small coincidence it was: in the first Recollects' voyage in 1606 to the Philippines, the galleon Espíritu Santo conveyed them from Acapulco (Mexico) across the perilous waters of the Pacific. In addition, the creation of the new province took place in 1998, the year specially dedicated to the Holy Spirit, as part of the Jubilee Year 2000 preparations, in accord with Pope John Paul II's wishes in Tertio Millennio Adveniente. And the Spirit of God sustains the life, growth and diffusion of the Augustinian Recollection in the global community.
Emmanuel Luis A. Romanillos. The Augustinian Recollects in the Philippines: Hagiography and History (Quezon City, Philippines: Recoletos Communications, Inc., 2001) 3-12.
Augustinian Recollect Contribution to Filipino Nation-Building
The Recollect Side of the Revolution
The Recoletos Church of Old Manila
The Augustinian Recollects in Bohol
Zambales Missions in the 17th century
Beaterio de San Sebastián
The Martyrs of Motril: Like Sheep Led to the Slaughterhouse