Saintly Philippine Jesuits

Published December 3, 2020, 11:41 PM

by Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ


Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ

The first of these who have no doubt have the right to be on the altar as an intercessor for us with God is Fr. Manuel Peypoch, SJ.  I did not get to know him directly but only indirectly through my father.  He was pulled out of a crowd in Madrid, tortured, and murdered just because he was a priest. This was during the republican regime in the 1930s in Spain.

He was a teacher in the Ateneo de Manila and one of his students was my father. It was probably in the end of the first decade of the 20th century. My father must have been a young boy who had just learned to read and write at home being tutored by an elder cousin. My father lived on Oroqieta St. in Sta. Cruz in Manila.  It was in the early days of the American occupation of the country.  My grandfather, Leoncio, did not bother with the education of his son.  He allowed my father to go to Intramuros to find out where he could enroll.  Classes were still conducted in Spanish although English was taught as a second language. The teachers were Spaniards or Spanish speakers who had learned English only recently.

The young boy reached Intramuros  and  passed by San Juan de Letran and moved on to the other side of the old city until he reached the Ateneo. There he met a young Spanish priest and both liked each other at first meeting.  My father then enrolled in the Ateneo and finished his bachelor’s degree that only took five years.  With him were outstanding  young men who would become excellent executives after they graduated. From his class would come a future chief Justice, Cesar Bengson, other distinguished lawyers like Don Jose Cojuanco, the father of President Cory Cojuanco Aquino, and doctors like Dr. Agerico Sison, a long-time head of Philippine General Hospital,  and other distinguished citizens of the country.

Why was Fr. Manuel Peypoch in Spain?  It was a long story and convoluted. The Jesuits of the New York province were assigned to start a mission in India.  At the time the Irish were giving the British a hard time with revolutions.  Accordingly the British Consul refused to give the New York Jesuits with Irish names visas for fear they would also cause trouble in India. The Jesuit General then asked the Spanish Jesuits to swap the Philippine Mission with the New York Jesuits. To an extent this was logical for the Spaniards had to learn English in order to teach in Philippine schools since the United States had taken over the government in the Philippines.  This was heroic for the Spanish Jesuits who were giving up a fully developed mission for one that would start from scratch.  The Spanish Jesuits in the Philippines were given a choice of staying with the Americans or go home to Spain before they were redeployed to India.

During the Republican difficulties of the priests and religious in Spain during the 1930s my father used to send some help to the brother of Fr. Manuel Peypoch who I met when I went to Spain in 1947. By that time Fr. Manuel Peypoch had already been murdered. My family was in Madrid and my father gave me some money to travel by myself. My first stop was Barcelona and I looked for this brother of Fr. Peypoch. He had been a Christian Brother of St. De La Salle. Then he was in a church as main sacristan of a church in Barcelona.  At the first church I went he was not there but they directed me to the next church where I found him and he treated me to a dinner with his wife.

Since then I have been waiting for the Spanish Jesuits to push for the canonization of the priests who they lost in the republican administration of Spain.  The other congregations have already done so. Among them is Fr. Poveda in whose honor we have an excellent girls’ school in Manila. But so far the Jesuits have not seen it appropriate to move for the canonization of their martyrs.  There are two who were teachers in the Ateneo. The Jesuits were in charge of half of Mindanao. They built a good number of churches, mostly built by Jesuit Spanish brothers. Like Bro. Armengol and Herman Louche. In the Spanish Mission in Mindanao there were two brothers for every priest. Some of these brothers could not read or write but were good builders and artisans.

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