The history and the sacrifice of the missionaries of the Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR) in the Philippines can be experienced at the Bulwagang Recoletos (Recollect Hall), at the OAR Our Lady of Consolation compound, in Mira Nila Homes residential subdivision, in Quezon City. Aside from viewing the many relics, manuscripts and other artifacts at the museum and library of the Bulwagang Recoletos, the experience starts in climbing the stairway to the hall. The stairs and the pavilion in front of the hall are flanked by many images of Augustinian saints and martyrs, with each statue acting as a testament to Augustinian faith and fortitude.
The first saint to note is one whose works are the very foundation of the OAR, who is Saint Aurelius Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), the Bishop of Hippo, in Algeria, North Africa. Augustine started his religious mission at a latter point in his life, having been rebellious and hedonistic in his youth. Returning to the Christian fold at the age of 31, Augustine would be ordained three years later, and would soon become a dynamic force in revitalizing the Christian faith in the region. St. Augustine’s written works would become the foundation for the formation of orders of the Hermits of St. Augustine (OESA; Ordo Eremitarum sancti Augustini), the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), the Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR), and the Order of the Discalced Augustinians (OAD); as he has penned many treatises on theology, music, education, sexuality, sociology, and astrology, among other things.
The veneration of St. Augustine of Hippo would not be complete without paying attention to his mother, Saint Monica (322–387 AD). St. Augustine wrote of his mother’s piety and perseverance, in his biographical Confessiones (397-400 AD). By St. Augustine’s accounts, he was raised a Christian, but rebelled against the faith and led a wayward life. St. Monica would continue to pray and act for Augustine’s reformation, often following his trail as he jaunted around Europe. During one of her prayers for Augustine’s redemption, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Monica, and gave Monica a sash from her waist. The Virgin told Monica that whoever wore the sash would receive her special blessings and consolation, and this Marian apparition would be called Our Lady of Consolation, who is one of the patrons of the Augustinian orders. St. Monica is also the patron saint of troubled marriages.
The third saint is the Italian Augustinian visionary San Nicolás de Tolentino OSA (1246-1305); whom his parents named after St. Nicholas of Myra (270-340 AD), after a pilgrimage to a shrine dedicated to the saint. After his ordination as a priest, Nicola would be assigned to the town of Tolentino, in Italy, where he would serve for most o his life. In Tolentino, would be renowned for his kindness and service to the poor, and many miracles attributed to the pious man. The most noted of his miracles happened after he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Augustine appearing before him, and instructing him to eat some bread that was marked with a cross. Upon eating the bread, St. Nicolas felt rejuvenated. St. Nicolas started distributing the bread in the neighborhood, and people began claiming to be healed of various ailments. This started the Augustinian custom of blessing and distributing Saint Nicholas Bread, which in turn became the biscuit called Panecillos de San Nicolas or Sanicolas, in the Philippines. Because of this, St. Nicolas became popular in the Philippines, and he has become the patron saint of the municipality of Lambunao in the province of Iloilo, the city of Tandag in the province of Surigao del Sur, Surigao City in the province of Surigao del Norte, Parañaque City in Metro Manila, Barangays Buli and Cupang in Muntinlupa City of Metro Manila, the city of San Nicolas in the province of Ilocos Norte, the municipality of Baton in the province of Romblon, the city of Capas in the province of Tarlac, and the city of Cabantuan in the province of Nueva Ecija. Saint Nicholas is also the patron saint of Holy Souls and Mariners.
The next image is that of the only Augustinian saint to have receive the stigmata of Christ, the Italian Saint Rita of Cascia (born Margherita Lotti, 1381-1457). Known for her piety and deep devotion to God, had always wanted to enter the convent, but was arranged into marriage by her parents, to Paolo Mancini, whom she bore two sons with. After her husband was murdered in a blood feud between rival clans, Margherita publicly pardoned he husband’s killer. However, her sons were bent on revenge, as they were egged on by their uncle. Margherita feared that she would lose her sons to a life away from God’s light, and she prayed that God would take them before they commit murder. A year later, her sons fell ill and died, and Margherita tried to finally enter the convent. She was initially turned away, due to the speculations of her connection to the blood feud. After numerous requests, Margherita was finally allowed in the convent, if she ended the feud between her husband’s clan, the Mancinis, and the Chiquis; which she was able to achieve, after praying for guidance to St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine, and St. Nicols de Tolentino. After several decades in the convent, Margherita found herself meditating on the image of the Crucified Christ, when a wound appeared on her forehead, as if it were pierced by a large thorn. This stigmata would stay with Margherita, until her death in 1457. St. Rita is the patron saint of lost and impossible causes, as well as sickness, wounds, and abused women.
The next set of images are those of the Augustinian martyrs of Japan, who were executed between the years of 1597 and 1539. Initially, the Japanese government had tolerated the presence of Catholic missionaries in the country, but held unease about the foreigners, most of were Portuguese from Goa and Malacca and Spaniards who had come from the Philippines. After the Spanish galleon, the San Felipe, was maroon in Japan, in 1596; the crew were interviewed by Japanese officials, and the ship’s pilot divulged that the Christian conversion of natives was part of the Spanish government’s plan of colonizing the land, and expanding their empire. Infuriated, the Japanese destroyed churches and executed Christians, starting with 26 Franciscans in 1597. The first martyred Augustinian Recollects were Fr. Martín Lumbreras y Peralta (Blessed Martín de San Nicolás, (1591-1632) and Fr. Melchior Sánchez Pérez (Blessed Melchior of St. Augustine, 1599-1632), the two Spanish missionaries who had previously worked in the Philippines. Blessed Martín de San Nicolás was born in Zaragoza, Spain; and first served as the sacristan major and then as novice master, in Manila, starting in 1621. After hearing of the plight of the Christians in Japan, Fr. Martin requested to be transferred to Japan, with Fr. Melchor. Both men arrived in Nagasaki, on September 1632. The two were quickly discovered, and fled to the hills, but were caught shortly after visiting the town. On December 11, 1632, Fr, Martin and Fr. Melchor were put to death by Hi-aburi, being slowly burned alive at the stake.
Blessed Melchior of St. Augustine (1599-1632) was born in Granada, Spain, to a family with a strong religious conviction, having a brother in the Augustine order and a sister as a Carmelite sister. After Fr. Melchor was ordained into the Recollect order in Mexico, he quickly travelled to the Philippines in 1622, where he engaged in apostolate of preaching. In Manila, he met Fr. Martin, and the two became fast friends. When Fr. Martin and Fr. Melchior travelled to Nagasaki, Japan, to help the Christian being persecuted by the government, the two were betrayed by the Chinese boatmen who took them over. The two kept in hiding for a few months, until their discovery and arrest. They were subjected to torture, and were demanded to renounce their Christian faith. When the two refused to renounce their faith, they were executed by a slow burning at the stake, where Fr. Melchior would endure for four hours before succumbing to his injuries. Fr. Martin was able bear the suffering for eighteen hours, before dying.
There were other Augustinian martyrs who had met just as gruesome fates in Nagasaki. The first Augustinian to be executed was the Spaniard, Blessed Ferdinand of Saint Joseph (Fr. Ferdinand Ayala, OSA, 1575-1617), who beheaded on June 1, 1617. The next Augustinian martyr is another Spaniard, Blessed Pedro de Zúñiga, OSA (1579-1622), who was beheaded on August 19, 1622. The next set of martyrs were all executed on the 3rd of September, 1632, after 31 days of torture in the Unzen jail, by having boiling water poured on their bodies. In the end, the three were execute by burning at the stake. The three martyrs are the Mexican Augustinian Blessed Bartolomé Gutiérrez Rodríguez, OSA (1580-1632), the Portuguese Recollect Blessed Vicente de San Antonio (Fr. Vicente Simôes de Carvalho y Pereira, OAR, 1590-1632), and the Spanish Recollect Blessed Francisco de Jesús (Fr. Francisco Terrero de Ortega Pérez, OAR, 1590-1632). Fr. Vicente entered the Augustinian Recollect order in Mexico, after being moved towards the faith while encountering a storm at sea. Fr. Vicente would transfer to Manila, where he would be ordained in 1622. Fr. Vicente would immediately travel to Japan, in 1623, and served for years before he was arrested in 1629. For the next three years, Fr. Vicente would be moved to different jails, until he was finally executed back in Nagasaki.
Blessed Francisco de Jesús (Francisco Terrero de Ortega Pérez, 1590-1632) first served in the Philippines, in the province of Zambales, in 1620; which was also noted to be the location of death of the first Recollect martyr, Fr. Miguel de la Madre de Dios, who was killed by native in 1607. After his success in Zambales, Fr. Francisco was transferred to Manila, where served as the vice prior of Saint Nicholas Convent in Intramuros. On 1623, Fr. Francisco sailed to Japan, where he started working with the catechism in Nagasaki. On December 11, 1629, Fr. Francisco was arrested with Fr. Vicente and Fr. Bartolome, and were moved from jail to jail, before being returned to Nagasaki to be executed by burning at the stake.
Aside from the foreign martyrs of Nagasaki, many Japanese Christians were also tortured and executed. The most significant stories is that of Saint Magdalene of Nagasaki (1610-1634), a Japanese Augustinian sister, and first saint of the OAR. Although her birth name is unrecorded, Magdalene was born to a Japanese Christian family, whose parents put to death in 1620. Despite the tragedy, she still entered the Augustinian order, and was christened Magdalene. Under the Augustinians, Magdalene She worked as interpreter and catechist with Blessed Francis de Jesus and Blessed Vicente de San Antonio, and later Blessed Martín de San Nicolás and Blessed Melchior of St. Augustine. When the four missionaries were arrested and executed in 1632, Magdalene continued her catechism until 1634, when she turned herself over to the Japanese officials, and declared herself faith to the public. By rejecting the officials’ demand that she renounce Christianity, Magdalene was then tortured by tsurushi, which is being hung upside down for thirteen days, in a hole filled with rotten offal matter. Frustrated by her unwavering faith, the officials decided to drown her by filling the hole with water.
The next saint is the patron of the Augustinian Recollect prior province, in which the Philippines is a part. Saint Ezequiél Moreno y Díaz OAR (1848-1906) was a Spanish Recollect missionary, who served for eighteen years in the Philippines, starting in 1870. After Ezekiel was ordained in Manila in 1871, he would be assigned to different provinces to develop the parishes of the towns of Jaro in the province of Iloilo, Las Piñas in Manila, Santo Tomás in the province of Batangas, the towns of Imus and Bacoor in the province Cavite, Calapan in the province of Oriental Mindoro, and Puerto Princesa in the province of Palawan. In Mindoro, Fr. Ezekiel would serve as its Vicar Forane of the Recollect parishes, while he would later act as the military chaplain to the Ihawig Penal Colony, in Palawan. Fr. Ezekiel’s success in his evangelization and community organization, thus he was constantly transferred from town to town, despite the demands of the residents that Fr. Ezekiel remains in the parish. Fr. Ezekiel would be later reassigned to country of Colombia, in South American, where he was appointed as bishop of Pasto, in 1888. There he would spend the next 18 years, until he was forced to return to Spain for cancer treatment, where he died in 1906. Because of the, St. Ezekiel is the patron saint of cancer patients.
The last set of images are those of the “Martyrs of Motril”, who were killed during the start of the Spanish Civil War. At the onset of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), tensions were brewing between the Catholic supported Nationalist Party and the communist Second Spanish Republican Party. In communist ideology, religion was an evil that placated the masses from fighting against tyranny. So when war erupted, Republicans from all over the country started hunting down Catholic clergy and lay religious leaders. Called “The Red Terror”, the Republicans left 6,800 Catholics dead. In the province of Granada, clergy were harassed by Republicans, and masses were stopped. In the town of Mortil, seven Augustinian Recollect and a diocesan priest were all dragged out from their hiding places, arrested, and killed by firing squad, between the date of July 25 and August 15, 1936. All eight men were beatified in 1999: Blessed Julián Benigno Moreno y Moreno (1871-1936), Blessed León Inchausti Minteguía (1859-1936), Blessed Vicente Soler Munárriz (1867-1936), Blessed Deogracias Palacios del Río (1901-1936), Blessed Vicente Pinilla Ibáñez (1870-1936), Blessed José Rada Royo (1861-1936), Blessed José Ricardo Díez Rodríguez (1909-1936), and Blessed Manuel Martin Sierra (1892-1936). Of the six Recollect martyrs, Bro. José Ricardo Díez Rodríguez (Blessed José of the Sacred Heart) and Fr. Deogracias Palacios del Río (Blessed Deogracias of Saint Augustine) are the only members who never served in the Philippines.
Fr. León Inchausti Minteguía (Blessed León of Our Lady of the Rosary, 1859-1936) studied at the College of Philosophy and Sciences at Monteagudo at Navarri, before taking his studies in Theology at the Millan de la Cogolla in Rioja. After entering the Convent in Marcela, Navarri, Bro. Leon would from Barcelona to Cebu, where he would be ordained in 1884. After learning the Bisaya language, Fr. Leon was assigned first as the parish priest in Dimiao, Bohol; followed by assignment in Azagra, San Fernando district, in the island of Sibuyan; and finally he would serve in Banton, in the island of Romblon. After completing his Philippine duties in 1897, Fr. Leon would transfer to Brazil, where he would serve for 18 years, before returning to Spain. When the Spanish Civil War erupted, Republican controlled towns banned the holding of the Holy Mass. Fr. Leon and his companions defied the ban, and paid for it with their lives.
Fr. Julián Benigno Moreno y Moreno (Blessed Julian Benigno of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, 1871-1936) joined the Augustinian Recollects in 1885, in Monteagudo, and he would be ordained as a priest in 1894. On the same year, Fr. Julian sailed for the Philippines, where he served at the Parish of St. Narcissus, at Bucay, in the province of Abra, and then at the St. Philip the Apostle Church, San Felipe, Basud, in the province of Camarines Norte. Fr. Julian would return to Spain, in 1898, where he would stay for four years, before transferring to South America for missions in Colombia , Panama , Venezuela and Brazil . In 1933, Fr. Julian returned to Spain, where he would meet his demise in service of the church.
Fr. José Rada Royo (Blessed José of Our Lady of Sorrows, 1861-1936) served in the Philippines from 1884 to 1899.
Fr. Vicente Soler Munárriz (Blessed Vicente of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, 1867-1936) joined the Augustinian Recollects in 1883, while studying at the seminary in Tarragona, Spain. Bro. Vicente sailed to Manila, where he was ordained in 1890. After his ordination, Fr. Vicente was assigned to do missionary work in the islands of of Mindoro and Mamburao. After his missionary work, Fr. Vicente was given the parish of Taysan, in the province of Batangas. However, Fr. Vicente was arrested by the Spanish authorities in 1898, upon suspect that he was conspiring with the Katipunan revolutionaries in their bid for Independence from Spain. Fr. Vicente remained in jail until 1900, and he would immediately resumed parish ministry for six years, and served as prior of the Augustinian mother-house of the Philippine province. In 1906, Fr. Vicente would return to Spain, where he worked on revitalizing the OAR, and even serve it as its historian and was elected as Prior-General in 1926. When he was arrested and condemned to death during the Spanish Civil War, Fr. Vicente spend his last moments ministering and giving absolution to his fellow prisoners, before he died by firing squad with 19 others.
Fr. Vicente Pinilla Ibáñez (Blessed Vicente of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, 1870-1936) served in the Philippines from 1892 to 1900, before he was transferred to Brazil and then back to Spain, where he would be martyred.
There are many more members of the Augustinian orders who have given up their lives for their faith. In Japan, there are the Japanese lay catechists who were either beheaded or crucified, such as Andrew Yoshida, John Shozabuco, Michael Kiuchi Tayemon, Peter Kuhieye, Thomas Terai Kahioye, and tertiaries Mancio Seisayemon and Lawrence Hachizo. In the Philippines, there are Recollects who were killed during the Philippine Revolution of 1896-1898: Fr. Baldomero Abadia, Fr. Gregorio Bueno, and Fr. Juan Herrero; and Fr. Victor Baltanas who was murdered in 1909 during the schism of the Aglipayan Church for the Catholic Church. The first OAR martyr in the Philippines was Fr. Miguel de la Madre de Dios, who was stoned to sdeath by the Aeta natives of Zambales, while evangelizing in the area. The is much to learn and be inspired from the sacrifices that these Augustinian saints and beatos have given in the name of God, and for the love of their fellow man.