The Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR) first arrived in the Philippines in 1606, and they were immediately sent to serve in the catechism throughout the islands. Starting with its foundation in 1619, the San Nicolas de Tolentino Church and Convent, in Bagumbayan (later moved to Intramuros), Manila, stood as the center of operations for all Recollects throughout the country. This all changed when the San Nicolas was severely damaged by the American bombing, during the World War II Battle of Manila, in 1945. Left in ruins, the church would be demolished in the 1959, to give way for the construction of newer buildings. With no plans to rebuild the San Nicolas Church, the Recollects transferred all operations to the San Sebastián Basilica, Manila, in Sampaloc, Manila.
Since 1606, the OAR had established many churches throughout the Philippines, such as the National Capital Region (Manila and Las Piñas City), Abra (Bangued), Agusan del Norte (Butuan), Bataan (Bagac, Cavite, Maragondong, Mariveles, and Morong), Batangas (Balayan, Nasugbu, and San Juan), Benguet (Baguio), Bohol (Loboc, Loon, and Tagbilaran), Cavite (Carmona, Imus, Kawit, and Silang), Cebu (Cebu City), Davao Oriental (Cateel ), Ilocos Norte (Paoay), Ilocos Sur (Magsingal and Vigan), Masbate (Masbate City, Mobo, and San Jacinto), Mindoro Oriental (Bongabong and Puerto Galera), Misamis Occidental (Jimenez and Ozamis), Misamis Oriental (Cagayan de Oro), Negros Occidental (Bacolod, Kabankalán, La Carlota, San Carlos, and Valladolid), Negros Oriental (Bacong, ,Siaton, Talibon, and Valencia, and Zamboanguita), Palawan (Puerto Princesa City and the islands of Agutaya, Calamianes, and Cuyo), Pangasinan (Alaminos), Rizal (Antipolo and Pililia), Romblon (Banton and Romblon City), Siquijor (Lazi), Surigao del Norte (Dinagat), Tarlac (Tarlac City), and Zambales (Iba). However, the OAR had no presence in Quezon City until 1970, when the Vicar Provincial of the OAR transferred to the Congressional Village residential subdivision, in Quezon City. And in 1975, the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish was established, in the same location.
The parish was named after the Italian Augustinian visionary Saint Nicolás de Tolentino OSA (1246-1305), the patron saint of the souls in purgatory and of mariners. He was named by his parents 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 and visions attributed to him. The most famous of his miracles occurred after a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Augustine of Hippo instructed him to eat some bread that was marked with a cross. Upon eating the bread, St. Nicolas felt invigorated. Nicolás started making more bread, and gave them to the community, and the people who consumed the bread declared 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 San Nicolas de Tolentino is also the home of the Augustinian Recollect Prior Province of Saint Ezequiél Moreno. Shortly after Pope Gregory XV (Alessandro Ludovisi, 1554-1623) declared Order of Augustinian Recollects as an autonomous order in 1621, the OAR divided its congregation into first four prior provinces, which are territorial divisions of the order that encompasses specific churches and convents into geographical boundaries. These four priors are the province of Saint Augustine of Hippo, the province of Our Lady of the Pillar, the province of Thomas of Villanova, and the province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. The Provincia de San Nicolas de Tolentino covered the entire Philippines, with its seat in Manila, at the San Nicolas de Tolentino Church and Convent, in Intramuros. However, after the church and convent were destroyed in World War II, the Provincial Curia (seat of authority) was transferred to Madrid, Spain, in 1946. The Vicar Provincial (sub-territorial office) was left in the Philippines, with a new residence at the San Sebastian Convent, in Manila. The Vicar Provincial held jurisdiction over the OAR parishes and seminaries in the Philippines and China, and was moved from San Sebastian to a residence in the Congressional Village of Quezon City, in 1970.
When the San Nicloas de Tolentino Parish was established in 1975, there was a clamor to the Provincial Vicariate in the Quezon City to become a separate prior province. In 1992, the first serious study on creating a separate prior province was held at the 51st General Chapter of the OAR General Council, in Bogota, Colombia. And after years of study and discussions, the Philippine Vicariate was declared as a separate prior province, during the 52nd OAR General Chapter in Monachil, Granada, Spain. The new prior was named the Province of Saint Ezequiél Moreno, with jurisdiction over Philippines, Taiwan and Sierra Leone, in West Africa; and the new prior is housed at the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish, in Quezon City.
The new prior province was named after the Augustinian Recollect Saint Ezequiél Moreno y Díaz OAR (1848-1906), a Spanish Recollect missionary who served for eighteen years in the Philippines, beginning in 1870. Arriving as a novice, Ezekiel Moreno was ordained in Manila in 1871, and he would be immediately assigned to different provinces, to serve as the parish priest. Ezekiel served in the parishes of the towns of Jaro in the province of Iloilo, Las Piñas and Santa Cruz in Manila, Santo Tomás in the province of Batangas, the towns of Bacoor and Imus in the province Cavite, the town of Calapan in the province of Oriental Mindoro, and the towns of Aborlan and Puerto Princesa in the province of Palawan. In Mindoro, Fr. Ezekiel would serve as its Vicar Forane of the local diocese. In Palawan, he acted as the military chaplain to the Ihawig Penal Colony. Fr. Ezekiel’s success in his evangelization and community organization is attributed to his mastery of the Tagalog language. Because of this, his service grew in demand from the OAR, and was constantly transferred from town to town, despite the requests of the residents that Fr. Ezekiel remains in their 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.
With the new Prior Province of Saint Ezequiél Moreno housed in the Parish San Nicolas de Tolentino, the church had to undergo its own transformations to celebrate the OAR and the saints and beatified venerated by the order, as guides to their mission of bearing witness to the word of God. This is most evident in the stained glass windows installed in the church, starting at the right aisle with the saint, whose teachings became the foundations of the several Catholic orders, including the OAR: Saint Aurelius Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD). St. Augustine started his religious mission at a latter point in his life, having been rebellious and hedonistic in his youth, and repented to become the Bishop of Hippo, in Algeria, North Africa.. As a priest and then a bishop, Augustine would become a dynamic force in revitalizing the Christian faith in the region. And his treatises on theology, music, education, sexuality, sociology, and astrology would become the basis 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).
The next image is that of Saint Monica (322–387 AD), St. Augustine’s mother, whose piety and faith were recorded by Augustine, 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, in his youth. St. Monica would continue to pray and act for Augustine’s return to God’s graces, and often trailing him as he jaunted around Europe. During one evening of prayer, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Monica, and gave Monica a sash from her waist. The Virgin instructed Monica that whoever wore the sash would receive her special blessings and consolation, and this Marian apparition would be called Our Lady of Consolation, which is one of the patrons of the Augustinian orders. St. Monica is also the patron saint of troubled marriages.
The Italian Saint Rita of Cascia (born Margherita Lotti, 1381-1457) is the only Augustinian saint to have received the stigmata of Christ. In her youth, Margherita had always wanted to enter the convent, but was arranged into marriage by her parents, to Paolo Mancini, whom she bore two sons with. Margherita publicly pardoned he husband’s murderer, after her husband was killed in a blood feud between rival clans. She asked her sons not to follow the path of retribution, but they were constantly prodded on by their uncle. In fear that she would lose her sons to their vengeful rage, 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. Initially rejected, due to her relation to the blood feud, Margherita was finally allowed to enter the convent, on the condition that she ends the feud between the Chiquis and the Mancinis, her husband’s clan. After praying for guidance to St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine, and St. Nicols de Tolentino; Margherita was able to forge peace between the families. Years later, 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.
There is the image of St. Joseph, step-father of Jesus Christ, and patron saint of the Catholic Church. Beside St. Joseph is the image of the Spanish Augustinian bishop, Saint Thomas of Villanova O.S.A. (Tomás García y Martínez, 1488-1555), who was a known his great act of charity for the poor, as well as reformer of the church, and writer of many treatises and sermons that are still used to this day. St. Thomas is the patron saint of several Augustinian learning institutions, due to his belief that learning must be inspired by the desire for God. St. Thomas is also the patron saint of Pasig City, and the towns of Alimodian and Miag-ao, in the province of Iloilo.
The Augustinian martyrs of Nagasaki were executed during the Japanese persecution of Christians, 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 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 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 (born 1580), the Spanish lay Franciscan Gabriel Tarazona Rodríguez (Gabriel of the Magdalene), the Portuguese Recollect Blessed Vicente de San Antonio (Fr. Vicente Simôes de Carvalho y Pereira, OAR, born 1590), the Spanish Recollect Blessed Francisco de Jesús (Fr. Francisco Terrero de Ortega Pérez, OAR, born 1590), and the Japanese Antonius Ishida Kyūtaku (born 1570, Jesuit) and Hieronymus Iyo (Blessed Hieronymus Of The Cross, Franciscan). The next set of Recollects who were executed are Fr. Martín Lumbreras y Peralta (Blessed Martín de San Nicolás, (1591-1632) and Fr. Melchior Sánchez Pérez (Blessed Melchior of St. Augustine, 1599-1632), on the 11th of December 1632. Just like their predecessors, the two priests were put to death by Hi-aburi, being slowly burned alive at the stake.
Another martyr of Japan is the first saint of the OAR, Saint Magdalene of Nagasaki (birth name unrecorded, 1610-1634). Magdalene was a Japanese Augustinian sister, who was born to a Japanese Christian family, during the persecutions of Christians in Japan. Even though her parents put to death in 1620, Magdalene chose to enter the Augustinian order, and was christened Magdalene. Under the Augustinians, Magdalene She worked as interpreter and catechist for 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 she decided to turn herself over to the Japanese authorities, in 1634. By rejecting the officials’ demand that she renounce Christianity, Magdalene was then tortured by tsurushi, which is being hung upside down, in a hole filled with rotten offal matter. On the thirteenth day, the officials decided to drown her by filling the hole with water. During her canonization in 1987, St. Magdalene was declared as the patron saint of secular Augustinian Recollects, and among these are her fellow Japanese lay Augustinian Recollect martyrs Andrew Yoshida, John Shozabuco, Michael Kiuchi Tayemon, Peter Kuhieye, Thomas Terai Kahioye, and tertiaries Mancio Seisayemon and Lawrence Hachizo.
Aside from the image of St. Ezekiel Moreno, his brother is featured in another stained glass window dedicated to 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.
The establishment of the Prior Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno, and its subsequent seat at the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish, is not a celebration of the growing work that the Order of Augustinian Recollects have done in the Philippines and the world, but it is also a monument to those members of the Oar who have sacrificed their lives for their faith and the salvation of mankind.