THE HISTORY OF THE DIOCESE OF DIPOLOG
July 31, 1967. A new day dawned upon the church in Western Mindanao. Carved from the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, the Diocese of Dipolog was created by Pope Paul VI by virtue of the Apostolic Letter “Quantum Prosit”. It covered the whole province of Zamboanga del Norte. The Most Rev. Felix S. Zafra, D.D., was appointed the first bishop of Dipolog. He took possession of the diocese on October 24, 1967.
A new diocese was born. But the seeds of Christianity were sown four centuries earlier, when the pioneering settlers of Dapitan led by Datu Pagbuaya encountered and made alliance with the Spaniards who had just started to colonize Cebu. Soon after, the work of evangelization began. Like most people of Bohol, the place of their origin, the Dapitanons embraced the new faith peacefully. But it was not until the turn of the sixteenth century that missionaries started to reside in Dapitan and baptism of new converts was initiated.
The Society of Jesus was tasked to preach the good news in this part of Mindanao. They came to the Philippines in 1581. When the country was divided among four religious congregations for their area of responsibility in 1598, the Jesuits were given the Diocese of Cebu which covered the Visayas and Mindanao; Dapitan fell under the jurisdiction of the courageous men of St. Ignatius.
At first, the Jesuits came as chaplains of the Spanish naval force out to explore, conquer and colonize more tribes. Such was the case of Pascual de Acuña whose brief stay started the Jesuit mission in Dapitan. The squadron of Juan Juarez Gallinato, of which he was the chaplain, had just defeated the Manguindanau Muslims in a ferocious battle near Dapitan. While the terms of surrender were being negotiated, the squadron anchored at the Dapitan harbor. Acuña took advantage of the situation to do mission work among its residents and the surrounding tribes until the Muslims managed to escape after two months. This was in 1609.
Other Jesuit naval chaplains followed his example particularly when Dapitan became a regular port call for Spanish squadrons on patrol. Finally, in 1629, the Society sent the Mexican Jesuit, Pedro Gutierrez, to found specifically the Dapitan mission. Dedicating tirelessly all his efforts for those whom he has regarded as his children, he was able to establish a permanent Jesuit mission residence in the area two years later. He became its first superior.
As a missionary residence, Dapitan was at first dependent on Cebu. In 1639, it was placed under the jurisdiction of the Zamboanga residence. It was transferred anew in 1643 to Loboc (Bohol) residence. Finally, in 1645 or a little later, it became independent, with its jurisdiction extending from Iligan to Sindangan Bay. The rest of the peninsula remained under the responsibility of the Zamboanga Jesuit mission which was established in 1635.
The missionary zeal of the Jesuits was spent particularly on the conversion of the Subanen known to be the original inhabitants of the peninsula. At times, they had to offer their lives as a martyrs like Francisco Paliola who shed his blood in Ponot on January 29, 1648. Dapitanons shared in these missionary endeavors. They acted as escorts, soldiers or interpreters of the foreigners, like the son of Pagbuaya, Manook. Others became lay evangelizers in their own place. Manook’s daughter, Maria Uray, wanted to become a nun after becoming a widow. She was refused entry for being a native. Prevailed to stay in Dapitan by the Jesuits, she devoted all her life to her faith, becoming a living example to her people.
By 1696, the following settlements within Dapitan jurisdiction had a church building, and these numbers of Christian residents: Dapitan (411); Iligan (420); Layaun (176); Ylaya (360); Dipolog (210); Dicayo (286); Duhinob (339); Manukan (335); Sian (219); Sindangan (91); Mucas (295); and Quipit (336). All in all, at the end of the 17th century, numbered 3478 approximately.
Things ahead looked bright for the Jesuit missionaries until the Bourbons ascended to the Spanish crown in the 18th century. Their endearing and questionable loyalty to the Pope and Rome, as well as their international character, made the men of St. Ignatius a threat to the Bourbons and their plans. This resulted to the banishment of the Jesuits from all lands under the domination of the Bourbon monarchs in 1768. They were expelled from the Philippines soon after. The Order of Augustinian Recollects took over their jurisdiction, including the Dapitan mission in 1770.
The Augustinian Recollects arrived in the Philippines in 1606. They came late for the Philippines among the Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans eight years earlier. Thus, the eastern part of Mindanao was taken from the Jesuits and assigned to them. In 1770, the expulsion of the Society of Jesus handed to them the whole island as field for mission work. For the Dapitan mission, Bernardo Teresa became the first superior.
During the administration of the Recollects, the Katipunan parish was established in 1796. At that time, it was known as Lubungan. Its first pastor was Vicente Melendo de San Cipriano. Moreover, in 1865, the jurisdiction of Dapitan and the whole Mindanao was transferred from the ecclesial province of Cebu to the newly created diocese of Jaro.
The Royal Decree of 1852 allowed the Society of Jesus back to the Spanish lands. They returned to the Philippines and resumed their old Mindanao mission. In 1870, Juan Calabert took possession of Dapitan. Antonio Obach shepherded Katipunan. But he stayed occasionally at a former Recollect residence in Dipolog, a kind of trading center of communities traveling between Dapitan and Katipunan.
Dipolog was under Katipunan until it was established as a parish in 1896. Jose Vilaclara became its first parish priest. But three years earlier, the Jesuit Eusebio Barado led the faithful of the place in reconstruction a new church building. His successors continued what he started as well as build public infrastructures like street, drainage system and irrigation. As preachers, builders and educators of children, young men and women, the Jesuits served Dipolog until 1940 when they passed the stewardship to the Filipino diocesan clergy took over in 1946 in the person of Epifanio Baleares.
Most of the Filipino diocesan clergy who received and continued the evangelizing work of the Society of Jesus were Josefinos, so called for having finished their priestly formation at San Jose Seminary. Trained by the Jesuits, they proved to be fitting successors of their mentors. Furthermore, the Diocese of Zamboanga which had jurisdiction over Mindanao since 1910 continued to be administered by the Jesuits who expectedly relied on their products. One of them was Luis del Rosario who, as archbishop of Zamboanga, allowed his auxiliary bishop, Leopoldo Arcaira, to stay and administer the northern part of the archdiocese from 1962-1966.
Then came the papal announcement in 1967 that the Diocese of Dipolog was created out of Zamboanga. It was above all a recognition that the local church in this part of the world had come to age. She could now stand on and walk with her own feet. Aside from Dapitan, Katipunan and Dipolog, the other parishes which were established before 1967 and became part of the new diocese were: Sindangan (1936), Labason (1941), Rizal (1950), Siocon (1951), Manukan (1952), Polanco (1954), Liloy (1957), Barcelona (1958), and Salug (1960). Piñan became a parish by the end of 1967.
The new diocese consists of the entire province of Zamboanga del Norte. Including the two cities of Dipolog and Dapitan, the total land area of the province is 720,594 hectares or 7,205.94 square kilometers. It covers the western boarder of Mindanao facing the Sulu Sea. Its climate is mild and moderate.
From the moment he set his foot on the diocese, Bishop Felix Zafra opened his arms to his fold and invited them to Jesus Christ “that they might have life and have to the full” (“Ut vitam abundantius habeant,” Jn. 10:10). In the process, basic ecclesial structures were set in place. The number of parishes increased to twenty–eight. The Maryknoll and PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) Fathers came in the 70’s (the latter taking the place of the Claretians in the South while the Redemptorist did mission work in the area. Aside from the RVM (Religious of the Virgin Mary) Sisters who had worked in Dipolog since 1892, the Holy Spirit Sisters and the Blessed Virgin Missionaries of Carmel began to serve the diocese. In 1982, the Sacri-Cordian Sisters were organized by Bishop Zafra. Three years later, he gathered some young men to form them into Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
More significant to the diocese was the increasing number of Filipino diocesan priests ordained. They now came from different seminaries. But they were able to rise above their differences and work together, subscribing to the principle of unity amidst diversity. The founding of two seminaries capped the remarkable growth of the diocesan clergy. In 1979, Bishop Zafra co-founded St. Mary’s Theologate in Ozamis City with the other DOPIM bishops (Bishop Jesus Varela, Bishop Jesus Tuquib, Bishop Fernando Capalla and Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud) for their theology students. The following year, Cor Jesu Seminary was established in Dipolog for its college seminarians. It became the heart of the diocese. Eventually, the Dipolog priests extended their service to other dioceses nationally and internationally.
Bishop Jose R. Manguiran was appointed to take the reins of Dipolog on May 27, 1987. He was the second bishop of the Diocese of Dipolog. Installed on September 9, 1987, he immediately rallied the clergy and his flock to “Do all things in the name of the Lord” (“Facitis omnia in nomini Domini,” Col. 3:17). He called his people to form themselves into ecclesial communities, building from previously established basic church structures. For these communities to the effective, Bishop Joe has encouraged cooperatives to be organized and to engage in income-generating projects. His love for the land and respect for nature has shown itself to be contagious. The number among his flock who have become ecology-conscious is growing.
The local church in Dipolog has been constantly reviewing and updating its diocesan policies. The world has changed quite rapidly. The diocese has to keep abreast with these changes to remain relevant. Serving more than half a million people is not easy. But the challenge is there. Besides forming her flock into basic communities, she can also extend her hands to other denominations of faith in dialogue and communion. Ecumenical movement must be part of the church agenda.
Finally, the church in Dipolog has also been taking care of her priests who, as leader servants of Christian communities, face more challenges. Their formation does not end at ordination. Otherwise, if one gets sick at the head, the rest of the body cannot function well. The diocese has constantly sent her priests for comprehensive programs designed to provide an on-going formation of the clergy.
Integral development through community empowerment, national reconciliation, dialogue and communion of faith, ecological concerns—these are a few of the constant challenges which assure an exciting ecclesial life to the diocese of Dipolog.
Yet, alongside the constant growth of changes and challenges, God continues to enliven the hope for the local Church of Dipolog to fulfill what God wishes for the glory of His kingdom. It was when the diocese was given her Third Bishop, in the person of Most Rev. Severo C. Caermare, DD. He was appointed as Third Bishop of Dipolog on July 25, 2014 and ordained as Bishop of Dipolog at the Cathedral of the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary on October 30, 2014. He succeeds Bishop Jose R. Manguiran, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father. Bishop Ver’s motto “Benedicam Dominum Semper” (adapted from Tobit 4, 19 and Psalm 34, 1), that is, “I will bless the Lord always” clearly resonates with the blessedness the diocese is feeling right now, because she finally has a bishop from among her priests. Bishop Ver comes from St. Anne Parish, Sibutad, Zamboanga del Norte.
Now, the diocese has 71 priests and a deacon. As of 2013, there are approximately 517,743 Catholics in a population of 907,238. Moreover, the diocese has 40 parishes. As the diocese is getting closer to her fiftieth year, the Diocese of Dipolog possesses the capacity to provide direction to the local church according to the gospel values and the vision of DOPIM and PCP II (Second Plenary Council of the Philippines). To be truly a church of the poor, the local church must be able to address and lend a hand in the liberation of the people from their predicament. She hopes to fulfill her part of building basic ecclesial communities (BEC/GSK) supported by cooperatives engaged in income-generating projects and by facilitating national reconciliation in pursuit of peace.
July 31, 2017… Today, the church in Dipolog looks back to her past with gratitude and jubilee. With our patroness, Our Lady of the Rosary, we invite you, “Come! Today we joyfully await for our 50th year. Let us continue with zeal in realizing and celebrating our golden jubilee!”