BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PROVINCE
The Augustinian Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu, based in the city of Cebu in the Philippines, is a geographical and administrative subdivision of the religious Order of St. Augustine. The Province is actively involved in education, parish administration, mission work and formation of candidates for religious life. In keeping with its goal to become a missionary Province, it has begun sending friars overseas to help in apostolic and pastoral ministries.It has worked on joint missions with other Augustinian provinces, namely, the Australian Province in South Korea, the Dutch Province in Indonesia, and the Province of Villanova (United States), in Japan and in South Africa.
The first group of Augustinians, under the leadership of the Venerable Andres Urdaneta, came to the Philippines in 1565 from Spain through Mexico as the pioneers in the Catholic Church‘s task of evangelization in this part of the globe. Originally establishing themselves in Cebu, these missionaries soon expanded their apostolic activities to the neighboring towns and islands and later to almost all the other principal regions of the archipelago.
On March 7, 1575, the then Prior General of the Order, Fr. Tadeo de Perusa, decreed the creation of a new Augustinian Province in the Philippines under the title Santisimo Nombre de Jesus de Filipinas – Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines. During the Spanish colonial times in the Philippines, they had founded almost three hundred towns and churches from 1565 to 1898.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines decided to shift its missionary activities to newer territories, such as Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. As a logical consequence of this move, the seat of the Province was transferred from Manila to Madrid. The Augustinian presence in the country was then reduced to a minimum.
To compensate for this loss of manpower, the remaining Augustinians intensified the recruitment and formation of Filipino candidates. And as the number of the latter increased and their preparedness adequately established, the idea of creating a new Province came to be seriously considered.
Plans for the organization of such a Province began in 1974 when the Regional Assembly of the Philippine Augustinian Vicariate asked for the creation of a Vice-Province in the islands. Though the plan was not realized, it was again revived by a group of Filipino Augustinians at a meeting in the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu on April 29, 1981. The plan this time was for the creation of a new Province.
Formation of the Province
The move to create a new Province, which would be called the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu-Philippines, was officially endorsed by the Regional Assembly of the Augustinian Vicariate of the Philippines at the closing of its sessions on August 19, 1981, in the Monastery of San Agustin, Intramuros, Manila, and by the Provincial Chapter of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines, held in Valladolid, Spain on July 17, 1982. The proposal to create the first indigenous Augustinian Province in Asia was overwhelmingly approved by the 93 members of the 174th General Chapter held in Rome on September 13, 1983. The new province was subsequently canonically established on December 25, 1983, and officially inaugurated in the Basilica del Santo Niño on January 15, 1984.
The first Prior Provincial was Rev. Fr. Eusebio Bangcaya Berdon, OSA, who later became an Assistant General of the Order in Rome.
Why Santo Niño de Cebu-Philippines?
The naming of the only Augustinian Province in Asia after the Santo Niño de Cebu has historical as well as devotional reasons. The initial stage of the Christianization of the Philippine islands can be traced to the finding of the historical image of the Holy Child on the shore of what is today Cebu City on April 28, 1565, and the entrusting of this widely venerated sacred object to the care of the Augustinian friars, led by Fray Andres Urdaneta. It cannot be doubted that this providentially discovered image had been an inspiration to those first missionaries of the land in their untiring and zealous work of evangelization. One proof of this claim is the proliferation of Santo Niño as the parochial or “patronal” saint of towns and cities evangelized by the Augustinians, like Arevalo of Iloilo and Tondo of Manila. There was certainly a strong belief among missionaries that since the Santo Niño paved the way for the planting of the Catholic faith among the Filipino people, He too could continue to become an effective instrument in the ongoing evangelization of the populace.
Such belief in the instrumentality of the Santo Niño in the spreading of the Gospel’s message of God’s love and care for the people, especially for the poor and the needy, originated the strong devotion to the Holy Child, which persisted until today. It was easier for the people, from all ranks of life, to relate to the Child-God. The welcoming, innocent and all-embracing attributes of a child have made the Santo Niño the favorite counselor, consoler and protector of many. Likewise, the favors granted to hundreds of devotees along the years, both material and spiritual, made stronger such devotion to the Holy Child.
With such historical and devotional background, when it was time for their group to be granted a Province’s status by the Augustinian Order, the Filipino Augustinians did not hesitate to take Santo Niño de Cebu as their “Patron” and to carry His name as that of their Province. The members of this new Province were aware of their having become heirs of the first Augustinian missionaries, from Spain and Mexico, both to the latter’s historical role in the evangelization of these islands and to the safeguarding of the physical well-being of the holy image as well as the promotion of devotion to it. The present convent and Basilica of Santo Niño stand on the same site where the miraculous image was found. And to emphasize further the great importance of these historical and religious monuments to the new Province, the pioneering members declared the Basilica convent as their “Mother House”. Moreover, the closeness to Santo Niño was also one of the reasons why the pioneering Provincial and Council decided to transfer the seat of the Province from San Agustin Center of Studies in Quezon City to the Basilica (later moved to Santo Niño Pilgrim Center) in Cebu City.
The Santo Niño de Cebu will always remain as the principal inspiration and source of hope of the present members of the Augustinian Province of Santo Niño de Cebu-Philippines in their commitment to help the Church in its task of evangelization, both here and abroad, and in their vowed resolve to witness and promote the Augustinian way of life led and lived by the pioneering missionaries of these “Pearl of the Orient Seas”. (EBB)
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