Tuesday, November 9, 2010

*224. The Reverend and His Flock: FR. OSMUNDO G. AGUILAR, World-Class Ornithologist

THE PADRE & HIS FLOCK. Fr. Osmundo G. Aguilar of Guagua, as a new graduate of San Carlos Seminary. He combined his love of nature with his religious calling, studying Theology and Ornithology at the same time. He is the founder of St. Michael's College, a well-known institution of learning in Guagua. Dated May 1930.

Fr. Osmundo Aguilar is well-known in Guagua as a never-say die priest who established Saint Michael’s College at the church convent from the ashes of World War II. Serving the parish of the Immaculate Conception from 1939 to 1948, Fr. Aguilar is also remembered for having refurbished the church (the altars of St. Joseph and the Crucified Christ were erected during his term) and for propagating Marian devotion through his founding of Children of Mary. But he was also famous for his colorful menagerie of birds from all over the world—a fabulous collection that, at one time, was considered the largest and rarest in the country.

The bird-loving priest spent his childhood years in rural Guagua, and pursued his religious calling at San Carlos Seminary in San Pedro, Makati where he graduated in May 1930. He had always been interested in pets and animals—and when it was time to choose a special course alongside Theology, he chose Ornithology, the study of birds. This would lead him to a lifetime pursuit of bird collecting.

His initial collection of 200 local and foreign birds consisted of parrots, peacocks, doves and cranes, which he began in 1924 and which he further expanded with birds coming from the jungles of Southeast Asia from 1937-38. Unfortunately, this collection was seized by the Japanese during the war.

Unfazed, he started to reassemble his collection after the war, investing about P30,000 for the acquisition of new birds, mostly from the American tropics. His collection of macaws (six of 18 species) was considered the largest in the world. One Royal Scarlet Macaw from Brazil set him back by $400. His garden became a veritable nesting place for white peacocks, pheasants, flamingoes from Cuba and red-breasted egrets from Africa. Fr. Aguilar also managed to bring home the most expensive parrot in the world—the 14 inch Queen of Bavaria’s Conures, found only in Paraguay and Brazil.

The Reverend’s obvious favorites were his 41 parrots, which he trained to speak in Spanish, English and Portuguese. He avidly researched on these birds, studying their habits and behavior. The most intelligent are the two African greys which were a donation to him from the Zoological Garden of Brussels, the only pair of the kind in the Far East in 1951. He was offered P62,000 for the pair, a big fortune at that time, but he turned it down.

That is not to say that his collection remained purposeless. In order to raise funds for the schooling of underprivileged boys at St. Michael's, he put up a pioneering show at the Assumption College along Herran St. (now Pedro Gil) which featured 41 of his most attractive birds. For fifty centavos, one could marvel at noisy cockatoos, talking parrots and colorful macaws in their cages, and appreciate the beauty of God’s most beautiful feathered creations. The first ever bird show drew curious Manilans to the school, ensuring the success of the good father’s fund drive.

So precious were the birds to Fr. Aguilar, that he even made an arrangement with the U.S. Government to fly the bird out of the country for safekeeping in the event of another War. Eventually, his bird collection was sold to such sanctuaries as the Honolulu and San Diego Zoo. The beloved priest of Guagua passed away in 1992. Fr. Aguilar was no Saint Francis, but like the patron of animals, the Reverend genuinely cared for his fine, feathered friends and you could say that they loved him back--with squawks, screeches and cackles!

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