Tuesday, November 24, 2015

*392. THE AUGUSTINIANS AMONG US

FR. SANTIAGO BLANCO, the last Spanish Augustinian priest of Pampanga, as a young priest. He was sent to Pampanga upon his ordination in 1928 and stayed on, long after the Order let go of its parishes. H dies in Bamban in 1993. Courtesy of Monsgr. Gene Reyes. 

No other missionaries had more impact in the creation and development of provinces than the Augustinian frailes that first arrived with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi tour islands in 1565. Just 9 years later, 1575, the Provincia del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus de Filipinas was already in place to manage effectively the affairs of the missionaries in their pastoral turfs.

To their credit, the Augutinians founded 250 parishes—the most by any order, and 22 of these were in Pampanga. Some of these missions include Lubao (1572, founded by Fray Juan Gallegos), Betis (1572, Fray Fernando Pinto), Mexico (1581, with Fr. Bernardino de Quevedo and Fr. Pedro de Abuyoas as the first priests), Guagua (1590, Fray Bernardo de Quevedo), Candaba (1575, Fray Manrique) and Macabebe (1575, Fray Sebastian Molina).

 The product of their missionary zeal resulted in many achievements that contributed to the advancements of Pampanga towns. Great builders all, they designed and constructed some of the most beautiful churches in the country—Betis and its baroque decorations, Mexico and its cimborio, Bacolor—said to be the most beautiful in the province, and Lubao, the biggest of all Pampanga churches. 

From building grand churches, the Augustinians also founded th schools or escuelas—parochial centers of learning—in Bacolor, Betis, Lubao (Estudio Gramatica later Colegio de Lubao, 1596) and Candaba (Estudio Gramatica, 1596). They also became the first mentors of students, as they became more adept at the local language.

 It was the Order that put up the first Augustinian printing press in the country that published pioneering printed materials—from grammar books, dictionaries and novenas. Augustinian friars like Bacolor founder Fray Diego Ochoa, authored the first Arte, Vocabulario y Confesionario en Pampango while Macabebe’s Fray Tallada wrote the first published Kapampangan book--Vida de San Nicolas de Tolentino (1614). 

 Among the Augustinians were erudites like Fray Guillermo Masnou, who made a study and an inventory of the herbal plants in Pampanga. Fray Antonio Llanos was taken by Mount Arayat’s curious shape, its flora and fauna, and the rivers that flowed from its core, inspiring him to study Pampanga’s mythical mountain.

 As a result of their effective evangelical labors, the Augustinians were allowed some autonomy by the Vatican, with little interference from the diocesan bishops in the supervision of the fledgling churches and the administration of the sacraments. Pampanga thus became a showcase of the Augustinians’ missionary work all throughout the Spanish colonial period and beyond.

The parishes of Lubao, Betis, Sasmuan, Porac, Minalin and Sto. Tomas continued to be administered by the Augustinians well into the first half of the 1900s; the last town to go was Floridablanca, whose last Spanish parish priest was Fray Lucino Valles, founder of the St. Augustine Academy in 1951. Other chose to stay here permanently long after their order's duties were over. 

Such was the case of Fr. Santiago Blanco, a true blue Spaniard, fondly called Apung Tiago by his Kapampangan constituents. Ordained in 1928, Fr. Blanco was assigned to various towns in Pampanga, including SantoTomas, Betis and Porac. He was responsible for the repainting of the church interiors of Betis during his 1939-49 term. His next assignment was Porac where he served as parish priest and Spiritual Director from 1950-1959.

When the Augustinians let go of their last remaining parish in Pampanga, Fr. Blanco requested to be left behind. In 1963, his application to become a secular priest was granted by the Holy See. Fr. Blanco moved to the newly created Diocese of Tarlac and became an honorary Monsignor and an Episcopal Vicar.

Fr.Blanco took residence in Bamban until his passing in 1993, his lifeworks in Pampanga a testament to the unflagging Augustinian missionary heart and spirit.

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