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San Antonio de Padua Parish Celebrates 250th Year

By Stephen Henry S. Totanes, Ph.D.

The Parish of San Antonio de Padua in Gubat, Sorsogon will celebrate its 250th Foundation Anniversary on June 13, 2021 with the theme, “San Antonio de Padua: Biyaya na Parokya sa Laog nin 250 Taon: Pinagpapasalamat, Pinagrorokyaw asin Ihinihiras.” Under the leadership of its parish priest, Rev. Monsignor Felix B. Elegado, Jr., there will be novena Masses and various activities to culminate in a Concelebrated Mass on June 13, the Feast Day of San Antonio, to be led by Most Rev. Jose Alan V. Dialogo, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Sorsogon.

In the run-up to the commencement of the celebrations, I shared with Msgr. Elegado my findings about the assumed date of the Foundation—June 13, 1771. It is the date that appears in the 2011 commemorative book of the 60th anniversary of the Diocese and in the writings of a couple of local historians. But none of them provided historical references to confirm this actual date.

In schoolyear 2004-2005, I was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholarship to the United States of America and I presented as my research topic, “Revisiting Franciscan Missions in the American Southwest and the Diocese of Nueva Caceres in the Philippines.” I was based at the Center of Southwest Studies in Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and Santa Clara University in California, which was a Franciscan Mission until the Jesuits took over in the late 19th century.

I returned to the Philippines and presented my findings in the Annual Conferences of the Philippine National Historical Society (PNHS) in 2005 and 2006, led by our President, Dr. Bernardita R. Churchill. It was Dr. Churchill who pointed out the existence of a five-volume unpublished work by Dr. Bruce Cruikshank, formerly a Franciscan monk, entitled “A History of Franciscan Parishes in the Philippines” (Nebraska 2004).

It was in Cruikshank’s work that I found references to the Franciscan parish in Gubat. In volume 3, p. 128, Cruikshank posted an entry on Gubat, citing the work of Felix de Huerta (1865). I had read about de Huerta’s work but it was only in late 2019 did I get to see an ACTUAL COPY of the work. It was stored at the Pardo de Tavera Special Collections in the Rizal Library of the Ateneo de Manila University in Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Below is a scanned copy of that relevant page:

From: Felix de Huerta, O.F.M., Estado Geografico, Topografico, Estadistico, Historico-Religioso De La Santa Y Apostolica Provincia De S. Gregorio de Magno ….. (Binondo, 1865): p. 594

(Translation: From the years 1777 and following, our religious founded this pueblo and administered it as a visita of Bulusan until the year 1781, during which time it was separated from its mother {parish} and the first minister was named in the person of R.P. Fr. Geronimo Cabello.

Our religious constructed a church made of stone dedicated to the glory of S. Antonio de Padua, y en 1794, its administration was placed under the disposition of the Sr. Vice-Patrona Real, when it had 629 tributes.) In another listing, Fr. Cabello was transferred to Gubat on November 13, 1781.

With this document, we can see that the establishment of the separate parish of Gubat, formerly a visita of Bulusan, began on November 13, 1781, when Fr. Geronimo Cabello became its first cura parocco. Due to the “Patronato Real de las Indias,” pueblos could be organized only AFTER a parroquia had been established and the cura parocco took the lead in organizing the various CABEZAS de barangay and holding an election among them for the position of gobernadorcillo, which had a term of only one year. Therefore, Gubat town could not have been founded in 1764 as its seal claims and neither could the parish have been established in 1771, because Fr. Cabello had not yet arrived.

I brought this to the attention of Msgr. Elegado and together we checked the FIRST ENTRIES in the Parish Records housed in its Museum. There were books on baptisms and confirmations and the first entries started in 1782 and 1783. And we saw the signature--he signed his name as “PEDRO CAVELLO.”

Thus, the work of this Franciscan missionary, the first cura parocco of Gubat, could not have begun in 1771—there are NO books to show that he was already there. Gubat was still a VISITA of Bulusan, as such, it would be “visited” by the Cura Parocco of Bulusan, who at that time was P.Fr. Francisco Rico, OFM.

In additional biographical records kept by the Franciscans, (his name is sometimes cited as Pedro Geronimo Cabello), he was born in 1756, thus, he could not been a parish priest in 1771, because he would have been only 15 years old. He arrived in the Philippines in 1779, at age 23, and was assigned to Gubat from 1781 to 1789. He had similar positions in Naga, Minalabag (Minalabac) and Budiao (Putiao). He died in 1802, at a fairly young age of 46.

After Cabello’s transfer in 1789, another Franciscan missionary, Fr. Juan Garcia de San Jose o Cadalso, took over and served as cura parocco until 1793. Again, we can check the parish records and see if his signature appears in these books.

In sum, I bring these historical records to light not to dampen the celebration but to provide the historical basis, using actual records, for certain events that we commemorate in our history. We can continue to celebrate 250 years but I would call it the “journey from visita to pueblo,” which Gubat was undergoing at this time. And I suggested to Msgr. Elegado that we ring the church bells TWO-HUNDRED FIFTY TIMES (250) in the early morning hours of June 13, 2021, to commemorate the continuing journey of our parish, dedicated to San Antonio de Padua.


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