From the works of: Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, SJ ("The Jesuit Exploration of the Pulangi 1888-1890"); Fr. Luis Pacquing, SJ (from: “Misiones Jesuiticas de Filipinas”, by Fr. Miguel Saderra Maso, SJ (Manila 1924), “El Archipielaga Filipina”, by Jesuit Fathers); and, Fr. Jose Arcilla, SJ (“Jesuit Missionary Letters from Mindanao, Vol 1, The Dapitan – Balingasag Mission”)
The evangelization of the native tribes in Bukidnon began towards the middle of the 19th century. The first mission station was Malitbog, situated in the canyon behind Tagoloan. The Spanish Recoleto friar of the parish of Jasaan (of which Tagoloan was a dependent chapel,) made visits to Malitbog. There was a chapel already existing there by 1848.
In the 1870s the Recoleto Fray Mateo Bernad of Jasaan, made excursions farther up to the valley of the Tagoloan River and established a chapel at Sumilao. He made visits further inland, to Impasug-ong, Kalasungay, Malaybalay, Bugcaon, and established a chapel at Linabo near the Sawaga River. The baptisms administered there were recorded in the baptismal register of Jasaan. Access to Bukidnon at that time was by trail up the Tagoloan River on horseback.
In 1876 by royal decree, the Mindanao missions were entrusted to the Jesuits. At which time, they took over the parish of Jasaan from the Recoletos.
1888 – It was from Balingasag where the Jesuit missionary trips to Bukidnon were planned, provisioned and staged. Fr. Gregorio Parache was the first Spanish Jesuit Local Superior of the Balingasag Mission which covered the areas from Tagoloan to Linugos (Magsaysay today), including Sumilao, Bugcaon and Linabo (in Malaybalay). In October 1888, there was a reshuffling of Local Superiors, Fr. Parache was assigned to Cateel in Caraga while Fr. Juan Bautista Heras, SJ from Caraga took his place and the new Local Superior Residence was transferred to Tagoloan because of its proximity to the river valley communities enroute to Bukidnon through Sta. Ana, Malitbog, and Tankulan areas. Together with Fr. Heras from the Bislig mountains was Fr. Eusebio Barrado, SJ.
The evangelization of the mountain area was at once intensified with Fr. Eusebio Barrado assigned to Sumilao as resident priest, and later also to Linabo. It was from Linabo that he made his historic exploration of the Pulangi River downstream to the Cotabato regions where it became the Rio Grande de Mindanao.
1890 Bukidnon – Our Fathers can justly be accounted the builders of the new province of Bukidnon. Before their permanent establishment in this province they had come several times to evangelize the mountain tribes and had formed the first towns. The Moros of Lake Lanao and Cotabato invaded the towns frequently during the year and murdered defenseless people. To repel them and prevent more pillaging, the missionaries secured arms and ammunition from the Government, instructed the natives in their use and formed a militia of their own. On many occasions Fr. Eusebio Barrado was forced to lead his men against the Moros.
1891– Frs. Eusebio Barrado and Jacinto Juanmarti were the first explorers of the Pulangi River. Armed with information from the natives, they undertook the exploration, each starting separately from Linabo (Bukidnon) and Cotabato respectively. Following the course of the river, they finally met on May 26, 1891 in the midst of the mountains. Fr. Barrado undertook another trip from Cotabato this time across the mountains to Davao where he arrived in March 1892. It was 1891 after twelve years in the Agusan mission, when Fr. Saturnino Urios was transferred to Sumilao. He would later join a group of Jesuits to establish the Davao mission.
More and more of the "Bukid-non" tribes (Monteses) of the river valley of the Tagoloan in the north and of the Manobo tribes in the river valley of Pulangi in the south thus became Christian. Br. Jose Vila who was assigned to Sumilao died of fever while in Tagoloan. He was buried by the tribesmen in an unmarked grave somewhere near Dalirig.
During the Revolution, the priests and lay-brothers of northern Mindanao were imprisoned in Cagayan by the insurgent leaders. Church funds were confiscated by the insurgents. After the restoration of peace during the American regime, the Spanish Jesuits returned to Sumilao, serving the Bukidnon area from that base. Father Laureano Contin SJ was the last Spanish Jesuit in charge of the Bukidnon mission. After 1927, he was replaced by American Jesuits. By that time, a road had been constructed, making it possible to penetrate into Bukidnon by vehicle from Cagayan, instead of on horseback from Tagoloan.
In the 1930’s, the mission stations in Mindanao were turned over to other religious priests, while new stations continued to be set up within the Jesuits’ area of responsibility. The new diocese of Cagayan was created by Pope Pius XI in 1933 with Fr. James Hayes SJ named as its first bishop. Bukidnon became an integral part of the Diocese (later the Archdiocese of Cagayan).
Fr. Joseph Lucas arrived in the Philippines in 1926. He was immediately sent to Cagayan de Oro and was assigned to Jimenez, Jasaan and Sumilao. He became regional superior of Cagayan de Oro in 1932 and was assigned to Malaybalay from 1934 to 1937.
The second Jesuit mission station established in Bukidnon after Sumilao was Malaybalay (1936). By 1939, the mission station turnovers in Mindanao allowed the Jesuits to concentrate their resources on Basilan, Zamboanga, Lanao, Bukidnon, and Misamis. The mission stations added in Bukidnon were Sta. Fe, Impasug-ong, Maramag, and Talakag (1940).
During the War, Bishop Hayes and several American Jesuits evacuated to Bukidnon, but were taken prisoner by the Japanese, subjected to harsh treatment and brought to Manila. One priest however eluded capture, Fr. Francis Doino, who from his base south of Malaybalay, ministered to various Bukidnon villages and towns during the war.
After peace was restored in 1945, the most intensive missionary work by the Jesuits in Bukidnon began. In the beginning, only one parish was reopened namely Malaybalay. One Jesuit priest, Fr. James Cawley, made extensive excursions to the north and south, establishing chapels in many places that have since become parishes – these were the mission stations (now parishes) of Maramag, Dancagan, Salawagan, Kiokong, San Fernando, Pangantucan, Kadingilan, Kalilangan, Dagumbaan, Wao, etc.
In the 1950s a tremendous influx of immigrants came to Bukidnon from Luzon, the Visayas and other parts of Mindanao (many were fleeing from Muslim depredations in Lanao and Cotabato). Most of the new immigrants were Christians and needed spiritual ministration. In response, the Jesuits moved many of their missionaries from other parts of Mindanao (the parishes taken over by Columbans or diocesan priests) and concentrated on Bukidnon. At one time there were nearly 40 Jesuits working in Bukidnon.
From 1951 to 1982, the Jesuit Bukidnon Mission covered the communities of Manolo Fortich, Claveria, Kibawe, Malitbog, Pangantucan, Musuan, Kisolon, Don Carlos, Kalubugao, Zamboanguita, Mailag, Cabanglasan, Salawagan, San Fernando, Kiburiao, Guinoyuran, Damulog, Kitubo, Kadingilan, Masimag, Kalilangan, Miarayon, Sumilao, Dagumbaan, Linabo, Bacusanon, Quezon, Alanib, Dancagan, Valencia.
In April 1969, the Holy See separated Bukidnon from the Archdiocese of Cagayan to create a Praelatura Nullius. At that time, there was one diocesan priest and 35 Jesuit priests (15 were Filipinos, the others of various nationalities, Americans, Italians, French, etc). In September 1969, Francisco Claver SJ was installed as the new bishop of Malaybalay at the age of 40.
Two major accomplishments during the period of the Prelature attributed to Bishop Claver were: the intensive campaign to develop the native clergy, and resistance (passive but vocal) against the excesses of the martial law government and military. Unfortunately, this resistance sometimes played into the hands of the dissident forces, including those of the communist-led NPA.
With the increase in the number of diocesan clergy, the Prelature of Malaybalay was raised to the status of Diocese in November 1982, with Bishop Claver as the first bishop. In September 1984, he resigned his see, and his coadjutor bishop, Gaudencio Rosales took over by right of succession. In 1993, the appointment of Bishop Rosales as Archbishop of Lipa left the Malaybalay see vacant. The new bishop, Honesto Pacana SJ was installed in March 1994. His prior assignments were as Parish Priest of Maramag and of Malaybalay, Director of San Agustin Institute of Technology in Valencia, Director of the Jesuit Retreat House in Malaybalay, Superior of the Bukidnon Mission District and Rector of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. In February 2010, Bishop Pacana,SJ, DD, became Bishop Emeritus upon the election of His Excellency Jose Araneta Cabantan, DD, as new Bishop of the Diocese of Malaybalay.
The Jesuits Missionaries justifiably played a significant role in the modern development of Bukidnon as a province. From the intrepid explorations of the river valleys and mountains by Fr. Eusebio Barrado, Fr. Saturnino Urios and other early Spanish Jesuits, to the tireless spread of the Gospels to the native tribes and migrant settlers by Fr. James Cawley, Fr. Ferrucio Leoni, Fr. Sergio Cerutti, Fr. Giuseppe Venere, Fr. Manlio Carroceli, Fr. Vincent Cullen, Fr. Godofredo Alingal and countless others to the present apostolic work among the indigenous peoples living in the far flung highlands of the province, the Jesuits continue to empower many rural communities and make possible a brighter future for their children - through education and Ignatian formation.
Photos on top of the page show St. Francis Xavier Chapel in Patpat, Malaybalay, through the years with Fr. Joseph Reith, SJ supervising its construction circa 1950’s. Formerly editor of the magazine, Jesuit Missions, he was assigned in 1931 to the Tagnipa mission (El Salvador). He founded San Isidro High School in July 1949 – now, San Isidro College and turned over to the Diocese of Malaybalay in 1971.