When the Province Santo Niño de Cebu was born 30 years ago in January 1984, she was born with great inheritance. When she was born, she inherited treasures beyond all telling. Its historical origin can be traced back to the beginning of Christianity in the islands. Her predecessors were of great missionaries (Urdaneta, Rada, Herrera, Aguirre, and Gamboa) described to be zealous and apostolic men. They built not merely churches but also founded many towns and cities that flourish even until today. Throughout the centuries, their contribution and addition to the richness of Philippine civilization narrate its missionary character to develop not only a nation of human society but also a nation consecrated to God.
When the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu was born, she was given birth by a mother (Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines) which was also founded in the Philippines. Even before her birth, the mother had to leave for Spain for a greater reason and, that is, in order to attend to other necessary things for the survival of her other children, (other missionary areas). The Mother province left the Philippines with a status of a vicariate, the Vicariate of the Orient. Though she was at the distance when she gave birth to the New Province, the Vicariate of the Orient, which is the rightful heir of the mother in the Philippines, generously facilitated and assisted the conception of the newborn.
When the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu was born, she was formed with religious and determined pioneering Filipino friars. The friars initiated the move to create a new province as a manifestation of the growing vocations and a time ripe enough for the locals to stand on their own. They brought their desire and plans into action. Thus, according to Fr. Eusebio Berdon, OSA, the initial move started on December 22, 1980, during the meeting of formators at the Guadalupe Monastery in Makati. After then, several meetings were held to formally endorse the idea. On July 19, 1981, the Vicarial Regional Assembly held at the Convento de San Agustin in Intramuros, approved and endorsed the creation of the new province. On July 17, 1982, the Ordinary Provincial Chapter of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines (held in Valladolid, Spain) almost unanimously approved the creation of the Province in the Philippines, with the title Provincia del Sto. Niño de Cebu, Filipinias. And on the same day, the first Filipino Prior Provincial was elected, Fr. Eusebio B. Berdon, OSA. On September 13, 1983, during the 174th General Chapter of the Augustinian Order in Rome, the chapter members overwhelmingly approved the creation of the new province in the Philippines. On December 25, 1983, the General Council officially enacted the Canonical foundation of the Province. Finally, on January 15, 1984, the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu was inaugurated with a solemn high Mass at the Basilica del Sto. Niño.
When the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu was born, friars of the mother province ensured and secured the economic stability of her new child. Thus, seven communities (two which were still under construction) were given as a solid foundation on which to build a bright future as Fr. Eduardo Perez, OSA said. The following houses were given to the new province: Basilica del Sto. Niño de Cebu; University of San Agustin, Iloilo; San Jose Parish, Iloilo; Colegio San Agustin Bacolod; and the Guadalupe Monastery, Makati city. The two other houses were still under-construction at that time: the San Agustin Center of Studies in Quezon City and the Colegio San Agustin- Biñan, Laguna. Many of these structures were built for last centuries and still stand beautifully today. Most of them, if not all, can accommodate and house a large number of friars. These houses that were handed over are all located in very strategic locations and mainly they are in heart of a city or of a region.
When the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu was born, there were twenty-seven priests, four deacons and six Brothers. A total of 37 friars in solemn vows were affiliated with the new province. Also at that time, there were about ten Augustinian friars, Filipino and Spanish, belonging to the Mother province who expressed their willingness to work with the new province. So all in all there were about 45 friars working at the beginning. During this time, there were 15 simply-professed friars or theology students, 10 novices, and around 36 pre-novices. With this growing number of vocations, the province put its hope on its numerical growth. As they humbly assessed themselves in their capacity to fulfill the task as new entity, they acknowledged several challenges that awaited them. First, immediately they underline personal renewal and second, the development of administrative skills.
When the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu was born, the friars were religiously engaged in various apostolate inherent to its practice even before the separation. The Augustinians in the Philippines has been in the field of administering several parishes as pastors. The desire to form not only the heart but also the mind brought them to the apostolate of running schools and producing graduates that are of better quality in serving and enhancing the life of people in the community. As early as this time, there were members who also volunteered to work as missionaries in collaboration with other provinces in the Order. Indeed the life of the Province has never been without a challenge yet one cannot deny the joy in working together in the service of our fellowmen on their own native land.
Today, the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu, continues to live out its desire and aspirations as one vibrant happy community. After 30 years, the province was able to expand her communities and various apostolates. The province today has three residences and fifteen diverse, strong, established and dynamic communities responding to the call of religious life and evangelization throughout the archipelago. The communities are: (1) San Agustin Center of Studies and St. Thomas of Villanova Institute of Philosophy in Quezon City; (2) San Agustin Monastery and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Parish in Makati; (3) In San Pedro Laguna; (4) Colegio San Agustin – Biñan and Sto. Niño de Cebu Parish in Biñan, Laguna; (5) St. Augustine Parish in Gubat, Sorsogon; (6) University of San Agustin in Iloilo City; (7) San Jose Parish in Iloilo; (8)Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod in Bacolod City); and in Cebu Island (9) Augustinian Novitiate and Prayer House; (10) Sto. Niño de Cebu Parish in Mohon; (11) Sto. Niño Spirituality Center and Retreat House in Consolacion; (12) the Provincialate Community or the Pilgrim Center, (13) the Basilica del Sto. Niño de Cebu in Cebu City; (14) the Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Socorro, Surigao del Norte; (15) and the Colegio San Agustin – Mati in Mati, Davao Oriental. The three residences are: St. Augustine Sub- parish in Saguday, Quirino Province; Sta. Ana Parish in Burgos, Siargao Island, and University of San Agustin – Sambag Campus in Iloilo City. Aside from the direct apostolate carried out by each community in the province, that is, to attend to the spiritual needs of the people (Masses, sacraments, counseling, and propagation of the different Augustinian devotions), these communities also respond to the demands and needs of the Church in a certain place and time.
Today, the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu has sent missionaries to other countries like Japan, Australia and Canada. Previously, the Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu has also sent several missionaries to Durban, South Africa; Tanzania; Incheon, South Korea; Jaya Pura, Indonesia, and to Annaba, Algeria as a sign of cooperation and collaboration with the other provinces in order to continue its missionary thrust. The Province has also intensified its local missions by accepting remote areas and far flung islands. That is why, aside from sending the seminarians to different theological schools of different theological paradigms, students are also sent to different mission areas for immersion. Without immersion, it is not possible to win people, to inculcate and to make integral evangelization, which our predecessors had beautifully learned and mastered.
As the province is moving towards an experience of growth, harmony, solidarity and peace, it remains humble, sincere and steadfast to attain its commitment, to be of service to the Filipino people, to the Order, and to the Church at large. And through the guidance of the Sto. Niño, who eventually became the adult Jesus, may the Province and its friars also grow not just in years and numbers but also in love, knowledge and wisdom. It is redemptive when we see its growth that nourishes people’s hope and faith and is a life – giving act, like the one of Christ. The knowledge of the past is necessary in understanding the present, for what is today is a consequence of what has been. (Fr. Ericson Borre, OSA)