IRISH AUGUSTINIANS IN THE PHILIPPINES.
Augustinians from the Hispanic culture (e.g., of Spain and Mexico) comprised the great majority of Augustinians coming to minister in the Philippines, but a number of Irish-born Augustinians were also involved.
The earliest-known Irish Augustinian volunteer for the Philippines mission was Augustine de Burgo or Burke. Born in 1651, most likely in the west of Ireland, he entered the novitiate of the Castile Province in Spain during 1667, made his profession twelve months later, and was ordained priest in 1674 or thereabouts.
In the meantime, another Irishman had finished his novitiate in Spain and was professed in l673. His first name was Thady and, instead of retaining his family name, he chose to be known as Thady of St Mary. He and Augustine volunteered to go together on the thirty-seventh mission of the Castile Province to the Philippines in 1683.
The two of them sailed with the other members of the mission for Manila, where they arrived by 18th September 1679. Granted affiliation to the Province of the Philippines, Augustine was assigned to Bisaya, an area comprising the central isles of the Philippines. Thady was assigned to minister to the Tatgals in Luzon. He died there in 1687, and Augustine died in 1693 at San Pablo, Manila.
The next Irish Augustinian missionary to the Philippines was James Higgins, clearly a friar of exceptional character. He was born in Dublin in 1653, entered the Order there in 1670, and became a priest there in 1678. A few years later he was in Spain, and was accepted on the thirty-ninth mission of the Castile Province to the Philippines. Finally reaching Manila, he was affiliated to the Province of the Philippines on 29th August 1684.
Higgins became a seventeenth-century precursor of Father Damien (now Saint Damien) of Molokai (Hawaii), asking to be assigned to the leper colony of Bisayas. There he remained for six years, administering the sacraments to the victims of the dreadful disease and performing humanitarian work that included the most menial tasks beyond the capacity of the victims of the disease. He was tireless in comforting and encouraging the lepers to bear their heavy cross with patience.
In 1690 Higgins was transferred, doubtless for his own safety, to work in Guimbal, and was at Tigbaoang two years later. Worn out by his labours he was brought back to Manila where he died at the age of forty-four years on 7th July 1697. It is not surprising that he was regarded as a saint. When his grave was opened a year after his death, his body was found to be incorrupt, the skin "fresh and beautiful.”
Much later another Irish Augustinian missionary to the Philippines was also venerated as a saint. Called Santulon by the Filipinos, he was Luke Murphy from Wexford. He completed his novitiate at Burgos, Spain in 1729 at the age of twenty-six. Ten years later he was a member of the fiftieth mission destined for Manila. On the way he hardly gave promise of the holiness with which he was later credited in the Philippines.
The ship carrying him and his companions made a stop in Mexico. While there, Murphy and another friar deserted the ship. They soon changed their minds, and Luke Murphy and his associate arrived in Manila on another boat on 4th October 1740. He died eight years later at Candon on 23rd June 1748. The reputation for sanctity which he acquired during those years at his mission long outlived him.
(Continued on the next page.)
Photos (at right):
Picture 1: The Church of St Augustine, Manila: its facade after the 1880 earthquake, before the cracked left tower was removed.
Picture 2: Its facade after the left tower was removed.
Picture 3: The Minor Basilica of the Santo Nino, Cebu, Philippines.