October 6th: Blessed Diego Aloysius de San Vitores, SJ

Blessed Diego Aloysius de San Vitores, SJ

Born: November 12, 1627
Died: April 2, 1672
Beatified : October 6, 1985

Diego Aloysius de san Vitores was born of noble parents in Burgos, Spain. While studying in the Imperial College in Madrid at the tender age of eleven, he had already made up his mind to enter the Society of Jesus. His parents objected as they had plans for him to pursue a political career. He prayed ceaselessly to our Lady, to whom he was especially devoted and through her intercession his parents granted their permission two years later. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at Villarejo de Fuent in July 1640 and was ordained on Dec 23, 1651 upon the completion of his courses in philosophy and theology in Alcala de Henares.

Despite his desire to be a missionary in China or Japan, his superiors assigned him to teach grammar at Oropesa and later to teach theology to young Jesuits studying in Madrid. It was only eight year later, in 1659 before he was assigned by Jesuit General, Fr Goswin Nichel to the missions; not to China or Japan, but to the Philippines.

Fr San Vitores waited eighteen months in Mexico for a passage to the Philippines. However, he busied himself in Mexico City, giving missions and preaching in the streets. Arriving in Philippines, he spent a few months studying Tagalog. He became the Novice Master and dean at Manila’s university. He also did missionary work in the interior of Luzon and on the island of Mindoro.

In 1664 Fr San Vitores wrote to King Philip IV of Spain about a group of islands about 900 miles northeast of the Philippines which formed part of the archipelago in Micronesia. There, a potentially huge missionary harvest awaited them. The King approved the new mission and asked Fr San Victors to head it. The islands were later renamed Las Marianas, after Queen Mariana of Austria who sponsored the mission after Philip IV’s death in 1665.

The Jesuit missionaries’ arrival in Guam was also smooth and well received partly because of a shipwrecked Spaniard who became friendly with several island chiefs. This paved the way for the Jesuits. Fr San Vitores chose Guam main city as their headquarters and among his first converts was the town’s chief, Quipuha, and with his protection, the mission prospered. After six months, the Jesuits baptized 13,000 people of which 6000 were on Guam alone with another 20,000 receiving instruction. Besides his missionary work on Guam, Fr San Vitores also evengelised the other large islands of the Marianas, Saipan and Tinian.

Trouble started in 1670 when Fr Luis de Medina was martyred on Saipan and was the first Jesuit to die in the Marianas. Fr.San Vitores began to pray for the grace of martyrdom. On April 1, 1672, he set out with his companion Pedro Calonsor to save a servant from what they considered a dissolute life. They came to Tumon and hearing the cries of a new-born child from the hut of a Christian friend, Matapang, they entered and were surprised at Mata pang’s negative behaviour in refusing to have the baby baptized. Matapang threatened Fr San Vitores and when the latter left, Matapang enlisted his friend, Hirao to help kill the priest. Early the next morning of April 2, Matapang and Hirao appeared and without any word of warning, Matapang drove a spear into Calonsor’s chest, killing him. Fr San Vitores grabbed hold of a crucifix, fell to his knees and readied himself for his turn and raising his eyes and looking into those of his friend, Matapang, he said: “Matapang, may God have mercy on you.” At that moment, Hirao struck the priest with a cutlass, splitting his head down to the neck. Their bodies were stripped and tied together and loaded into a canoe and later threw into the sea, a short distance from the shore.

Fr San Vitores, the “Apostle of the Marianas,” died a martyr’s death on the island of Guam. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 6, 1985