A history of the Diocese

July 31, 1967. A new day dawned upon the church in Western Mindanao.  Carved from the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, the Diocese of Dipolog was created by Pope Paul VI by virtue of the Apostolate Letter “Quantum Prosit”. It covered the whole province of Zamboanga del Norte.  The Most Rev. Felix S. Zafra, D.D., was appointed the first bishop of Dipolog.  He took possession of the diocese on October 24, 1967.                                                                                                                                  

A new diocese was born. But the seeds of Christianity were sown four centuries earlier, when the pioneering settlers of Dapitan led by Datu Pagbuaya encountered and made alliance with the Spaniards who had just started to colonize Cebu. Soon after, the work of evangelization began. Like most people of Bohol, the place of their origin, the Dapitanons embraced the new faith peacefully.  But it was not until the turn of the sixteenth century that missionaries started to reside in Dapitan and baptism of new converts was initiated.

The Society of Jesus was tasked to preach the good news in this part of Mindanao. They came to the Philippines in 1581. When the country was divided among four religious congregations for their area of responsibility in 1598, the Jesuits were given the Diocese of Cebu which covered the Visayas and Mindanao; Dapitan fell under the jurisdiction of the courageous men of St. Ignatius.

At first, the Jesuits came as chaplains of the Spanish naval force out to explore, conquer and colonize more tribes. Such was the case of Pascual de Acuña whose brief stay started the Jesuit mission in Dapitan. The squadron of Juan Juarez Gallinato, of which he was the chaplain, had just defeated the Manguindanau Muslims in a ferocious battle near Dapitan.  While the terms of surrender were being negotiated, the squadron anchored at the Dapitan harbor. Acuña took advantage of the situation to do mission work among its residents and the surrounding tribes until the Muslims managed to escape after two months. This was in 1609.

Other Jesuit naval chaplains followed his example particularly when Dapitan became a regular port call for Spanish squadrons on patrol. Finally, in 1629, the Society sent the Mexican Jesuit, Pedro Gutierez, to found specifically the Dapitan mission. Dedicating tirelessly all his efforts for those all his efforts for those whom he has regarded as his children, he was able to establish a permanent Jesuit mission residence in the area two years later.  He became its first superior.

As a missionary residence, Dapitan was at first dependent on Cebu. In 1639, it was placed under the jurisdiction of the Zamboanga residence. It was transferred anew in 1643 to Loboc (Bohol) residence.  Finally, in 1645 or a little later, it became independent, with its jurisdiction extending from Iligan to Sindangan Bay. The rest of the peninsula remained under the responsibility of the Zamboanga Jesuit mission which was established in 1635.

The missionary zeal of the Jesuits was spent particularly on the conversion of the Subanen known to be the original inhabitants of the peninsula. At times, they had to offer their lives as a martyrs like Francisco Paliola who shed his blood in Ponot on January 29, 1648. Dapitanons shared in these missionary endeavors. They acted as escorts, soldiers or interpreters of the foreigners, like the son of Pagbuaya, Manook. Others became lay evangelizers in their own place. Manook’s daughter, Maria Uray, wanted to become a nun after becoming a widow. She was refused entry for being a native. Prevailed to stay in Dapitan by the Jesuits, she devoted all her life to her faith, becoming a living example to her people.


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