HISTORY OF THE DIOCESE OF TAGBILARAN
The Christian faith first came to the province of Bohol, the tenth largest island in the Philippines located in the center of the Visayas, immediately after the coming of the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565. Legaspi had entered into a blood compact with the local chieftain Datu Sikatuna advancing friendship between Spain and the Sovereignty of the Island.
The first batch of missionaries were members of the Society of Jesus who established the municipalities of Baclayon in 1595, Loboc in 1602 and Dauis in 1697 as the first centers of Catechism. The faith spread over the island through friendship and intermarriage between the spanish soldiers and the native women.
The Diocese of Tagbilaran was formally vested a diocese by virtue of a Papal Bull by Pope Pius XII on November 8, 1941 separating it from the Archdiocese of Cebu. It originally comprised the entire civil province of Bohol with a total land area of 3,979 square kilometers.
Due to the outbreak of World War II, the newly created Diocese was without a Bishop. The governance of the Diocese remained in the hands of Most Rev. Gabriel Reyes, D.D., the Archbishop of Cebu who acted as Apostolic Administrator.
On June 29, 1946, the Most Rev. Julio R. Rosales, D.D. was named the first Bishop of Tagbilaran, taking canonical possession of the Diocese on September 25, 1946. A gifted organizer Bishop Rosales is credited with initiating the process of setting spiritual and material foundations of the diocese through intensification of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Apostleship of prayer, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the Legion of Mary, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women’s League, and the establishment of diocesan high schools in parishes with big conventos. In 1949, he organized the first diocesan mission team composed of the latest ordained priests, Fr. Pelagio Dompor, Fr. Mariano Gaviola, Fr. Pedro Namoc, Fr, Matias Morgia, Fr. Gaudioso Sucre, Fr. Simeon Daquipa, Fr. Saturnino Felicitas, and Fr. Placido Cajoy, sending them in two-pronged parish-to-parish mission that culminated with the arrival of the image of our Lady of Fatima. Most noteworthy of the legacies of Bishop Rosales was the founding of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in 1950. He was later transferred as the Archbishop of Cebu on December 17, 1949 but remained Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Tagbilaran until November 16, 1951 when the Most Rev. Manuel M. Mascariñas, D.D. then Bishop of Palo, was appointed the second bishop of Tagbilaran.
Bishop Manuel Mascariñas, a son of Antequera, Bohol and erstwhile Bishop of Palo, Leyte ascended as second bishop of Tagbilaran on January 29, 1952 with his motto “Confido in Domino”. Paternally continuing the pastoral process begun by Bishop Rosales, he built two more buildings for the rapidly expanding seminary, introduced the 40 Hours Devotion, established the For More Priests Club (now St. Joseph Vocation Society) founded more diocesan high schools in the parishes, and initiated the retreat movement. He represented the diocese in the Second Vatican Council and started the Aggiornamento in the diocese. Later in his term, he was assisted by an auxiliary bishop. Bishop Juan Nilmar, who initiated the proper administration of the temporal goods in the diocese and introduced the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Pension Plan for the clergy. Because of old age, Bishop Mascariñas was succeded by the Most Rev. Onesimo Gordoncillo, D.D., then the Auxiliary Bishop of Dumaguete.
Bishop Onesimo Gordoncillo, a Negrense, bearing the motto “Veritatem Tuam Annunciabo,” took over in 1976, as the third bishop of the diocese. Aside from effectively pursuing the programs of his predecessors, he is credited with introducing the Parish Pastoral Council set up, elevating eight priests to the rank of Honorary Prelate, while completing the auditorium and chapel of the Taloto seminary. During his administration, the “Diocesan Thrust,” initiated by the Bohol Clergy, ushered the diocesan focus towards the establishment of the Basic Christian Communities. After 45 years of existence as a diocese, the Diocese of Tagbilaran was split into two dioceses with the creation of the Diocese of Talibon comprising half of the civil province of Bohol.
The Most Rev. Felix Zafra, D.D., then the Bishop of Dipolog, succeeded Bishop Gordoncillo. He came to serve the diocese as fourth bishop of Tagbilaran on December 2, 1986. “Ut Vitam Abundantius Habeant” (That they may have life more abundantly) has been his guiding motto. Early in his term the Diocese of Tagbilaran gave birth to the Diocese of Talibon. It was also during his term that the diocese experienced vigorous growth brought about by ecclesiastical landmarks like the National Eucharistic Year, the Ruby Jubilee of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, and the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. The term of Bishop Zafra saw the proliferation of the Perpetual Adoration chapels in the parishes. It was also through the favorable climate created by the bishop that religious sisters who now outnumber the priests, came to establish houses, schools, and ministries in the diocese. More parishes, too, were erected.
Having reached the age of retirement , Bishop Zafra was succeeded by the Most Rev. Leopoldo S. Tumulak, D.D.. then Auxiliary Bishop of Cebu on January 1993. Ever mindful of his motto, “Unitas in Caritate” (Unity in Love), he steered the Diocese toward convening the first ever Diocesan Synod in 1997. The Synod articulated among other things its vision of a renewed local Church, a community of disciples journeying in faith, living out in earnest the vocation of prophet, priest and king, with Mary as model. Following the inspiration of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the vehicle for this vision of renewal was aptly identified as the Gaymay’ng Simbahanong Katilingban (Basic Ecclesial Communities). The formation and enrichment of the Basic Ecclesial Communities became thereon the basic diocesan pastoral thrust. Manifesting an important component of the vision, the Synod also decreed the implementation of the New Financial System (NFS). Under the NFS, motivated by the experience solidarity and fraternity, the standardization of the allowance of the clergy and centralization of funds were instituted.
In 2005 the See of Tagbilaran was rendered vacant following the appointment and subsequent installation of Bishop Tumulak as Bishop of the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines. As Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Tumulak continued at the helm of governance until the canonical possession of the Diocese in December of 2006 by Bishop Leonardo Medroso, the sixth Bishop of Tagbilaran.