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Nuestra Señora de Gracia Parish, Makati

Nuestra Señora de Gracia Parish - Makati

Tribulations are plenty, but the cause lives on. This describes the changing fortunes of the Guadalupe church and monastery. Despite the consistent battering of nature and man, it persists to rise each time it is torn down, a symbol of the faithfulness to the sacred duty to preach.

The first records and accounts are inaccurate, but historians believe that the Guadalupe church and monastery were originally founded by Fr. Juan de Montesdoca, the same year he was elected Augustinian Superior Provincial.

Faithfully reconstructed records suggest that Juan Macias, the same person who built San Agustin Church and convent in Intramuros, Manila, was the same builder of the Guadalupe church and monastery. Concrete records, however, showed only the name of Fray Simon Dantes who primarily supervised the initial stages of the construction.

Like most religious institutions, the church and convent started from scratch but eventually was declared a domus formata, a house or community of the Augustinian friars, earning the title Nuestra Señora de Gracia. The foundation was approved by the Provincial Chapter on March 7, 1601 in response to the request of the Spanish community in Manila.

Following the Provincial Chapter on April 27, 1602, Fr. Juan de Villalobos was designated first prior/superior of the house before the Chapter in October 1603 approved the change of advocation to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe the following year. This set the stage for the arrival of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1604 from Spain.

Construction on the stone sanctuary was initiated by Fr. Juan de Montes but the swift movements of succeeding priors left the work unfinished until Fr. Hernando Guerrero took over in 1692. He was credited with the construction of a large portion of the monastery and the belfry. Work was eventually concluded during the term of Fr. Eustaquio Ortiz some seven years later. It was also during this time when the church became the central shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Reminiscent of popular architectural trends at the time, the church was dominantly Doric with heavy wall supports complementing a vault of hewn stones traced to the Guadalupe quarries. Shorn of ornaments, the walls were solidly built to withstand the test of time and the elements.

The first serious crisis for the church occurred in 1639 when Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera was Governor-General and Msgr. Hernando Guerrero was the Archbishop of Manila. A political crisis exploded when some 23,000 Chinese nationals declared a rebellion in Calamba. Showing a keen sense of anticipation, Fr. Alonzo Carvajal, who was the prior at the time, informed Fr. Juan de los Cobos of the seething unrest. The Spanish friars responded by bringing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the scene of battle. As if affirming the presence of a power greater than man can see, reason took over and bloodshed was averted. The church and convent were spared as a result although the San Pedro church in Makati was less fortunate. The Chinese rebels decided to make Guadalupe the center of their devotion which last- ed for close to three centuries.

Nature took its turn in challenging the shrine and the monastery. An earthquake shook the buildings in 1645. Less than two decades later, a more powerful earthquake jolted the area in 1658 which greatly damaged the buildings. Fr. Alonso Quijano initiated repairs the following year hoping to restore the sanctuary to its original state. Work went on until 1662.

This time, picking up from where the church was heading prior to the quakes, improvements on the flooring were undertaken in addition to the completion of the bell tower in 1706. When work was completed, the church had recovered its original architectural appearance and now came across as a beautiful shrine. Just when things were moving up, a new threat presented itself. This came in the form of the Taal volcano spilling lava that fortunately did not seriously damage the sanctuary. After shaking off the effects of the eruption, an innovation was introduced with the putting up of a pantheon where fallen Augustinians found rest after their earthly labors. The burial place, which was added in 1761, was located behind the sacristy.

A far more serious threat loomed in 1762: man. British soldiers who invaded the country in a war with Spain proceeded to wreak havok by converting the monastery into their war quarters. They desecrated the shrines and ransacked the tombs in the Augustinian pantheons. They destroyed the images, stripping them of the jewelry and threw the books and archives into disarray. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe escaped harm when an unnamed Irish Catholic hid the image in Pasig where he zealously guarded it until the war was over. He then returned the image to its shrine in Guadalupe where it was received with so much feasting and rejoicing by the devotees. A new and more complete devastation surfaced in 1863 when a major earthquake struck to presage a more powerful one coming in 1880. The stronger jolt nearly flattened Manila after the second quake resulting in the collapse of the church and the shrine. More costly than the physical destruction was the loss of the original image which disappeared in the wreckage. The image was a wooden replica of the statue of Guadalupe in Extremadura, Spain. The replica had a blue mantle and white robe laced with gold trimmings. The statue wore a halo adorned with rays of whitish gold. The loss of the image devastated Guadalupe more painfully than all past misfortunes, leaving it lonely and abandoned. 

Refusing to be cowed by adversity, Fr. Jose Corugedo, the new Prior who was previously a Provincial, started the long work of the repair of the shrine and monastery on Dec. 5, 1881. The following year, he started off with the construction of the wooden vault which disrupted the original masonry of the church.

Unfazed by the extent of the destruction, the sanctuary performed a work of charity by living up to its name in 1882. A cholera epidemic plagued Manila which left the city strewn with corpses. The orphaned children sought refuge in the sanctuary to mourn the loss of their parents. 

There were changes in other fields. The Augustinian Chapter ordered the boys’ orphanage in Mandaluyong transferred to Guadalupe Monastery in 1885. The boys were housed in dormitories, provided classrooms and trained under professors in arts and trades. Many of these boys would become productive members of society as master artesans and mechanics.

After the expiration of Fr. Corugedo’s term in 1885, the slow but persistent efforts to rebuild the church continued. Fr. Celestino Fernandez eventually completed the renovation of the church and monastery to underscore the dawning of a new era. Famous sculptor-brothers Melchor and Gaspar San Pedro collaborated in the creation of a new replica of Our Lady of Guadalupe which was venerated until the close of the century, 1899,

More dark years awaited the sanctuary’s fate. With the superior firepower of the American forces, the Filipinos’ War of Independence did not have much chance. Among the victims of this war was the Guadalupe church. In the exchange of fire, it became a hapless victim as the battle lines were drawn right there. Feb. 19, 1899 was a sad day as the roofing of both the church and monastery was blown away, leaving the church devastated. The Americans shelled Guadalupe from a gunboat named Laguna de Bay which cruised along Pasig river. 

Sensing the futility of further resistance, Gen. Pio del Pilar ordered the most natural thing a retreating commander would do: raze the church and the monastery. Earlier however, Augustinian missionaries saw friends and devotees slip out precious manuscripts, priceless books and other valuable documents. Del Pilar’s order however made sure that a symbol of centuries of Filipino and Spanish bond which Guadalupe Shrine went up in smoke. There were collections that some Filipino soldiers carted away the replica but it has not been heard of since.

When the war was over, Guadalupe became known as the Queen of Ruins, perhaps because it reminded people of a past which was gone forever. The place was abandoned. Tales went around about sightings of white men in robes going around the place. Some even heard voices singing that made the neglect all the more complete.

In 1941, the Second World War broke out and the Japanese found the place suitable for their purpose and transformed it into a garrison. This became a natural target for American bombings and heavy shelling finished off whatever was left after the War of Independence.

It seemed like the shrine would be lost to posterity. Yet there is a greater power than man can comprehend. A trail of events gave indications of things to come. The shrine, or what was left of it, was turned over by the Augustinians to the Archdiocese of Manila. The archdiocese in turn decided to demolish the remaining walls of the monastery, allowing only the shrine’s walls to be utilized with the construction of the nearby Archdiocesan Minor Seminary. The stones, which were still deemed durable, were brought over to the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral. The church walls therefore stood very much like the walls of Jerusalem. By providential design, however, the Augustinians were recalled on June 29, 1970, nearly 75 years after they left. This was made possible by an agreement between the Archdiocese of Manila through the late Rufino Cardinal Santos and the late Fr. Casimiro Garcia, the Vicar of the Augustinians. Under the terms of the agreement, the Augustinians would be responsible for the church restoration and administration over the parish erected under the patronage of the Blessed Mother in her title: Nuestra Señora de Gracia. The agreement would be in force for a period of 50 years subject to renewal or extension at least a year before the original usufruct expires.

With the old-timers virtually nowhere, the return of the Augustinians became a daunting challenge. They were met by indifference, coldness, contempt and even resentment. The Casa del Clero, the residence of the clerics, was stoned nearly every night. To the credit of the patience and perseverance of Fr. Arsenio Pioquinto, who was tasked to guide the parish back into life, the skeptics were slowly won over. The bare walls of the battered church was replaced alongside the construction of marmolite floors, this time with the full backing of the parishioners. Then Makati Mayor Nemesio Yabut likewise responded by donating galvanized iron to replace the roofing.

Fr. William Araña took over as new parish priest in October 1974 and immediately rallied the parishioners to continue the church restoration. He also initiated the construction of new features including a basketball court, parish comfort rooms, children’s playground, parish office, among others. Minor reconstruction efforts were undertaken by succeeding administrators. 

Greater strides awaited the church. Fr. Rodolfo Arreza took over as prior in 1983 and was credited for the reconstruction work on the ceiling. He replaced the stone vault of the church with marine plywood plastered with stucco cement. The work was further improved with the installations of five Philippine-made chandeliers magnificently cutting across the center of the roofing. Projecting age-old architecture, one can not help but be caught on a transcendental voyage into the church’s glorious past. After a long and oftentimes discouraging journey, the parish church had finally come full circle to dispense spiritual inspiration as it was originally envisioned.

Not to be outdone, the former Casa del Clero, constructed from the ruins of the monastery, was renovated to be transformed as the San Agustin Seminary. Although relatively new, what was called the “monastery-seminary” subsequently suffered from construction infirmities. It served its purpose as formation house of Augustinian college seminarians, as the major seminarians were interned at the San Agustin Monastery in Intramuros. It needed to undergo repairs through the years to eventually become a home for students undergoing formation. 

New Province takes over

Upon the advent of the Sto. Niño de Cebu as the new Augustinian Province in 1984, the Guadalupe church and monastery came under the administration of the new Province. The construction of a new major seminary in 1984 in Quezon City allowed the distribution of theologians and novices to the new house with only the college seminarians hanging on to Guadalupe.

Plans are afoot however, for a new philosophy seminary in Quezon City to allow future students a more conducive atmosphere for study and prayer, and bid goodbye to the old structure which has outlived its efficiency. The old seminary-monastery will be converted into a guest residence for priests when the students shall have been relocated to the new plan.

Meanwhile, Fr. Marcelino Malana took over as parish priest in 1988 but his was a short-lived stint as Fr. Nicolas Echeveria came over the following year to serve until the present. During the latter’s term, several minor renovations and repainting tasks had been done on both the seminary and the church. Latest additions were the putting up of a multi-purpose hall at the seminary’s ground floor and the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at the front churchyard. At stake is the future plan of expanding the sacristy behind the altar to provide space for the parish offices. 

Aside from the physical transformation, the spiritual thrust of the church has equally been vibrant. There are 19 active religious organizations which serve as the backbone of the religious and socio-civic activities of the parish, namely: Apostleship of Prayer, The Catechists group, the Legion of Mary, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Womens’ League, Cofradia del Sto. Niño, Cofradia de la Consolacion, Cofradia de la Virgin de Lourdes, Samahang Nuestra Señora de Gracia, Samahang Nuestra Señora de Candelaria, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Cursillo Movement, Charismatic Movement, El Shaddai, Fatima Crusader, Young Christian Movement, Knights of the Altar Apostles Group, Friends of St. Augustine, Commentators and Readers and Eucharistic Lay Ministers. The latest additions to the ministry are the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC) and Parish Renewal Experience (PREX).

It has indeed been a very long and oftentime arduous voyage for the parish and the people it serves. This is not surprising inasmuch as every spiritual undertaking is expected to encounter stiff resistance from forces that resent the growth of the gospel.

The Guadalupe shrine and monastery which sits on the east of Makati’s Guadalupe Viejo is bounded on the east by EDSA, rounded up by Bernardino street on the western part going south to Jose P. Rizal street alongside Pasig river.

With providential help, it has managed to literally rise every time it is driven to the grave, showing its indomitable spirit. There are more tasks that await to be done. Yet the lessons are there to be reflected upon that there is a power at work, a power so powerful and yet invisible not even science can dare explain.

It would not be an overstatement to say that glowering over the shrine and the monastery, God sits comforted from where He is watching. 


* “Guadalupe Church” by Policarpo Hernandes, OSA (Souvenir Program, Inauguration of the Province 1984)

*The Guadalupe Shrine by Fr. Rodolfo Arreza, OSA. Manila, 1990

* “Guadalupe shrine lives again” by Felix de los Santos (The Philippine Star, Dec. 12, 1993)

*Parish Souvenir Program, December 1979

(Published in the book, “A DECADE OF SERVICE (1984 – 1994)

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