Jesuits on Stamps

Pinoy Kasi
By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:02:00 12/02/2009

This is not a guest post. But a reprint from the Opinions section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Here is the link.

With Ateneo de Manila University’s sesquicentennial coming up, I began to read up on the history of the Jesuits in the Philippines. There were numerous publications on this topic in libraries—real and virtual—but the most entertaining one I found was on the Internet, with the Jesuits’ story told in stamps.

The story is posted on the website of the Manresa House, a Jesuit retreat center in the United States, and is managed by Fr. Peter Fennessy, who has included stamps from all over the world as long as it has something to do with the Jesuits. The collection is immense, with one webpage after another, divided into three sections: Jesuits, Jesuit Institutions and Jesuitica.

Click on Jesuit Institutions and you have an index listing the many countries in the world where the Jesuits are present. Click on the Philippines and you have 10 pages of materials, providing an excellent overview of the Jesuits in the Philippines. The many stamps that our Post Office has issued to commemorate Jesuit institutions is in itself a testament to the strong impact of the Jesuits on the Philippines.


There were four stamps issued in 1981 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Jesuits in the Philippines. Pope Paul III gave recognition to the Society of Jesus as a new order in 1537, so the Jesuits were still very new when they came to the Philippines.

The Jesuit presence in the Philippines is mainly associated with schools. Their first school in the Philippines was not Ateneo de Manila but Colegio de Manila, dating back to 1601. This institution later became Colegio de San Jose. When the Jesuits were expelled from the Philippines, it was taken over by secular clergy and remained with them until 1910, when Pope Pius X returned the school to the Jesuits. Today, Colegio de San Jose still exists but as San Jose Seminary.

The Bureau of Posts issued a stamp to commemorate the 400th year of this institution in 2001 but curiously, we were not the first to commemorate Colegio de San Jose. In 1988, Spain issued a stamp showing Plaza de Manila with Real (which means “Royal”) Colegio de San Jose next to Seminario Real de San Carlos and the Manila Cathedral. (The caption on the webpage mistakenly identifies the seminary as San Jose when it should have been San Carlos.)

The Jesuits went through Suppression (the word is spelled with a capital S) from 1767 to 1814 because of politics within the Catholic Church and the Spanish aristocracy. They were expelled from the Spanish colonies, including the Philippines.

After they returned in 1859, they took over a municipal school, Escuela Pia, which was transformed into Ateneo de Manila. Our Bureau of Posts issued stamps to commemorate the 100th, 125th and 150th anniversaries of Ateneo, all with their most famous alumnus, Jose Rizal.

The latest stamps issued this year for Ateneo’s sesquicentennial are filled with all kinds of iconic images related to Ateneo de Manila: Fr. Horacio de la Costa, the Manila Observatory, the Blue Eagle Gym, the Chapel of St. Stanislau Kostka, a statue of St. Ignatius, Jose Rizal, Ateneo Gawad Kalinga, Fr. William Masterson, the Intramuros Manila Campus and the Rockwell campus.

Other Jesuit institutions that have been commemorated through Philippine stamps are Xavier University (which started in 1933 as Ateneo de Cagayan High School), Ateneo de Davao (founded in 1948, when Ateneo brothers took over St. Peter’s Parochial School), Xavier School (established in 1956 for Chinese-Filipinos) and Cebu’s Sacred Heart School (began in 1957 as a Jesuit school also for Chinese-Filipinos but now managed by Hijas de Jesus, an order of Catholic sisters).

There’s also a stamp issued as part of a series to commemorate Rizal’s life, depicting the Church of St. James in Dapitan, where Rizal once lived in exile. The Dapitan mission was established by a Mexican Jesuit, Fr. Pedro Gutierrez, in the 17th century.

I should mention, too, that one of the four stamps issued to commemorate the 400th year of the Jesuits in the Philippines showed the Manila Observatory and Fr. Federico Faura (yes, this is Padre Faura, after whom a street is named in Ermita, Manila). The Manila Observatory was a Jesuit institution and was the first in Asia to issue warnings about approaching typhoons. The Spanish government eventually put up secondary institutions throughout the country, forming a vast meteorological service that also monitored earthquakes. The Observatory also conducted astronomical studies.

The large number of stamps issued by other countries with Jesuit-related themes reminds us of how much influence the Jesuits had through their various institutions. We learn from the website that the United States was the first country to issue a stamp depicting a Jesuit. This was in 1898 and the Jesuit was Fr. Jacques Marquette.

Friends and enemies

The stamps mainly commemorate institutions and somehow miss out on many of the other important contributions of the Jesuits at the level of communities, similar to the Dapitan mission. People tend to forget that the Jesuits also tried to reach some of the more remote areas of the country. The Dapitan mission was set up to reach the Subanen. In the 19th century, after they returned to the Philippines, their first mission in Mindanao was Tamontaka, where the Tirurays lived.

In the 20th century, the Jesuits chose to work with the Chinese in the Philippines, almost as if to follow in the footsteps of Francis Xavier, who died on an island off the southern coast of China after a long wait trying to get into the mainland. The opposite happened in the 20th century, with Jesuits expelled from China after the communist victory in 1949, but they found they could continue to work with the Chinese in the Philippines.

Let’s get back to that Jesuit stamps website. Under “Jesuitica,” there is a subsection called “Friends and Enemies” which reflects the ambivalence of feelings toward this religious order, even within the Catholic Church.
There is one stamp from the Philippines showing Mother Ignacia de Espiritu Santo, who founded the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM). The Jesuit connection? Her spiritual adviser was a Jesuit, Fr. Paul Klein. The stamps issued to commemorate Sacred Heart School shows another Catholic sister, Blessed Candida Maria of Jesus Cipitria, who founded Hijas de Jesus and was influenced by St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

So there you have it, the Jesuit story through stamps. Check out the site:

Published by Jboy Gonzales SJ

TV/Digital host: Kape't Pandasal. Vlog: YT On the Line. Environment, Youth Formation. Music. Leadership. Always dancing to a different drum.

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