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History of the Diocese of Digos

Digos City: A settler once asked a Bagobo native, "What is the name of this place?" Thinking that the settler was asking him "where are you going?" the native replied "padigos," which means he "will take a bath in the river." The settler then thought the name of the place was "padigos." The name evolved to what is now Digos.

The history of the Diocese of Digos had its roots in the evangelization of the Davao region. The evangelization of the region took place at the beginning of the 19th century. The Recollect Fathers, who arrived in 1848, were the first missionaries who started the work for evangelization in the Davao region. Father Francisco Lopez, a Recoleto, with the aid of the Spanish lawyer and adventurer Jose Oyanguren, baptized many natives.

With the departure of the Recollect Fathers in 1858, the Jesuit Fathers Quirico More, Mateo Gisbert, Pablo Pastells and Saturnino Urius, continued the work of evangelization and baptized more native people. Other Jesuits came and within the span of 30 years, the Church of Davao had grown to a total of 6,284 converts, 1,400 of whom were Muslims.

In 1934, the province of Davao was still under the pastoral care of the Jesuit Bishop Luis del Rosario of Zamboanga. Bishop del Rosario was then looking for a missionary society to help care for the spiritual needs of the people of Davao. During that time there were only eight priests to take care of the spiritual needs of whole province which was then composed of four parishes: San Pedro, Caraga, Cateel, and Baganga.

In February 1937, Foreign Mission Society of Quebec (PME) Monsignor Louise Lapierre, attended the International Eucharistic Congress held in Manila. At the invitation of Bishop del Rosario, Monsignor Lapierre came to visit Davao. The bishop was impressed by his visit and sent a report to the Superior General of the PME Fathers, underlining the great need of priests for the province. In that same year, the Holy Father Pope Pius XI granted permission to the society to work among Davao's mission areas.

On Oct. 21, 1937, the first five PME missionaries arrived in Davao: Fathers Clovis Rondeau, Clovis Thibault, Omer Leblanc, Leo Lamy, and Conrad Cote.

While studying Cebuano and being gradually initiated to their new apostolate, the PME Fathers stayed with the Jesuits at the San Pedro Convento. The second group of PME missionaries arrived in November 1938. This second group was composed of Fathers Maurice Michaud, Lionel Labelle, Joseph Dupuis, Yvon Guerin, Paul-Emile Lahaye and Leo Poirier.

In March 1939, the PME Fathers started their pastoral work in the East Coast of Davao and helped the Jesuit Fathers in this mission area. Father Guerin was sent to Caraga, Father Dupuis to Baganga, and Father Leblanc to Cateel. Father Lahaye was sent to Mati to help another Jesuit, Father Lamy, who was already there. In November of the same year, Father Thibault became the parish priest of San Pedro, with Father Poirier as his assistant. During that time, San Pedro was considered as one of the largest parishes of the world. Father Lionel Labelle was appointed director of St. Peter's High School, with the new building, the following year in June 1940. St. Peter's High School was the first private Catholic High School in Davao. Father Conrad was entrusted to open a new parish in Kingking.

In December 1939, after 75 years in Davao, the Jesuits left for Zamboanga province. From that time on, the pastoral care of the people of Davao was entrusted to the PME Fathers.

In January 1940, the third group of PME Fathers arrived in Davao: Fathers Robert Lemay, Roland Hebert, and Andre Pigeon. They left a few weeks later for their respective assignments in Caraga, Cateel and Baganga.

The last group that came to the Philippines before the war was composed of Fathers Alfred Tremblay, Octave Rheaume and Julien Vezina. They arrived at the end of November 1941.

The PME Fathers continued the pastoral work of the Jesuits and started opening up new parishes. Mati, opened in 1937 by the Jesuits, but soon closed because of the departure of the priests for Zamboanga, was reopened in 1939. Kingking which is now Pantukan was founded by Father Cote in 1939.

In the southern part of Davao, Father Poirier founded the St. Joseph Parish of Santa Cruz in 1941 with Father Leblanc as his assistant. These early years saw the opening of two new parishes by the PME Fathers in Davao.

When war broke out in December 1941, parochial work came almost to a standstill. In Davao only four PME Fathers were left with Bishop del Rosario, together with the Jesuits Father Garcia and Father Alfredo Paguia. Out of the 23 PME Fathers at that time, seven escaped and took refuge among the pagan tribe of the East Coast of Davao, while the rest were taken prisoners and sent to the concentration camps at University of Santo Tomas in Manila and University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna. Four PME priests died during this period. Father Lamy died of malaria in San Pedro. Father Desjardins disappeared mysteriously on his way from Manay to Caraga. Fathers Poirier and Leblanc who started their work in Santa Cruz were killed by the Japanese soldiers who took them to Pikit, Cotabato province as prisoners.

After the liberation, the PME Fathers came back to Davao to reorganize the abandoned missionary work. Father Gerard Campagna and Father Thibault were the first priests who came back to Davao to continue what they have started. The other priests who survived the war returned to Canada for a brief rest. They came back in 1946 with new missionaries.​

​After the war, the Mindanao region (southern Philippines) became a popular destination for settlers. Thousands of families from all over the country arrived and began a new life in the region people call the "Land of Promise". These years also marked the dynamic growth of the local Church of Davao. The arrival of 16 new missionaries in 1946 enabled the PME Fathers to open new parishes. Father Alfred Tremblay established the Santo Rosario Parish of Malita in 1947. In 1948, Father Jean Bernard Bazinet founded the Santo Rosario Parish of Toril in 1948; Father Marcel Turcotte founded the Mary Mediatrix of All Graces Parish of Digos; Father Octave Rheaume established the Sacred Heart Parish of Calinan; Father Conrad Cote was the first parish priest of Santa Ana; Tagum was founded by Father Lionel Labelle in 1948. Until 1949, the undivided province of Davao was attached to the Diocese of Zamboanga which comprised the whole Zamboanga, Cotabato, Basilan, Jolo and Davao provinces.

In December 1949, Davao became a Prelature Nullius. Father Thibault became the first Apostolic Administrator and First Prelature Ordinary of Davao.

The early years of the Prelature of Davao also marked the establishments of new parishes. Father Paul Emile Lahaye established the Immaculate Conception Parish of Penaplata in 1951. St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish of Nabunturan was also founded in 1951 by Father Henry Fournelle. In Piapi District, Father Gaudiose Gagnon founded the Fatima Parish.

In the southern part of Davao Father Paul Gravel established St. Michael Parish of Padada in 1952. While in Mati, Father Germain Pelletier founded San Vicente Parish of Lupon in 1953. In 1955, Father Jean Paul Foisy established the Immaculate Conception Parish of Bansalan In the same year, Father Robert Lemay established the Santo Nino Parish of Pana Barrio.

The PME Fathers, after the Jesuits left in 1939, took the full responsibility for the evangelization of the Davao region. They responded marvelously to the challenge of evangelization. At one time in the late 1960's, there were more than 80 PME Fathers in the Davao region. Other religious congregations and missionaries also came as a respond to the pastoral challenge of missionary work in Davao. The Maryknoll Fathers (MM) who arrived in 1958, took the responsibility of building up the local Church in the territory of Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental provinces. Davao del Norte became a Prelature Nullius in 1962 with Father Joseph Regan, MM, as its Prelate Ordinary.

While the Maryknoll Fathers assumed the responsibility of establishing the local Church in the North and in the East Coast, the PME Fathers concentrated their evangelizing mission in the southern part of the Davao region. This part slowly evolved into a flourishing Church which eventually became the Diocese of Digos.

The transition years of 1958 to 1965 mark the greatest number of parishes established by the PME Fathers, especially in the southern part of Davao. Father Ephreme Melancon founded the Our Lady of the Assumption Parish of Caburan in 1958; Father Alcide Lefebvre founded the Santa Teresa de Avila Parish of Malalag in 1959 with Father Jean Claude Pelland as the assistant priest. Father Francois Brunelle founded San Isidro Labrador Parish of Hagonoy in 1962.

In 1963, Father Jean-Louis Breault founded the St. Michael Parish of Matanao . The Immaculate Conception Parish of Kiblawan was founded by Father George Courchesne in 1964. Father Henri Brossard established the Santo Nino Parish of Magsaysay in the same year. Our Lady of the Assumption Parish of Santa Maria was established in 1965 by Father Dennis Cossette.

Towards the end of the 1960's the PME Fathers, instead of founding new parishes, dedicated more of their missionary work on developing the pastoral and spiritual needs of the people. They organized the lay movements, basic Christian communities, and different lay organizations that strengthened the spiritual life of the people. They also gave retreats and seminars, and developed lay leaders who helped them in their evangelizing mission.

The Prelature of Davao became a diocese in 1966. Bishop Thibault, who was consecrated bishop in February 11, 1955 became the first bishop of the Diocese of Davao. The Diocese of Davao became an Archdiocese in 1970. Archbishop Thibault was its first Archbishop with Bishop Antonio Mabutas as the coadjutor bishop. In 1972 Bishop Mabutas became the second archbishop of Davao. In May 24, 1978, Bishop Generoso Camina, PME was ordained and appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Davao.

On Nov. 8, 1979, Digos became a diocese. It comprised the whole province of Davao del Sur. Bishop Camina was appointed first bishop of Digos on December 20, 1979. He was installed on Feb. 11, 1980.

More parishes were established after the creation of the Diocese of Digos: San Isidro Labrador-Digos (1981); Our Lady of Mt. Apo-Kapatagan (1983); San Lorenzo Ruiz-Don Marcelino (1994); San Vicente Ferrer- Bangkal, Matanao (1995); Santa Teresita de Jesus-Balut, Jose Abad Santos, Saranggani Province (1997); Our Mother of Perpetual Help-Guihing, Hagonoy (2000); San Vicente Ferrer-Basiawan, Santa Maria (2000).

Some mission stations were also established later: St. Francis of Assisi Mission-Banate; Malita Tagakaulo Mission (MATAMIS)-Malita; Little Baguio "Bla'an" Mission-Malita; Kelegbeg Mission-Santa Maria; Nuing, San Salvador; "Manobo" Mission-Kasunugan, Molmol, Jose Abad Santos.

Diocesan priests were ordained during these years. Most of them were trained in the seminary established by the PME Fathers in Davao City, the St. Francis Xavier College Seminary and the St. Francix Xavier Major Seminary. Bishop Guillermo Afable took over the pastoral responsibility of the Digos diocese when Bishop Camina retired in March 3, 2003.

At the present, the Diocese of Digos covers the whole province 2 provinces of Davao del Sur and Davao Occidental in southern Philippines, the islands of Balut and Sarangani, and Banate District which is part of Sarangani Province.


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