Friday, October 23, 2015


Sister Marie Pierre Martinez, RSM

Sister Pierre (RIP), who is being buried today on Guam, did not claim to save the school. But others said that she did.

The school was Mount Carmel School in Chalan Kanoa, Saipan. The time was the early 1970s.

Capuchin Father Arnold Bendowske, pastor of Saipan, with the help of the Mercedarian Sisters and the lay people, opened the school in 1953 and gradually expanded the school to include high school grades by 1957, the first and only high school in Saipan at the time.

By 1969, the school started to enter a period of uncertain direction. The Mercedarian Sisters no longer provided one of their own to head the school as principal. A layman was hired as principal. The school's finances were not in good shape. There were fears that the school might have to close.

It was then that Bishop Felixberto Flores, in 1972, turned specifically to Sister Pierre to accept the challenge to go up to Saipan and take over the school and, in essence, save it from being closed.

After discussing things with her superior, she said yes. She asked that she be allowed to ask another Mercy sister of her choice to join her in Saipan in this new mission. This request was granted and she asked then-sister Therese Perez (Quichocho) to accompany her to Saipan.

Sister Pierre (front, center)
with clergy and religious in Saipan

Front row : Sr Bertha Salazar, MMB, Sr Pierre, Sr Felicia Plaza, MMB
Back row : Fr Tony Egan, OFM Cap, Fr Arnold Bendowske, OFM Cap, Fr Jose Villagomez, OFM Cap


When Sister Pierre began the school year, the Trust Territory government had stepped in to assist the school in staying open. The government had every reason to do so. It had only opened the public high school in 1969, and since the island already had an established, Catholic high school many years older than the new public high school, the government never planned for the public high school to handle all the island's high school student population. If Mt Carmel had closed, the public high school would not be able to absorb all the students in need of an education. The government had every motive for stepping in to help keep Mt Carmel School open.

The government therefore agreed to be responsible for Mt Carmel School's finances for one year; to collect the tuition money and pay the bills, dipping into government funds when necessary.  No public money would go directly to religious activities. With finances more or less on a stable footing now, Sister Pierre put her energy into getting together a good faculty and winning back the trust and confidence of parents.

Originally agreeing to head the school for one year, by the end of that year, everyone was begging Sister Pierre to stay on at least one more year. Things were getting better and better.

Both Sister Pierre and Sister Therese agreed to stay one more year. It was clear that the school would not close now. The school stayed open, and is open and running to this day.

When the two sisters packed their bags and prepared for their return to Guam, the government and people of Saipan expressed in many ways, officially and personally, their tremendous appreciation for the sisters, especially for Sister Pierre. Quite simply, as Bishop Flores said to Sister, she had "saved" the school.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Antonio Borja Won Pat and Ana Salas Perez Won Pat

My family was almost exclusively Territorial and then Republican.

Only recently have some, in the younger generations, supported other parties.

Many in the family also keep very quiet about politics.

But back in the 1950s and 60s, the more vocal members of the family were publicly Territorial and then Republican. Five members of my family have been elected senators; all of them Territorial or Republican.

But the one Democrat some of my older relatives very openly supported was Antonio Borja Won Pat. This was interesting on several counts.

First, my Uncle Ben Reyes, a two-term senator (they were called Congressmen in the 50s and 60s) was not only in the party opposite Won Pat, Uncle Ben was also one of those in the 3rd Guam Legislature who booted out Won Pat as Speaker and put in his place Francisco B. Leon Guerrero.

Secondly, in those days, campaigns often involved personal attacks. Won Pat and Uncle Ben were always in rival parties and, though I never heard that they ever personally attacked each other, some of their colleagues certainly did.

Thirdly, Won Pat was said to have been a Mason or, at least, not closely allied to the Church. Uncle Ben, on the other hand, and especially his vocal wife, Auntie Ana, were "church people."

But it wasn't just Uncle Ben and Auntie Ana who supported Won Pat when Won Pat ran for the U.S. Congress election after election. My very religious grandma and grand aunts did the same, though more quietly.

I remember my Auntie Ana telling me in the 1970s, and I wasn't even a voter yet, "He's the only Democrat I vote for." Of course, only she knew what she did in the privacy of the voting booth.

The reason was personal. Won Pat's wife, Tan Ana, was a distant relative and close friend. In fact, in post-war Sinajana, the Won Pat's were neighbors until he packed up and moved to Washington, DC in the mid 60s as our Delegate and then Representative. The Won Pat house in Sinajana still stands, though now in another owner's hands.

Tan Ana'n Won Pat was a Perez on two sides; her father's non-Chamorro side and her mother's Chamorro side. The blood connection was through that maternal line.

But it was more than blood. Uncle Ben, or Auntie Ana, I forget which, was a godparent to one of the Won Pat kids. Old man Won Pat was not churchy, but his wife Tan Ana remained a practicing Catholic.

The Won Pats, parents and children

When Tan Ana passed away in the mainland and her remains were brought to Guam for final burial at the Veterans Cemetery, I was asked to officiate at the Catholic rites because of this family connection.


"Doc" Sanchez

Politics often brings out some funny sides to people's personalities and the election of 1976 certainly did with Auntie Ana.

Not only did she support another Democrat, she supported one who was running against Won Pat!

Pedro C. Sanchez, popularly called "Doc Sanchez," had been an academic all his life. In 1974, he was president of the University of Guam but decided to make a go of politics and run for governor. He lost the primary, coming in number two after Ricky Bordallo.

In 1976, he decided to challenge Won Pat for the Washington seat as a Democrat.

He got Auntie Ana's Republican vote.

When explaining why she supported him, she told me it was because of two things. First, she was proud of his PhD - a Chamorro who got the highest academic degree possible.

Secondly, and in her own words, she voted for him because "he brought a soul into the Catholic Church." Sanchez's wife, Flo, was born a Methodist but became a Catholic (and a very devout one) to marry Sanchez.

So, Auntie Ana said, "Even though he's a Democrat, I'm voting for him because he brought a soul into the Catholic Church."

No animosity towards Won Pat. But, this alone was enough reason for Auntie Ana to change her vote.

When Doc Sanchez lost the primary in 1976 against Won Pat, Auntie Ana went back to supporting her compadre.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Philip Holzmeister

Lay missionaries - men and women who are neither priests, nor religious brothers nor sisters - have been a part of Church ministry since the first days of the Church in the times of the Apostles.

Many times they get little to no attention. So, it's not surprising that many people outside of the older people of Yoña would have heard of Philip Holzmeister.

He was one such lay missionary who have a large part of his life to the parish of Saint Francis in Yoña.

Having attended Saint Francis School myself for six years, I remember seeing Phil, but I had no idea who he was and why he was always seen at Saint Francis Church.

His brother, Father Adrian Holzmeister, was a Capuchin priest. Through him, Philip learned about the Guam mission and its many needs.

It was a time of tremendous building projects - churches, rectories, schools and convents - as Guam was recovering from World War II and as the island population expanded.

Saint Francis Church & School, Yoña

Phil found himself going to Yoña to help Father Alvin LaFeir, one of the primary "builder missionaries." The photo above shows the huge parish complex that Father Alvin spearheaded. Most of the labor came from the volunteer parishioners. Phil certainly had a lot of work to do every day. His work included physical and manual labor in the construction and thereafter the maintenance of the parish buildings.

Phil was a quiet man who drew no attention to himself. As a lay missionary, he was not paid a salary but the Capuchins took care of all his material needs, which were few.

When Phil died, he was buried alongside the Capuchin friars in Togcha.


He gave his life to the Church on Guam.
even his body lies in our soil.

Monday, July 27, 2015


I must have been 13 or 14 years old; just entering my rebellious teen years.

One particular day I was giving my Auntie Ana (above) an especially hard time just being a contrary, noisy chatterbox, bouncing off the walls, really.

Not once in my whole life did Auntie Ana ever lay a hand on me, though I did see her spank others. But, that day, her patience was wearing thin with me and, what she didn't do with her hand, she did with her icy stare and sharp scolding.

Uncle Ben (above), on the other hand, was the incarnation of gentleness.

I suppose he had had enough, too, but he had a different approach.

In a very calm tone, he said to me, "Come with me. I want to show you something."

Every boy wants to be shown something. I followed him into his little study, where he kept all his books and filing cabinets.

He took down his huge Webster's Dictionary and looked up a certain word. When he had found it, he pointed to it and  asked me to read out loud the term and its definition. This was it :

As soon as I read it, I felt a tinge of guilt.

Uncle Ben's method of "correction" spared me an abundance of guilt and humiliation. His method gave me just enough guilt to quiet me down. Not only did I quiet down, Auntie Ana and Uncle Ben continued with their day as if nothing had happened. I don't think I was ever rambunctious again with Auntie Ana.

Not only did he correct my behavior, he made me increase my English vocabulary!

Sometimes, this is all we need in order to correct ourselves :

Uncle Ben was a wise man.

Monday, July 20, 2015


My grandmother's sister Ana Torres Reyes
with yours truly in 1966

My grandmother's sister, Auntie Ana, lived just next door to us.

She never had children of her own to raise; a story I will relate in a few minutes. But, because of that, I was more or less adopted by her, as well as by my grandmother and two other sisters of hers. Yes, quite the spoiled child.

One of the great things about all my older relatives, or mañaina, was that they all told me stories. Here are some of the things Auntie Ana told me about the war (1941-1944).


Japanese village names of Guam, or Omiya Jima (Great Shrine Island)

Auntie Ana's husband, Uncle Ben, was made soncho, or village chief, of Barrigada (called Haruta Mura in Japanese) during the war.

That was not a position anyone in their right mind wanted.

You were essentially the enforcer of Japanese demands on your own people if you were the soncho.

The soncho went out and told the people what the Japanese wanted. And it was the soncho who got punished if the people did not satisfy the Japanese. If the Japanese ordered ten bags of corn from the farmers, and the soncho only produced eight, it was the soncho, not the farmers, who usually got punished.

That is why, my aunt said, every morning when Uncle Ben would leave the house to begin his work day, she would begin her hours of anxiety and worry. Would Uncle Ben come home with bruises from punches or cuts from whippings? And even when Uncle Ben would come home alright, he would drink to soothe his anxieties, and Auntie Ana was always nervous about that.

So, needless to day, Auntie Ana was a ball of nerves every moment she was awake.


Some wondered if her nerves and anxieties were part of the reason why she was not able to bear children (except one). She had numerous miscarriages. Of course, the Japanese Occupation lasted only two and a half years, so only a couple or several of them might be due to wartime conditions. Still, there must be some connection.

Her only child who lived for just one day was born during the war. He was sickly the moment he saw the light of day, but lived long enough to be baptized Vicente, the name of his father. There were only two priests on Guam during the Occupation, and one lived far away in Inarajan, so midwives (pattera) or others in the family usually did the baptizing especially in cases of risky births.

When little Vicente died after a day, they put his tiny body in a shoe box and buried him at the farm in Ungaguan, Barrigada where they lived, not far from the other relatives in our clan. No priest, no funeral rites. They just said their prayers. But, little Vicente died an angel, so there was no need for prayers for his soul, which instantly went to heaven. The prayers would have been for the consolation of the parents.


And in better clothes than during the war

Auntie Ana was educated in a girls' finishing school in Manila in the 1920s and 30s. She was very good in English and became a school teacher on Guam. But she could also sew and cook. During the Occupation, however, fabric was scarce.

Auntie Ana took me one day to a room where she opened a kaohao, which is a wooden chest traditionally kept by Chamorro families. Important things are kept in a kaohao, like documents, bridal gowns, christening båta or gowns and the like.

Inside this kaohao were Uncle Ben's wartime clothing. Auntie Ana showed me the shirts and trousers which she repaired with her own hands, since new clothes could not be bought. It all looked so antique. I remember how there was no zipper, as they were not in vogue yet. Instead, a man's fly was buttoned, and not all the buttons matched in this case. The stitching seemed rudimentary, but strong. But this was in the 1970s, so 30+ years after the war, so the clothes looked like they could fall apart if handled in any way. I regret that after Auntie and Uncle died I did not look for the kaohao, which then disappeared. I'm usually the one who rescues antique items in the family.



My grandmother's sister Rita
Vendor of distilled spirits

I got the distinct impression from Auntie Ana that she did not like the Japanese, due to her wartime experiences. She never said a word against them as a race, but, when she spoke about them, her face said it all.

One of the things she mentioned was the fact that a Japanese soldier could (and did) slap a Chamorro for the slightest of unintentional infractions.

For example, every Chamorro had to bow before any and all Japanese, no matter how low that Japanese person's status was. But if one bowed too low, it was taken as mockery because very low bows were reserved for the Emperor and the very elite. If one bowed only a tiny bit, that was considered an insult as well. One's bow had to match the status of the Japanese person perfectly.

So Auntie Ana's sister Rita, who never married and became the domestic superior of the family home, was once slapped by a Japanese who judged Rita's bow as defective in some way.

Auntie Rita, called Nina by all of us in the family, was also the family techa, or prayer leader for the family rosary and other devotions. A super strict Catholic, she nonetheless sold bootleg liquor during the war! Such were the exigencies of wartime occupation. Someone made the agi or åguayente (aguardiente in Spanish), and Nina sold it quietly to make money for the family. I wonder if Uncle Ben's liquor supply were somehow furnished by his sister-in-law!


American troops coming up the road

My most impressionable experience listening to Auntie Ana's war stories happened one afternoon while we were sitting next to the front door of her house. I must have been 15 or 16 years old.

She told me how the family was camped out in Talofofo, not Mañenggon as the majority of the central and northern Chamorro populaton was.

The Chamorros were all quietly desperate, for the rumor had been circulated that the Japanese were going to kill all the Chamorros before the Americans could liberate them and profit from Chamorro guidance in their battle against the Japanese.

But then one day the Japanese guards were all gone. No one knew what happened. And then, Auntie said, people remarked how they saw what look like American soldiers marching toward Talofofo. Minute by minute, the lines of human figures became more clear and distinct. Yes! They were Americans! And as Auntie Ana told me this, I saw tears flow from her eyes.

In that one instant, seeing American soldiers, hugging them, receiving little packets of food from them, hearing the cherished voices speaking in what was once forbidden English while under the Japanese, all her anxieties melted away. She felt safe again.

Liberation? Yes or no?

For Auntie Ana and her contemporaries, it was.

Life goes on and we have perennial issues to sort out. But, just as we like to have our own experiences respected, I wouldn't want to invalidate my auntie's tears.

Friday, July 3, 2015


For my familia on the Torres side, which includes all the Kitå'an but also the Sauro clan and a whole bunch of others I don't even know about, I accidentally came across a legal document from the year 1861 that more than likely takes our family tree back to 1800 or so.


Family information, backed up by the 1897 Guam Census, shows that our family goes back to :

and his wife

But, till now, I couldn't go further back with Pedro.

Then, maybe ten years ago, I came across the vey document showing how Pedro Rodríguez Torres bought the house he lived in in Hagåtña, the same house our family lived in before the war, from his cousin IGNACIO TORRES AGUON.

It is from Ignacio that the Sauros and our family are related. An Unpingco married a Torres Aguon and that's our connection with some Unpingcos and some Aguons.

Ignacio appears on a lot of Spanish documents because he worked for the Spanish government as a clerk.


Going through dozens and dozens of documents, I notice one where Ignacio Torres Aguon is mentioned as a grandson of Manuela de Castro, the widow of José de Torres. Keep in mind that the Spanish custom is for the married woman to keep her own name and not take on the husband's.

So, if Ignacio is the grandson of José de Torres and Manuela de Castro, THEN SO IS PEDRO RODRÍGUEZ TORRES a grandson of this same couple.

EVEN BETTER, the document spells out the names of all the children of José de Torres and Manuela de Castro. They are :


This means that PEDRO RODRÍGUEZ TORRES has to be a son of one of these boys, who then married a Rodríguez. It also means Ignacio is the son of one of these girls, who then married an Aguon.

If only we discovered some document that tells us if Pedro was son of José I, Guillermo or José2. Those are the only possibilities.

Don't be surprised that some siblings have the same first names. It happened. Sometimes it happened because an older child died as a child, and when another child was born of the same gender, the parents named the child after the deceased one. I don't know if this is why there are two Joses and two Marias in this group. Maybe, but maybe not. Sometimes parents just gave two siblings the same name.

Well, as incomplete as this is, if we're talking about the same Ignacio Torres Aguon, and it's a 99% chance we are because we can find no other Ignacio Torres Aguon in any document of the time, this provides us with information about our family we never knew before.

So, in summary.....

1. Our ancestors were JOSÉ DE TORRES and MANUELA DE CASTRO, grandparents of PEDRO RODRÍGUEZ TORRES.

2. JOSÉ DE TORRES died around 1830 after having fathered eight children. So that's at least 8 or 9 years of marriage minimum, perhaps more. People married young then, as young as 15 even. So José was born by at least 1805, maybe even earlier had he married later in life. So, our family tree can go as far back as 1805 or so.

3. The document I found records Manuela selling her land to two of her grandsons : Ignacio Torres Aguon and Luís de Torres. Her land was in GOKNGA, which is commonly held today to be the same place as Gun Beach. Imagine if our family were still the owners of land at Gun Beach!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Died at 104
(pic courtesy of grand daughter Marcy Blas)

In 1981 or 82, I saw a notice by the Guam Tribune, a newspaper owned by Mark Pangilinan, seeking village reporters. It wasn't a paying job but I figured I'd do it. You got to start somewhere, so I signed up for my home town of Sinajaña.

I did two articles on Sinajaña before I lost interest in writing more for the Tribune. One was on the history of the village and the second was on the oldest person living in Sinajaña, the man pictured above, Martin Oliva.

As a priest I usually don't have a problem asking to meet people but back then I was amazed that he was willing to talk to a 19 year old college kid.

Social Security says he was born in 1884, but in 1981 or 82, he was already claiming to be over 100. His family attests, also, that he wasn't bound to the age stated in later documents. So how old was he?

Back in the 1880s in the Philippines (where he was born), the Marianas and in many other places, a lot of people did not read or write and, even when they did, documents were not as big a deal as they are today. My own grandfather fudged his personal details (even his name) when he entered the U.S.

Based on his life story (I think he served in WW1) he must have been 100 or at least close to it.

I went to visit him in his home, where he lived with his wife. She was his 2nd wife as he had outlived his first wife. She herself was at least in her 60s if not older and was thin and spry and I remember her walking to Mass everyday with her umbrella in hand.

The question that I have never forgotten having asked him was "What's the secret of your health and long life?" For his age, he was still mentally sharp and physically mobile.

His answer was, "One cigar a day, one shot of whiskey a day and a page of the Bible every day."

That was his answer. For real.


(Social Security)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Today's funeral announcements in our local newspapers are certainly very positive, but sometimes in a way that poses a problem for those with a Catholic perspective.

Phrases such as "now rejoicing in heaven," applied to the deceased, if taken literally and not as a hopeful plea, take away the need for any prayers for the dead. If the deceased is certainly in heaven, all the official church prayers in the funeral liturgy are meaningless. Those prayers ask for mercy for the deceased; they ask that God give the deceased a share in eternal life. No need for that if we know for sure the deceased is in heaven.

I think, in many cases, families making funeral arrangements just follow a trend that was started sometime ago without realizing the theological implications.

Despite rampant secularization, Spain has a hard time shedding old, Catholic customs. And it shows in many of their funeral announcements which are thoroughly Catholic in their wording.

Take for example, Soledad's announcement above. The underlined phrase means, "Having received the holy sacraments." These sacraments would have been the Anointing of the Sick, and possibly also confession and Holy Communion had she been conscious and able to confess and receive communion.

In Ignacio's announcement, the family "requests a prayer for his soul" from the readers. (See underlined sentence.)

And Wenceslao's announcement (see underlined) says, "He died in a Christian way in Madrid."

This means that he died with the sacraments.

When my mother passed, I included the phrase that she died, "having received the consolation of the sacraments."

What a great example it would be if more of us followed this Catholic custom, still practiced by many Spaniards, to emphasize the value of the sacraments and to ask others to pray for the soul of the deceased.

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. 
(2 Maccabees 12:46)

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Rev. Juan M.H. Ledesma, SJ
Earnest Advocate of Bd Diego Luis de Sanvitores

I once knew a saint-maker!

Well, not really, though he did call himself that in his old age, certainly not in a literal sense.

Only God makes saints, with the saint's cooperation, of course. But it's the Church who declares them so, or at least confirms what popular tradition has decided in antiquity. But little of that would be accomplished without the scholarly investigations and persistent promotion done by people like Jesuit Father Juan Ledesma.


When I joined the Capuchins as a postulant in 1981, the Friary was an interesting place to be because it hosted many guests from around the world from time to time.

One of the these was Fr Ledesma.

Ledesma's one and only claim to fame, as far as we on Guam were concerned, was his promotion of the Cause of Blessed Diego. Many years before I actually met him at the Friary, I had heard of the name Ledesma because of the book "The Apostle of the Marianas." Ledesma's name was on it, because he translated it from the original Spanish, written by Fr Alberto Risco. SJ. Monsignor Oscar Calvo's name was on it, as well, as editor. Calvo also promoted the sale of this book, and may have had something to do with financing its publication. This book was the first history of Sanvitores I ever read. This was in the 1970s when I was still a teenager. Later I was to find out that this text could be classified as a "popular history," rather than something more scholarly. Its purpose was to spread interest about Sanvitores among the average person, and it accomplished that goal. It was only in the next decade that Sanvitores was beatified.

When I finally met Ledesma in person at the Friary, I was both awed and disappointed. As an impressionable young man, new to religious life, I was struck that I was eating across the table from a man whose name was on a book, and a book about Sanvitores, a hero if there was one for us on Guam at the time.

But I found Ledesma rather quiet and reticent, a little stiff and not very affable. It was hard to make conversation with him, and I thought at the time that we (the young ones at table) were boring him. We probably were! But I also noticed that he didn't interact much with the older priests (or younger ones, for that matter). This was about the same time that the Cause was in high gear. Everyone was expecting the beatification to happen soon, and people were planning for all that. So Ledesma, as well as other off-island big shots, were coming in and out of Guam for that reason. Yet Ledesma seemed to be in the back of the picture. He'd walk around the Friary by himself. He'd have this or that comment with a priest or bishop, but generally speaking he was often by himself. Of course, he must have been involved in meetings we never saw, and there must have been much more to his day than meets the eye. I thought I detected a tinge of sadness about the man, but for all I know I may not have had any real reason to think so.

After the beatification, I saw Ledesma no more.

I do recall one anecdote. At the dining table, surrounded by us young ones, he broke his reticence and told all of us, words to this effect, "Now you must all do your part to promote the beatification of Father Sanvitores. You must all pray for it." And we said, "Yes, we will."

In the last few years I came to find out that Ledesma did have a hand in a more highly-regarded work, the translation of Garcia's biography of Sanvitores. Garcia's was the earliest bio, written just after Sanvitores' death, using letters and reports written by Sanvitores and the other Jesuit missionaries in the Marianas. Ledesma translated two chapters of that book.


Ledesma was born in 1905 in Iloilo and lived to 102. His mother died in his infancy and he had no recollection of her at all. His father, an American, put the boy in a hospice. In fact, Ledesma had earlier been called Ledesma-Howard. Later, he switched his names around. The H in his name stood for Howard (his American father) and Ledesma remained his surname.

After joining the Jesuits he was educated in the U.S. (Woodstock) and Rome (Gregorian), where he earned advanced degrees. He returned to Manila to teach in San Jose Seminary (the same seminary where Monsignor Calvo had studied) but there were hurdles. It seems he didn't fit in with the teaching philosophy of the other faculty members. So Ledesma turned to writing and publishing. The sale of his books went to support the education of poor students at Jesuit schools in the Philippines.

The Cause of Sanvitores would not have met with success if it weren't for the efforts of Archbishop Flores, Mosnignor Calvo and Father Ledesma, to name a few of the main players. If it weren't for that success, we probably wouldn't have had a "Saint" Pedro Calungsod either.

Saint-maker. To some extent, Ledesma was. RIP with the saints, Father Ledesma.

For more information, see

Monday, March 16, 2015


Thomas, Elizabeth and Mary Forbes

My Forbes ancestry comes from the County of Kilkenny in Ireland.

They lived in a place called the Railyard, in the neighborhood called Moneen Roe, in the village of Clogh, in the town of Castlecomer.

Thanks to Google maps, I can actually see the Forbes home in the map above, the first house on the N 78 road, to the left of the intersection of the N 78 and the road to Moneen Roe.

My folks worked in the coal mines. That part of Ireland was one of the few coal producing areas in the country. That's why it was called the Railyard, as the coal was sent off to Dublin by rail.

My Great Grandfather Thomas

Thomas, my great grandfather, worked in the coal mines of Castlecomer but also across the waters in the coal mines of Newcastle in England, for a time. My aunt in Ireland still has the thick leather knee pads he wore when he knelt inside the mines.

Thomas married Mary Crennan from a nearby village, Mayhora.

Their oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was recruited by nuns in Illinois to join their convent. She was the first to leave Ireland and move to the U.S.

Because vocations were still not enough in the U.S. in the early 1900s, sisters with Irish backgrounds often went back to Ireland to entice young Irish girls from big families with many children to join an American convent. My grandfather's sister Elizabeth was one such young girl. She joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, Illinois and was given the religious name Sister Mary Berchmans.

Because of her, two of her brothers, including my grandfather, moved to Illinois. My grandfather was Patrick Forbes, who left Ireland, so it is said, before 1914, trying to escape the British who ruled all of Ireland at the time.

My grandfather was an Irish nationalist and member of the Irish Republican Army, the old one (not the modern one). When he was hunted down by the British, he and his brother Michael fled to the U.S.

Michael settled in Chicago and Patrick (Paddy) lived in Peoria. Paddy changed his name to Walter to sound less Irish. The Irish were looked down on in America back then.

My grand dad Patrick (Walter)

Forbes Home in the 1950s

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Me in the late 60s at Grandma's old house in Sinajaña

It seems to me that many times in my life. a significant event began with the words, "Wake up!" In those times, I didn't have a clue what I was waking up to.


One of the first was in 1970 when I was eight years old. We three brothers slept in the same room and pretty much the same bed, except that they were two beds pushed together against two walls. All I remember is that it was summer time, when we should have been able to sleep in late. But not that morning.

It was still dark when mom shook me out of bed. "Come on, let's go," she said. "Where to?" "Japan."

All I remember is washing up, but I don't remember packing. I guess she did all that.

It was my first time to ride a plane as well as leave the island. And yet I do not remember anything about the plane ride.

Three things stand out about my first trip off-island.

1. Our hotel. At this hotel, wherever it was (I don't remember), I rode my first escalator. Guam had none in 1970. I was eight and cute with my Marine haircut. The Japanese ladies at the hotel couldn't get enough of me, smiling and giggling and talking in Japanese and rubbing their palms on my bristly head. I remember we were high up, on the 20th floor or higher, and it was just myself and my brothers at the time in the room, when the building began to shake and then sway. It was over in seconds, thankfully. My brother was in the bath tub and told us how he saw the water form waves in the tub.

2. Tokyo Tower. Of all the places we went, this alone remains in my memory. To go up high and see a huge metropolis sprawled out before you in every direction, as far as the eye could see.

3. The Gun Shop. Japan has strict laws against firearms. But this one shop sold guns that were impossible to fire. My father was, and is, a weapons fanatic. My two older brothers were excited to get guns as well. Dad wanted to buy each of us one. I was not enthusiastic. Guns reminded me of gangsters and the mafia and I just didn't see myself carrying that persona. But dad got me one anyway, a small pistol. As I mentioned, these were tampered with so as to be impossible to load and fire.

I suppose I grew to like the idea of having it, because as soon as we returned to Guam, I was brandishing it to the neighborhood kids. I guess one of them was scared out of his wits and told his mama. His mama complained to my dad. My dad went right up to me when he heard what I did and picked me by the collar 3 feet off the floor, looked me straight in the eye and told me never to do that again. Then dad let me down on terra firma. Dad never laid a hand on me my entire life. He didn't need to. One look was all it took most times. This was the one and only time he needed to do more than that, and it worked. I never played with the pistol again, not even in private in my make-believe world in the jungle.


I don't remember a single lesson I heard in 2nd grade about religion or First Communion. Obviously I learn something! But I can't tell you specifically what I learned in which grade. It all became "one" after a while.

One morning, in December of 1969, mom again rustled me out of bed. "Let's go!" "Where?" "Today is your First Communion." "Oh," I thought.

I do remember being prepared for it by going to confession. This was at Saint Francis Church, since Saint Francis School was a parochial school and we students made our First Communions at the parish church.

Father Daniel Cristobal, OFM Cap, heard my first confession, in a deserted church. Only we students, a teacher or two and our parents were there. It seems the parents waited in the back of church or even outside. The large church seemed empty except for us. As soon as the child finished confession, she or he left for the day, vacating the church even more.

I will admit, with some humiliation, though my tender age must be a consideration, that I had no idea what sin to tell Father Daniel, hidden behind the screen. I was a good kid. Perhaps boring for being so. I didn't lie, curse, fight, steal or disobey. Well, it depends on your definition of "disobey." I never opposed a direct command, but I did take my licenses when I wasn't told explicitly not to do something. I was an inquisitive child so I was always opening drawers and lifting up curtains and things like that. I was never told not to do it and I was never stopped from doing it. By middle school I knew what sin was, and confession became a regular necessity, as it is now.

At the moment of receiving Our Lord for the very first time, in His Body, Soul and Divinity, I will disappoint you with the total absence of anything pious or even remotely religious in my experience. I was immediately conscious of the way the Host stuck to the roof of my mouth. I had this vague sense that I should not touch It with my finger to remove It in order to swallow It, but I was so tempted to! Time dissolved It and that was that. I knelt upon returning to my place, but it was not by any means the momentous occasion which we read about in the lives of some child saints. I mean, it truly was extraordinary (objectively), but I did not sense anything out of the ordinary.


Once again, I was told to "wake up," and I didn't know for what purpose until I was told to dress in brown pants and a white shirt and get in the car.

This was in August (I suppose) of 1968. My older brother Carl was four years older than me and still at Saint Francis, while my oldest brother Mark was now at a different school, Father Dueñas.

When dad dropped us off in his car in front of the school (or church), Carl took me by the hand and walked me down the long hallway to my classroom. The walked seemed like an eternity and there were kids all over the place, something I was not used to.

Carl stopped in front of Sister Mona Therese, who seemed to tower over me as she stood in the hallway in front of her classroom. Carl said something like, "This is my brother," did an about-face and left. Sister looked at me from head to foot, with a poker face, as if examining a new specimen. I had no idea what to do or what to say. Everything was new, different and mildly disorienting. I imagine she saw nothing horribly wrong after inspecting me, as she motioned me to go inside the classroom where I had to sit with 30 or so children who were perfect strangers to me. I was from another village. A village that sent only a dozen or so students to a school hosting hundreds and hundreds of children.

By the time I started school in 1968, this is what the Sisters were wearing (above), except that on Guam everything was white. The Sisters gleamed in the bright, tropical sun.

I survived that first day of school. Saint Francis, in time, became like a second home to me. I went there for six years so I became very comfy in its surroundings. One final memory.  After lunch, Sister Mona Therese told all of us to put our heads down on the desk and nap. Soothing music was piped into the classroom from the speaker above Sister's chalk board. I remember not being sleepy at all and finding it odd that we were told to sleep when (some of us) weren't sleepy. So I daydreamed about Sister Mona Therese being another mother to me. She was very pretty. So was my mom.


In writing this, it appears to me that, at the end of life, I will again be stirred from sleep and not realize, maybe, right away why I am being called. That is, until I see the judgement seat of God. May He have mercy on me on that, perhaps, unexpected day that catches me, once again, clueless.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Father Vilallonga is the only one in a black cassock (besides Bishop Oláiz), standing on left

In 1929, the Pope sent a Spanish Jesuit with an impressive resumé to inspect the mission of Guam. His name was Father Joaquín Vilallonga.

He arrived in late 1929 and after his visit with Bishop Oláiz and the Capuchin missionaries, all Spaniards like himself, he gave the Guam mission not merely a clean bill of health but high praise, calling it the "best organized mission in Oceania."

Here's what Vilallonga said himself in a letter to Bishop Oláiz of Guam :

"I can say with total sincerity that I have not found in all the Philippines a mission better organized than that which the Capuchin Fathers have in Guam under the prudent and wise direction of Your Excellency. I believe that the Chamorros can consider themselves very content and happy in having such zealous and selfless missionaries who give to all their faithful such good examples of virtue and holiness."

The very positive report on Guam filed in Rome by Vilallonga helped move the Vatican to send money to Bishop Oláiz so that he could build a two story concrete building to house many Catholic activities.

What were his credentials that allowed him to act as inspector for the Vatican?


Like many Jesuits, Vilallonga's dream was to work in the missions. After joining the Jesuits in Spain in 1885 at the age of 17, he was sent to Manila in 1892 to teach at the Ateneo de Manila. He taught philosophy, physics and mathematics. He was well-educated in the Latin classics, and could recite from memory long passages from Cicero and Virgil. He was good in the Greek classics, too.


Vilallonga lived in the same Jesuit residence in Intramuros, Manila where some of his Jesuit confreres lived; Jesuits who visited José Rizal in prison. They would come back to the house asking the Jesuit community to pray for their former student.

When Admiral Dewey sailed into Manila Bay in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Vilallonga was eyeing the American fleet from atop the Jesuit house in Intramuros.


He was sent to St. Louis, Missouri to finish his studies and there learned to speak English well. He also became friends with Teddy Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller. The story is that Vilallonga defended his thesis in front of a crowd that included Roosevelt, who was impressed enough to send him a written note of congratulations. Finishing his studies in the U.S., he returned to Manila and began a quick rise to positions of authority :

Rector of the Ateneo de Manila 1910
Superior of the Davao Mission 1917
Rector of the Vigan Seminary in 1920
Superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines in 1921
Provincial Superior of the Jesuit Province of Aragon (Spain) in 1926

It was because of these extensive experiences in missionary life that Vilallonga was an excellent choice of Rome to conduct an official inspection of the Church in the Philippines and in Guam. He could deal with the many Spanish missionaries, and his command of English and acquaintance with American ways enabled him to relate well with the American civil and military authorities.

When that was done, he was back in the missions but this time in India, where he worked from 1930 to 1949. It was in 1949, at the age of 81, that Vilallonga made a surprising request of his superiors. It concerned his next assignment!


Fr. Vilallonga visits his people at the leprosarium in Culion.

At age 81, many priests look forward to a life of blessed retirement. Not Vilallonga. Having occupied very high offices in the past - in academic and religious governance - he wanted his "last stop" to be in a remote corner of the Philippines called the "Island of No Return" among those suffering from Hansen's Disease. There he would say Mass for them, hear their confessions, anoint them, listen to them, attend to their needs, be a father and friend to them.

In 1949, there were undoubtedly patients from Guam who had come there many years before. They must have jolted Vilallonga's memories of his short time on Guam. I am sure, when he conversed with Guam patients, he brought up the name of at least Bishop Oláiz and perhaps one or two friars.

Vilallonga wanted to die in Culion and be buried with the lepers, without a casket. His noble aspiration was not God's will, though. In 1962 his physical condition necessitated a move to Manila where he died the following year. He was buried in the cemetery of the Jesuit novitiate in Novaliches.


In 1959, Vilallonga won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. He was the second person to win this award since its inception in 1957. It was his work with the lepers of Culion that earned him this distinction.

Vilallonga receiving the Magsaysay Award. Cardinal Santos stands to the left.

Vilallonga with the dignitaries....

Claro M. Recto
Statesman, writer, jurist
and his former student

...and the needy.

Spiritual guidance with a patient in Culion


It is ironic that a man who left his home was honored by the people of his birthplace who hardly ever saw him. Even a nephew of his spoke about the great "absence" of his uncle in the family, since he spent the majority of his life overseas. The year after he died, his native town of Burriana, Valencia opened a school in his honor. In 2014, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary and unveiled a plaque in his honor.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Or, "How I got my slanted eyes."

Victoriano Joanino y Caboral


As a child, I became aware of the lack of male figures in my family. I had a Chamorro grandmother, but never a word about her husband. I heard about Mamá, my great grandmother, as she was called in the Spanish style of those days. But I never heard of a Papá.

By the time I was a teenager, I had put the pieces of the puzzle together somewhat.

Mamá had never married. But, she had six children, each with a different father, although it is debatable if two of the six shared the same father.

The story was that Mamá was an only child. This we can verify, since we have the 1897 Census and there it is. Pedro Torres y Rodríguez is married to Josefa Pérez y San Nicolás and they have but one child, a daughter, Maria Torres y Pérez, or Mamá.

As Mamá was an only child, her parents never allowed her to get married. For her to get married meant to leave mom and dad and be absorbed into the husband's family. Who would care for Pedro and Josefa in their old age?

Still, human nature being what it is, Mamá had six children. The oldest of the six was my grandmother María, who became the pillar and rock foundation for the small clan of six children and Mamá, nicknamed the familian Kitå'an, after Mamá, whose name María was affectionately changed to Mariquita, and Kita for short. Kita's children were the Kitå'an.


I never knew Mamá, but I knew her daughter, my grandmother María. I was 18 when she passed away. A few years after my grandmother died, I started to pester her cousin, my grand aunt Carmen Pérez Cruz (married Guzmán), who knew all the family secrets.

One day she let me know. She said my great grandfather was a Filipino. "Eskribienten i Gobietno," she said. "Clerk of the Governor."

But what was his name?

All she could remember was something that sounded like HUA - NINO.

I was bewildered. Was that his first name? Juanino? Like Juanito?

Or was it his last name?

Or was it both names? Juan Nino? Juan Ino?


This is the signature of the land clerk on a land document, signed in Agaña, Guam in 1900. My grandmother was born in 1899.

The signature clearly says "Victoriano Joanino C."

In Spanish, the father's surname comes first. Then comes the materal name, which can be abbreviated, as it is here, as a C.

Using the American style, this man would have been Victoriano C. Joanino. Joanino! I found my great grandfather's name and signature!


Years passed and by the early 1990s, I went to Manila as a young priest buying things for my parish. While there, I decided to look up Joanino in the Manila phone book. All I can say is thanks be to God my great grandfather's name was not Cruz or Reyes or Santos. I'd still be in Manila today looking for my great grandfather if his name was one of those.

Instead, I found just six Joaninos in the phone book. Easy! I dialled the first one. "Hello, my name is Father Eric Forbes, a priest from Guam. I am looking for my relatives. Children of Victoriano Joanino."

The first Joanino house did not know of any Victoriano. Nor did the second. The third house may not have even answered. I don't remember!

But the third or fourth house did! The woman who answered the phone responded excitedly. "That is my Lolo! (Grandpa)"

Her name was Thelma and she said the family lived in the province of Nueva Ecija, though some of the family lived in Manila. At that very moment, she said, her dad was visiting her home in Manila. I went to see him a day or two later. I almost died. He was skin and bones, just like my grandmother, who would have been his half-sister.

This man confirmed that his father Victoriano had been exiled to Guam. "With Mabini," they said, but that wasn't true, as I was to find out later. But this is what families do. They add spice to the family legends, just like fishermen add pounds and inches to the fish they claim to catch!


Gramps in his younger days.

Victoriano was a rebel. A member of the Katipunan, or nationalist Filipinos fighting Spain. But he was an educated rebel; one who could understand, speak and write in Spanish.

He was originally from Tayug, Pangasinan. He was of Ilocano descent, his parents having moved to Pangasinan from Cava, La Union. The family confirmed that his maternal name was Caboral; the "C" in the Guam land document. We don't know where he got his education or how far he went in school, but the Joaninos in Tayug were part of the educated middle class that supplied minor civic servants.

Relatives in the Philippines told me the original name was Suanino and it was Chinese. In time it became Joanino; easier for the Spaniards to say, I suppose.

In the fall of 1896, the Philippine Revolution broke out. The Spaniards started to arrest numerous rebel leaders, big shots and less important ones, like Victoriano.

In Tayug, besides Victoriano, a certain Teodórico Vidal was also arrested. From then on, for some years, Victoriano and Teodórico shared the same fate; arrested at the same time, convicted at the same time and sentenced at the same time. Victoriano's court case files are missing, but Teodórico's are not. In his files, he is described as a Mason and an enemy of Spain. We can be sure Victoriano was charged with the same accusations.

In December of 1896, after having spent some time in the Bilibid prison, my great grandfather was deported, with his Tayug townmate Teodórico, to Guam. They arrived on Guam in February of 1897.

The Spanish Government document showing his arrival on Guam in 1897


As one can see from the land record above, Victoriano did not spend his life behind bars on Guam as a political prisoner. He was put to work as a government clerk, since he was educated enough to do that.

When the Americans came in 1899, he continued in this post. While still on Guam, Mabini and the other famous nationalist leaders against the Americans were deported to Guam in 1901. That's why Victoriano or his family claimed he was "with Mabini on Guam," but under different circumstances.

Besides all this, Victoriano fathered my grandmother María, born in 1899.

Victoriano Joanino named "escribano" or "scribe/clerk" in a court proceeding on Guam in 1901. The court record was still written in Spanish at the time.


Sometime in 1901 or 1902, he was free to return to the Philippines. When he returned to Tayug, he found out that his wife had re-married, thinking that he had died.

Disgusted with this, Victoriano moved not far from Tayug, but in the neighboring province of Nueva Ecija, to a town called Lupao where he found a second wife and raised a family. It wasn't a real town yet, and Victoriano was one of the civic leaders who lead the effort to elevate the community. In 1913, Lupao became an official town and Victoriano was credited with making that happen. He became the town's first Mayor (or President). To this day, the Joaninos are a well-known and politically active family in Lupao.


My great grandfather was a Mason and, in time, an Aglipayan, a church which broke off from the Roman Catholic Church to become an independent, "Filipino Catholic Church."

I wonder how he would feel knowing his great grandson is not only a Catholic priest, but also a friar - like the ones he fought against, believing that the friars were the villains responsible for the oppression of the Filipino people!

My grandmother, daughter of Victoriano