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.

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