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Rizal and the Jesuits

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.


Rizal’s life is well documented, and it’s a common knowledge that he was not in better terms with the Catholic Church. He was not a big fan with organized religions to begin with, and it was said that the reason why his relationship with Nelly Boustead never pushed through was because of religion. Nelly, being a protestant wants Rizal to convert to her faith, a bitter pill that Rizal wasn’t willing to swallow. Hence, he did what he believed he must do, and Nelly Boustead joined the long lists of Rizal’s ended love life. And going back to the Catholic Church, it received a lot of beating when Rizal penned his books Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Rizal never held any blows when he highlighted the many abuses of the Spanish friars, though experts reckoned that he also pointed out the flaws in his own fellow Filipinos, and not to mentioned, the many wrong things with the colonial society back then. Hence some suggested that Noli and Fili might not be anti-clerical at all.

Rizal angered a lot of prominent religious orders through his exposures of their corruptions. Yet, there is one Catholic group that his books largely ignored. It seems that he spared the Jesuits from his purge, though as much as Rizal wanted to distant himself from the Catholic Church, he had better terms with the Jesuit order.

The Jesuit Order in the Philippines

The standard of the Society of Jesus.

The standard of the Society of Jesus.

The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits was founded by former soldier Saint Ignatius Loyola, and earned an approval from Pope Paul III in 1540. The organization engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in many nations, and one of them is the Philippines.

Coming from Mexico, the Jesuits arrived in the Philippines in the year 1581. Balayan, Batangas, Taytay, and in Antipolo were the stations of their missions. It was Fr. Pedro Chirino who opened the first Jesuit school, a catechetical school for the native which later expanded with an elementary school for both the natives and the Spanish boys. Aside from school, they also opened a college in Intramuros on Calle Real in 1595. The College of Manila offered courses on grammar, philosophy. Theology and the canon law.

And since then, their numbers expanded, with residences in Cebu, Leyte, Samar and other parts of the Philippines. Even in Mindanao. But then, the suppression came, thanks to an accusation that they were involved in a political controversy. Between 1759 to 1773, the Jesuits were expelled from various countries, including the colonial Philippines. Fortunately, the Jesuits were cleared of charges, and allowed to return to their provinces. By their return in 1859, the usual work went on. They acquired a private school and renamed it Ateneo Municipal de Manila in 1909. It was known today as Ateneo de Manila University.

Up to now, the Jesuits remain an active religious order in the Philippines. In the modern world, Jesuits were known for their liberal ideas, which some say was the result of their emphasis on higher education and social justice. The history of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines was marked with the establishment of various educational institutions, and their works as scientists, professors, explorers, and teachers in addition to their original role as missionaries and spiritual guides. In fact, they are the living proof that religion and science was never in conflict. Back in the colonial Philippines, the Jesuits earned a distinction of being the best educators. And one of their many students was a man going by the name Jose P. Rizal.

The Jesuits as Rizal's Educators

The young Rizal.

The young Rizal.

It was his mother that started Rizal’s education, who taught him how to read and pray, and write literary works like poetry. The rest was taught by private educators, and later Rizal was sent to a school in Binan.

But Rizal’s knowledge on philosophy, physics, chemistry, and natural history came from Ateneo Municipal de Manila, a Jesuit school. And it was in that same school where he earned his degree on land surveyor and assessor.

Rizal’s entry to Ateneo could inspire interest among many. In his diary between 1872 to 1875, he wrote how a certain Rev. Fr. Magin Ferrando did not accept him at first, either because he came at the end of the admission period, or simply because he was weak by stature. But his parents never wanted to pass the opportunity of being educated by the Jesuits, hence they used their connections.

And the rest was history!

Rizals’ life under the tutelage of the Jesuits could be described as rigid and disciplined. Wearing his school uniform of coat and tie, a holy mass started their day before the class. There he mingled with a mix of nationalities like Spanish, Mestizos and Filipinos alike. Their professor went by the name Fr. Jose Bech, a man Rizal described as tall, lean, slightly bent, sharp nosed with sunken eyes, and fine lips surrounded by his beard. He was ascetic and severe and somewhat a lunatic with complex personality.

Rizal also had his favorite educator. The Jesuit teacher Francisco de Paula Sanchez was admired by Rizal for being a model of uprightness, earnestness, and love of the advancement of his students. And through this Jesuit’s seal, Rizal’s knowledge of Spanish advanced in such a short time. And from him, he also learned math, rhetoric and Greek.

Other educators who molded Rizal include painter Don Augustin Saez and Romualdo de Jesus (sculpture).

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When Rizal graduated in 1877, he finished with top marks. And he mentioned how he owe a great deal from the order.

And Rizal’s education under the Jesuits influenced his later ideas.

In fact, without the higher training he received, a different and less known Rizal might emerge. According to Rizal, “the Jesuits have surely not intended to teach us love of country, but it showed us all that is beautiful and all that that is best…”

Rizal in Dapitan

Fr. Francisco de Paula Sanchez, Rizal's favorite teacher.

Fr. Francisco de Paula Sanchez, Rizal's favorite teacher.

Many described the stay of Rizal in Dapitan as bittersweet. His exile was the result of his radical stance towards the Catholic Church and the Spanish government. Ironically, he befriended a Spanish commandant Captain Ricardo Carnicero, and even dedicated a poem to him. Rizal also reunited with his favorite Jesuit educator, Father Francisco de Paula Sanchez, whom the Jesuit superiors sent in their attempt to reform him. This was amazing considering that many perceived his work as anti-Catholic and rebellious, yet there he was hanging out with a Spanish commandant and a priest. The teacher and his former student often engaged in lengthy debates and conversation, and it became clear that Father Sanchez can’t convince Rizal to abandon his ideas. But there was always respect among the two men, and together they engaged in scientific studies and expeditions. And part of their legacy is the relief map of Mindanao, a project that Rizal made with the help of the Jesuit priest.

The master teacher relationship was emphasized during Rizal’s last hour, as only the Jesuit priests, including Father Sanchez was with him before his execution. Allowing the presence of the Jesuits, with his faith restored to the Catholicism was probably Rizal’s last nod of respect to the order.

The Jesuits Defending Rizal's Works

The original cover of Noli Me Tangere.

The original cover of Noli Me Tangere.

And as the Catholic Church blasted his book, it found defenders from the unlikeliest source. Yes, even Catholic priests, the people from the side that felt offended favored Rizal’s works. And it didn’t come as a surprise that one of them was the very person that imparted Rizal of his radical thinking. His Jesuit teacher Father Sanchez even praised the book in public. And as Father Vicente Garcia, a Filipino Catholic priest pointed out, it might not be an anti-clerical novel but just an expose of the abuses of the Franciscan and the Augustinian. An attack on the abusive friars and not on the Church as a whole.

According to some sources, the notion that it was a heretical work came from the Dominican’s prejudices on Rizal, which was trained by Jesuits, as the Dominicans had a dispute with the Jesuits back then.

The Jesuits Still Inspire People Today

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope.

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope.

Again, their pursuit of social justice, human rights, and higher education in addition to their missionary work earned the Jesuits a reputation for being liberal in today’s world. But again, their radical approach to religion had made them highly influential, in addition to their great number. As of 2012, they formed the single largest religious order of the Catholic Church. Bear in mind that Rizal was not the only product of Jesuit education. Several propaganda leaders came from Ateneo, like Juan Luna, his brother Antonio Luna, and even later heroes like Gregorio del Pillar. As years passed, more Filipino figures emerged from the said university, including presidents like Benigno Aquino III, Corazon Aquino, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Fidel Ramos. It also produced rising figures, like Vico Sotto. The historian Ambeth Ocampo is also the product of Ateneo, as well as the Cardinal Antonio Luis Tagle.

These are just few of the many influential figures that the Jesuit education produced. And from here, we could say that they influenced the history of the Philippines more than any other religious orders, based on the people they educated. How ironic though that the seed of nationalism was influenced by the higher education of this Spanish religious order. It seems fated that the Jesuits were allowed in the Philippines, to prepare the minds of the Propaganda Movements that will awaken the nationalism within their countrymen.

And the Jesuits order will inspire more minds in the future, as one of their people lead the Vatican.


1. Ocampo, Ambeth (2 April, 2013). "Jesuits in our Midst."

2. "From Mission to Province (1581-1768)". Philippine Jesuits. Retrieved 2021-01-17.

3. Yumul, Francisco (17January 2012). "Father Francisco de Paula Sanchez: Rizal's Batman." Miniatures.

4. Anoos, Wilfredo (31 December 2016). "Tell it to the Sun.Star: Rizal's 'Noli'".

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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