Francisca del Espíritu Santo Fuentes

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Francisca del Espiritu Santo
Manila, Captaincy General of the Philippines
DiedAugust 24, 1711(1711-08-24) (aged 63–64)
Intramuros, Manila, Captaincy General of the Philippines
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
PatronageCongregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena

Francisca del Espíritu Santo de Fuentes (1647 – August 24, 1711) is a Spanish Roman Catholic religious figure. She was the first Prioress of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in the Philippines.


Francísca de Fuentes was born to Don Simón de Fuentes, a Spaniard and Doña Ana María del Castillo y Tamayo, a Spanish mestiza from Manila around 1647. Francisca grew up to be a fine lady, and she was given in marriage to a gentleman who died shortly thereafter and leaving her a childless, young widow.

Francísca then dedicated her time to prayer and social service helping many poor and sick in the city. In a vision in which she saw Saints Francis and Dominic, she prostrated herself before Saint Dominic. Because of this, she chose to be a Dominican, being admitted as a tertiary in 1682. She chose the name “ Francísca del Espíritu Santo”.

In 1686, Francísca, Antonia de Jesús Esquerra, María Ana de Fuentes (Francisca's blood-sister), and Sebastiana Salcedo requested that they be allowed to live together in a life of prayer and the practice of the virtues while continuing their social apostolate. After a brief hesitation, their request was sent to the Master General of Order of Preachers in Rome, who approved it in January 1688.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile director of the Third Order, Rev Juan de Santa María, who favored the request of the ladies, was assigned to Bataan, and Rev Juan de Santo Domingo was assigned in his place. The new Director was against the project and the proposal was laid aside. Francísca and her companion were deeply dismayed, but Sebastiana prophesied that although she and Antonia would not live to see it, the Beaterio would be a reality.

Francisca was progressively maturing spiritually, and her desire for serving the needy grew more and more. The desire for the realization of the Beaterio also grew more intense so that one day, after confession, she opened once more the subject to Fr. Juan de Santo Domingo, and she got scolded for her. “impatience’. But bravely, she told Fr. Juan with a tone of prophecy: “Father Prior, the Beaterio will be established, and Your Reverence will see it”.

Fr. Juan de Santo Domingo was enlightened and became one of the powerful supporters of the Beaterio. Under his direction, Mother Francísca and her companions lived at first the house of Mother Antonia de Esguerra who had by then died.

The establishment of the Spanish beaterio in Manila[edit]

The cause for the beatification of Madre Jeronima de la Asuncion, foundress of the Spanish Monastery of Sta. Clara in which one of the main witness was the Dominican Friar Jeronimo de Belen, seemed to have inspired the Order of Preachers to start their own monastery for Spanish women. The provincial chapter resolved to do so on 17 April 1633. "THOSE WHO ENTER THIS CONVENT SHOULD ALL BE SPANISH LADIES AND NOT IN ANY WAY (SPANISH) HALF-BREEDS, IN ORDER TO HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE THAT THE NUNS WOULD PERSEVERE IN THEIR GOOD INTENTIONS." Santa Clara Monastery, however, objected to another foundation identical to it on the grounds that public alms were insufficient to support two convents for women in the city. The Franciscans with the Poor Clares appealed to the king who eventually sided with them in a decree dated 16 February 1635 commanding the Dominicans to desist from their plans. As for native women, they were not only barred from entering the convents, but even forbidden to learn Spanish. One of the questions settled by the Dominican Provincial Chapter, held on May 9, 1604, dealt with this matter; It is asked: Will it be good for the Indias (natives) to learn how to read? We answer: In no way (de ninguna manera) should they learn how to read in Spanish. (De la Rosa, O.P., 1990).

Inauguration of the Beaterio de Sta. Catalina[edit]

At long last, the Beaterio de Sta. Catalina de Sena de las Hermanas de Penitencia de la Tercera Orden was formally inaugurated on 26 July 1696, the feast of St. Anne. Mother Francisca del Espiritu Santo became the prioress for life. Considered as the co-founders were Fray Juan de Sto. Domingo, Don Juan de Escaño, Mother Lorenza, Mother Juana, Mother Rosa and Mother Maria del Espiritu Santo, the surviving Spanish beatas in the Ezguerra house. Unfortunately, it was specified in the foundation papers that there would only be FIFTEEN CHOIR SISTERS OF SPANISH BLOOD in honor of the FIFTEEN MYSTERIES OF THE ROSARY. As in the Monastery of Santa Clara, the inevitable question came up as to what to do with the Filipina applicants who were also begging for admission to the Beaterio de Santa Catalina. After some deliberation, the founders of Santa Catalina determined in 1699 that, to begin with, five native women could be accommodated as "SISTERS OF OBEDIENCE" (HERMANAS DE LA OBEDIENCIA). ALTHOUGH PERMITTED TO TAKE SIMPLE VOWS, THEY WERE TO BE DEPRIVED OF VOTING RIGHTS, BARRED FROM HOLDING OFFICE, AND CHARGED WITH THE MENIAL TASKS IN THE CONVENT. FOR DEVOTIONAL NAMES, THEY COULD ADOPT THE NAMES OF THE ANGELS AND SAINTS OR RELIGIOUS CONCEPTS OTHER THAN THE MYSTERIES OF THE HOLY ROSARY, WHICH RESERVED ONLY FOR THOSE OF THE SPANISH RACE. Also called LEGAS, the Filipino beatas offered special testimony to the monastic spirit of total humility. Paradoxically, had she lived longer, Mother Sebastiana, a native-who helped lay the beaterio's strong foundation and was the one who predicted there would be fifteen members-would not have qualified as a full member herself. Perhaps she foresaw this paradox, too, but kept it to herself

Conflict over the installation of a beaterio[edit]

After seven years of fervent existence, scandals began to mar the image of a few of the Spanish beatas who were admitted at the start of the eighteenth century. They resented authority and constant admonitions of Mother Francisca, the prioress. Defying the rules of the beaterio, they, including a certain Sor Jacinta, goddaughter of Fray Juan de Sto. Domingo,OP, the co-founder, began to live separately in private homes. To the residents of the Walled City, it was unseemly for beatas to go out and worse, stay out of the beaterio without any compelling reason to do so. The Escano bequest had spared them from having to beg alms for their subsistence, unlike the poor beatas of the Compania. Inevitably, the two beaterios were now being compared with each other. On the other hand, the growing community, counting about twenty-four members in 1703, seven of whom were Filipina lay Sisters, had decided to build a bigger edifice to accommodate new applicants and helpers. The situation stirred up legalistic issues regarding beaterios, which agitated canon and civil law experts no end, their opinions depending, not surprisingly, on which faction they belonged to. Caught unwittingly in the middle of the controversy were the beatas in whose name the war words and documents were being waged. Concluding that the Dominicans had been unable to maintain discipline among the beatas, Archbishop Camacho of Manila claimed jurisdiction over the institution and insisted on the practice of closure. The Dominican provincial protested that the authority of the master general of their Order was sufficient to justify the existence of the beaterio and that it enjoyed prior exemption from the closure which was a later requirement of the Council of Trent. But the beatas, upon the advice of their Dominican counselors, refused obedience to the archbishop who was left with no other recourse but to excommunicate them. In the beginning of 1704, the beatas chose to dissolve their community and live as a group of laywomen in exile at the College of Santa Potenciana whose premises were courteously offered by the governor. Henceforth, they were dispensed from their vows, divested of their habits and deprived of their religious names. Their "Babylonian exile" lasted for two years and three months from January 1704 to April 1706. During this period, Sor Jacinta, whose laxity triggered the upheaval, was expelled and four other unnamed Spanish beatas left the fold. The fact that the Filipino lay Sisters tended to "persevere in their good intentions" more than the Spanish Sisters ran counter to the assumptions of the Dominican Chapter of 1663 cited above. The Archbishop later showed some pity and with a permit dated 26 March 1706, allowed Mother Francicsca and her sister to return to their original home, having donned once more their Dominican habits, where they lived under the rules set for them as beatas, with a few added features of their religious life as prescribed by the Archbishop.

With Francisca at the time of their return were fifteen Spanish sisters including a novice, and in addition, there were lay Sisters and a girl who eventually donned the habit. It was in the same year that the Beaterio became a Convent School for Spanish girls, mestizas and natives, instructing them in the four R’s: religion, reading, writing and arithmetic with music, embroidery, flower making, etc.


Francisca del Espíritu Santo Fuentes died at 3:00 p.m. of August 24, 1711. She was buried at the gospel side of the chapel of Colegio de San Juan de Letran. She left behind the Beaterio de Santa Catalina de Siena (Sta. Catalina College) which still stands to this day as the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.

Midlife turmoil[edit]

With such tenuous arrangements, the community sailed innocently too near the wind. In 1746, a tempest roared like a lion battering the beaterio to its foundation, which reverberated to the other beaterios. Sor Cecilia de la Circuncision, whose secular name was Ita y Salazar, had withdrawn to Santa Catalina to avoid marrying an elderly uncle and professed sixteen years previously. Now entering middle age, she fell inlove with, of all men, Don Francisco Figuerora, the secretary of the governor-general. The acting governor then happened to be a Dominican friar, Bishop Juan de Arechedrra of Nueva Segovia. Mother Cecilia turned to the vicar general of the archdiocese, sede vacante, to declare her vows null and void. The vicar convinced her that this was not the best time to press her case. The time finally came in 1750 when the new governor, the Marques de Obando arrived and there was also a new archbishop, Fray Pedro de la Santisima Trinidad who was a Franciscan. The prelate ruled in favor of the Spanish beata on the basis of the royal orders, which repeatedly forbade the beaterio to be a convent. Over the protests of the Dominicans, Sor Cecilia was able to leave the community borne on a hammock muttering of some illness. But now she was free to marry Figueroa. The couple later transferred to Mexico where Cecilia's case was upheld by the archbishop there. When the report of their infringement of royal laws reached the king of Spain, he decreed, as punishment, the extinction of the beaterio upon the death of the remaining beatas. This gave the Dominicans ample time to move heaven and earth to have the royal order rescinded. In the meantime, the governor trained his critical gaze at the other beaterios to ensure that they, too, would comply with the king's edicts or face the threat of extinction-at least during his cumbency. The royal decree suppressing the beaterio was finally lifted after the war about 1769

Changes and complications[edit]

The missionary phase of the Beaterio de Santa Catalina gave rise to certain complications in their serene existence. In 1865, the Dominican priests began recruiting Spanish nuns for the Asian missions. They were to be housed temporarily in the beaterio while waiting to be transported to their respective assignments. Unfortunately, their efforts to set up religious houses in Spain to train missionary nuns was not successful because of lack of funds and vocations. Hence, the Spanish nuns remained permanently in the beaterio occupying the principal offices since the Filipina members were mere lay Sisters. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, however, in order to accord full membership to Filipino applicants from choice families, the beaterio extended the definition of "Spanish mestiza" to the broadest possible meaning of the word. The community began to accept not only Spanish "half-breeds", but also those families had been classified as "Spanish mestizos" for generations, regardless of the proportion of Spanish blood flowing in their veins. Under this mitigated policy were admitted two Filipinas as choir Sisters who were to figure eminently in the development of the beaterio. It was only in 1917 that the Filipino lay Sisters gained the status of choir Sisters more than two centuries and a half after the inauguration of the Betaerio de Sta. Catalina. During his canonical visit to the Philippines in that year, the Dominican master general, Father Ludovicus Theissling, OP, a Dutch, noted the wide discrepancy in status between the Spanish and Filipina Dominicans. This was two decades after the Spanish colonizers had left and even the Royal Monastery of Santa Clara had opened the door of its cloisters to Filipina applicants. Led by Mothers Catalina Osmena and Felomena Medalle, the Filipina beatas petitioned the highest official of the Order to grant them full membership to native aspirants who were at least high school graduates regardless of their racial background. The master general readily gave justice to their request. Inevitably, the polarization between the Filipina and the Spanish beatas-which paralleled that between the Filipino secular clergy and the Spanish religious Orders during the colonial regime-led to the division of the Beaterio de Sta. Catalina in 1933. The Spanish Sisters, without consulting the Filipina beatas, formed a new community, the Congregacion de Religiosas Missioneras de Santo Domingo, currently the provincial house is located in Sampaloc, Manila. When the plans were officially disclosed, the surprised Filipinas, including the criollas and the mestizas, except for a few, opted not to join the Spaniards. They chose to remain in the beaterio and to preserve their institutional identity, this time under diocesan authority. A few of the Sapniards decided to stay in the beaterio with the Filipinas. The Spanish Dominican priests of the Most holy Rosary allowed the Filipinas to retain their old edifice in the Walled City. In startling contrast, however, they gave the new Spanish congregation all the other houses of the beaterio in the Philippines, China, Japan and Taiwan, numbering to seventeen. Thus, the Beaterio de Sta. Catalina was unexpectedly deprived of their mission field. Invoking the patience of Job, the Filipino nuns refrained from protesting the unequal partition. "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!". The Beaterio de Sta. Catlina's eye witness historian, Sor Maria Luisa Henson 1904-1995), expresses the sentiments of her sisters regarding this sad episode in their development: We, of the Beaterio de Sta. Catlina de Sena, were the first daughters of the province of the Most Holy Rosary, and worked side by side with the Dominican Fathers in the missions. But during the crucial moment in 1933, we were abandoned and disappointed by the then Provincial Administration under Father (Ricardo) Vaquero (1931–1934). When two daughters separate from the father, do they not get equal share? Perhaps, the Father Provincial Vaquero was angry because we did not join the Spaniards. (Davis 1990,88) The only building allotted to the Filipina Dominicans, newly remodeled and reconstructed through the generosity of Mother Catalina Osmena, was bombed to the ground by Japanese invaders.

See also[edit]