The Convent of Monteagudo [Spanish for sharp mountain], Navarra, Spain, saved the Order of Augustinian Recollects from total extinction in 1835. The anti-clerical decrees of desamortización [expoliation] issued by Finance Minister Juan Álvares Mendizábal (1790-1853) violently drove monks and friars from their monasteries in Spain out to the streets.
Convent of Monteagudo in Navarra, Spain, Augustinian Recollect novitiate founded in 1828
The properties of the Catholic Church were confiscated by the Liberal government and then put on sale in order to raise money for the deplorable financial situation of Spain stemming from, among other reasons, a civil war. Dispossessed as well were thousands of impoverished folks who used to knock at the doors of the religious houses begging for food and shelter.
The hard-hearted government move was deemed exclaustration [from the Latin ex claustro, out of the cloister] alluding to the royal decrees expelling religious out of the cloisters. All the religious houses in Spain were closed down, except the Dominican friary in Pastrana, the Augustinian monastery in Valladolid and the Augustinian Recollect convent in Monteagudo. These three remaining convents were formation houses of missionaries who helped sustain the Spanish colonial regime in the Philippines where the royal patronage and the policy of non-separation of Church and State were in full effect.
Juan Álvares Mendizábal, Spanish Finance Minister, implemented the decree of desamortización of 1935
The Convent of Monteagudo was canonically established towards the end of 1828 for the purpose of training Augustinian Recollect missionaries for the Philippine parishes and missions. From its convent walls one can view the snow-capped mountain of the majestic Moncayo.
Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Way, Monteagudo, Navarra: central nave
The team of conventual formators consisted of qualified pro¬fessors and sea¬soned missionaries who were to in¬struct the young aspi¬rants to the religious life in the love of God and their neigh¬bor, besides philoso¬phy, natu¬ral sciences and theology, prior to the missionary expedition to Manila. The Augustinian Recollects since time immemorial have revered the patroness of their age-old conventual church—Virgen del Camino, our Lady of the Way—as the miraculous protectress of both convent and town of Monteagudo.
In Monteagudo, the Spanish aspirant was in¬itiated to the religious life whose essential aim, as mandated by the Canon Law of the Church, is nothing but the personal sanctity of every member of the Augustinian Recol¬lect Order. From the 1950s till the late 1970s, Filipino major seminarians joined their Spanish, Mexican, Irish, British, Australian and North American counterparts.
The patroness Virgen del Camino [Our Lady of the Way]
They were sent to the Convent of Monteagudo to comply with the required year of novitiate. After novitiate, they professed the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, thereby becoming full-pledged Augustinian Recollect religious. Thereafter, they proceeded to their convent at Marcilla also in Navarra for their rigorous four-year theological formation capped by their ordination to the holy order of presbyterate.
Monteagudo remains to this day a house of intense prayer and recollection where Mexican, Costa Rican, Spanish, Nigerian aspirants to the Augustinian Recollect lifestyle learn the rudiments of religious life.
The Eight Martyrs of Motril, Granada
In the past, it was the formation house of holy Recollects like five of the eight 1936 Martyrs of Motril and erstwhile Philippine missionaries—Bld. Vicente Soler, Bld. José Rada, Bld. León Inchausti, Bld. Vicente Pinilla, Bld. Julián Benigno Moreno. It is the final resting place of St. Ezekiel Moreno who joined the Father in Heaven in the odor of sanctity in 1906.
Named after the revered convent in Navarra, the Monteagudo of San Carlos is a sprawling and luxuriant hilly span of 4.8 hectares at Sitio Medina, Barangay Rizal in San Carlos City in the central eastern coast of Negros Island. The name was given by Fr. Lauro V. Larlar, prior provincial of St. Ezekiel Moreno Province at present, in a conversation in 2009 with Fr. Vicente Ramon, local prior of the Recollect community of San Carlos City and school director of its educational institution—Colegio de Santo Tomas-Recoletos.
Resting place of St. Ezekiel Moreno
A couple of historically significant names were suggested during the conversation. One was Casiciaco in northern Italy. It was the holy Founder St. Augustine’s and his friends’ place of reflection, study and common life after his conversion and before his baptism at Milan in April 387. The college seminary in Baguio City, the former summer vacation house and venue for spiritual retreat since its foundation in 1953, has reverted to the original name Casiciaco Recoletos.
Then there was Talavera de la Reina in Toledo, Spain where the conventual community of pioneering Augustinian Recollects was established in October 1589.
Convento San Agustín el Viejo in Talavera de la Reina, Toledo, Spain, cradle of the Augustinian Recollection in 1589
It could have been a perfect name for such a spiritual sanctuary. Life at Talavera de la Reina was poor, austere but totally focused on God in whose praises a great part of the day was spent. The exemplary life and asceticism of the first Recollect friars earned for them the admiration of the townspeople. Talavera is presently the house for retreat and renewal courses and is located in Barangay Quiot, Basak, Cebu City.
Finally, Monteagudo was for relevant historical reasons to that spiritual and natural haven in San Carlos for the Augustinian Recollect priests, brothers, formands, teachers and students. It could also be such haven for Recollect communities, parishioners, faculty members, school and parish employees, students, Secular Augustinian Recollect Fraternity members in the provinces of Negros Occidental and Oriental.
As early as 2009, the Colegio de Santo Tomas-Recoletos community of Fr. Vicente Ramon, Fr. Rafael Cabarles, Fr. Rouel Sia, Fr. Cirilo Andan, and Fr. Ferdinand Fornilos, had been looking for an appropriate venue for annual spiritual retreat or periodic recollection of their high school faculty and students. The Recollect high school’s yearly population has averaged six hundred in the 2000s. A popular beach resort located about ten kilometers north of San Carlos City was in the past a habitual venue for such spiritual exercises but it had eventually earned a bad reputation. Unfortunately, at twilight pimps shamelessly approached male school officials to peddle services of women of ill repute. Consequently, the beach resort had to be discarded as venue for spiritual exercises.
The Recollect community soon heard about the big land parcel of 4.8 hectares, owned by Mr. Roberto Shieh, fondly called Api by everyone. Api Shieh was a close friend of Fr. Ramon’s father.
Breathtaking view of the Recoletos Cross, San Carlos City proper and Sipaway Island
The Recollect Fathers acquired it for the sum of 450,000.00 Philippine pesos [US $10,700.00]. The down payment of 200,000 pesos was paid, paving the way for the building of roads and pathways.
On 9 February 2011, Ash Wednesday, the cornerstone was laid and witnessed by a motley group. The cornerstone and Via Crucis Stations were blest by San Carlos Bishop Jose Advincula on that same day.
Monteagudo is strategically located along the slopes of the luxuriant hills near the concrete highway leading to the western side of Negros Island.
Well-ventilated multi-purpose hall, two of five kiosks for group discussions and a view of San Carlos City from a lush area
It is roughly three kilometers from the city from which it is very accessible due to cemented road. Under the supervision of Fr. Cabarles, ten workers were employed to open the winding roads on the way to the multi-purpose hall which was finished in time for the episcopal blessing.
In 2010, Fr. Rafael Cabarles and Fr. Vicente Ramon assist then Prior General Fr. Javier Guerra in blessing the Recoletos Street in San Carlos City
The equally winding paths leading to the various Stations of the Cross were likewise made. The Fourteen Stations of the Cross have been set up for devout Catholics who practise on Good Friday and Black Saturday the traditional Via Crucis even as they do penitential acts, recite prayers, chant Lenten hymns and meditate on the Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Catchment area for rainwater providing abundant water during summer
The Fourteenth Station, one of the highest portions of Monteagudo, provides a breathtaking view of the city proper and yonder still the Refugio Island, locally termed Sipaway. At some point in the vast horizon the blue sky and white clouds kiss the green sea. One can’t help but endlessly gaze in awe at God’s marvellous creation.
Monteagudo boasts of a concrete water-tank whose volume is 72.491 cubic meters. The wide cemented catchment area a little over the water-tank was built for the endless downpour, which even overflows during the rainy season. Its water is not potable for humans, but good enough to quench the thirst of plants and trees browbeaten by the scorching sun of summer. Thus the water supply kept at the tank in abundance is most utile during the driest season and for the maintenance of two comfort rooms for guests beneath the multi-purpose hall.
There is a multi-purpose hall made of bamboo and nipa but its roof is galvanized iron and it has a concrete foundation. It is fit for celebrating holy Masses, recollections, lectures, seminar-workshops and other liturgical acts. It was named after Fr. Vicente Ramon to perpetuate the collective effort of the Santo Tomas community he headed in the 2009-2012 triennium. It can accommodate fifty persons comfortably seated on stacking chairs facing the altar for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The fresh air current makes the hall rather cool.
One thousand young Philippine mahogany trees were planted along the fence enclosure. The countless verdant trees, including the molave or tugas trees that envelop the area, even fruit-bearing trees and colorful plants of wide varieties, contribute immensely to the ventilation of the hall. Hundreds of madre de cacao [Gliricidia sepium] were planted alongside the roads to prevent erosion or landslides in the slopes of Monteagudo. At times wild ducks stray into the enclosure. At night one is lulled to sleep by the rhythm of chirping birds and insects.
Fourteenth Station of the Way of the Cross, a Holy Week devotion
Monteagudo is one place, very far from the madding crowd, where—in the apt words of Fr. Larlar and Fr. Cabarles, the Augustinian Recollect confreres, can “rest, reflect, repent and be renewed in the Recollect way.” Ever true to their charismatic identity, they can fulfil the opportune call and persistent desire of the 2010 general chapter and the prior general Father Miguel Miro for revitalization-restructuring of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, and that means “more prayer, more and better communitarian life, more work.” The Recollects then properly address “the need to revitalize religious life, by opening the hearts to the action of the Holy Spirit, who moves hearts, fills them with fire, illumines them, lifts them up and directs them towards love” in an environment-friendly haven where their souls are able to commune with the Creator and appreciate His beautiful creation.
The restless soul can find revitalization and reinvigoration in such a soothing atmosphere complemented by the rhythmic chirping of birds night and day amid the astonishing sight of lush hills, sprawling vegetation and white clouds in the azure horizon, indeed the very noticeable manifestation of the ever-ancient, ever-new Beauty—our God of all eternity. Truly, what fitting place is this Monteagudo Recoletos in San Carlos City!