HomePhilippiniana Sacravol. 46 no. 136 (2011)

Belgian Missionaries in 17th Century Marianas: The Role of Fr. Peter Coomans and Fr. Gerard Bouwens

Augusto V. De Viana



Belgians comprised some of the European missionaries who helped administer the nascent Spanish colony in the Mariana islands. The Christian mission there was founded by Fr. Diego L uis de Sanvitores in 1668 and the task of conversion of the natives to the new faith was entrusted to the Jesuits. Missionaries from Belgium added to those from other nations such as Italy, Germany and Moravia. They were chosen because of their ability to endure harsh conditions.

The first decades of the Marianas mission was fraught with extreme difficulties most especially the resistance of the natives to the changes brought by Christianity. Two missionaries, Fr. Peter Coomans and Fr. Balthazar Dubois, paid with their lives while serving as missionaries in the Marianas. Despite the difficulties, they sowed the seeds of the Christian mission in the island and ensured the continued existence of the colony. Fr. Coomans and Fr. Gerard Bouwens played an important part in the islands as superiors in the Mariana Mission. Fr. Bouwens later made recommendations for good governance in the islands. An important role played by these two missionaries was that they recorded the history of the colony and recorded some important aspects of the culture of the native Chamorro people and the challenges faced by the mission including the serious challenges such as the martyrdom of fellow missionaries and the native rebellions which lasted until 1695. For his important role in serving the mission, Fr. Bouwens was hailed as its second founder.