On December 17, 1960 a new ecclesiastical jurisdiction separated from the Prelature of Cotabato was erected. It was called then the Prelature Nullius of Marbel. It comprised the Catholic population which had settled in the area at the southern tip of the empire province of Cotabato.

This year 1985, the now Diocese of Marbel (South Cotabato) marks its 25th year of becoming a local Church.



The Years of Conception

The whole island of Mindanao was previously administered from Cebu (1595), then Jaro (1865). In 1910 a separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction was created for Mindanao - the Diocese of Zamboanga. Then in 1933 another diocese was established - the Diocese of Cagayan De Oro. Cagayan took over northern Mindanao while Zamboanga took care of the southern part comprising the provinces of Zamboanga, Sulu, Lanao, Davao, and Cotabato. That same year a new bishop was appointed for Zamboanga. He was Bishop Luis Del Rosario, S.J., who upon taking over became at once concerned with bringing in new missionaries to help the 25 Jesuit priests serving the needs of the people in the vast territory in southern Mindanao.

In 1938 Bishop Del Rosario invited the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) to come to Cotabato and Sulu. The Superior General of  the Oblates in Rome sent Fr.Francis Hulwegg, OMI, to investigate. He came in 1939 and visited various places in Cotabato. Fr. Hulwegg returned to Rome. The Oblate Council was  impressed with  his report and finally accepted the challenge. Thus, a new Oblate Mission was born.

The first group of Oblate Missionaries arrived in the Philippines in October 1939. These 7 pioneers were: Fr. Gerard Mongeau (Superior), Fr. Emile Bolduc, Fr. George Dion, Fr. Egide Beaudoin, Fr. Joseph Boyd, Fr. Cuthbert Billman, and Fr. Francis McSorley. Three priests went to Sulu: Fr. Bolduc, Fr. Dion, and Fr. Billman. Four to Cotabato: Fr.Mongeau, Fr. Boyd, Fr. McSorley, and Fr. Beaudoin.

Cotabato Province in 1939 consisted of a vast area of about 90,000 square miles, the biggest in the Philippines that time. 76% of the land was still forested. Total population was about 250,000 majority of whom were Moslems. There were no roads yet crossing the Province. Means of travel were by boat along rivers and along the seacoast, on horseback or carabao carts.

The Oblates came at a time most opportune. The Cotabato area, especially the south, was waiting. Only three Jesuit priests were taking charge of a parish which included the whole empire province of Cotabato from the North to the South. Pockets of small Christian communities were thriving along the coast of Kalamansig, Lebak, Milbuk, Kiamba, Kling and Glan, also waiting. Mass migrations of peoples were taking place. In the south the first group  of colonists had just arrived and had established themselves  in Lagao. Soon thousands more were to follow. Areas for new settlements were being prepared. In places where these people would  settle new churches had to be built, the sacraments to be administered,  parishes  to be set-up, new schools to  be established, apostolates to be organized, etc. - the opportunities for evangelization were endless.

Prior to 1939, the population of southern Cotabato consisted mostly of Maguindanao Muslims and pagan tribal groups. Organized migrations to the coastal areas along Sarangani  Bay started during  the American time. The first recorded batch of  Christian colonists  landed in Glan in 1914, followed by another batch  in 1915. A small group of Christian settlers also settled in Makar in 1916. In the Kiamba area some groups of homeseekers from the Ilocos region had settled from 1920 to 1926. A group of families from Nueva Ecija also established themselves in Baluan, Polomolok and Tupi in 1930. These were the original pioneers who had ventured  into the new land. Soon, they would be joined by thousand others, who like them, were urged on by the same dreams.

On February 11, 1939 President Quezon issued Proclamations No. 383 and 384 reserving the Koronadal Valley area for new settlement projects. Koronadal Valley, was described at that time, as a narrow plain about 80 kilometers long, extending from Lake Buluan all the way to Sarangani Bay. The valley was divided  into 3 parts: Northern Koronadal (Lutayan-Marbel area), Middle Koronadal (Tupi-Polomolok area), and Southern Koronadal (Lagao-Dadiangas area). Marbel area was covered by a sea of cogon and talahib; Tupi by thick forests; and Dadiangas by silibon and dadiangas trees. This vast expanse of land was just waiting to be developed. Plans were being readied for this very purpose. A big government project was underway. This project  called for the bringing of new settlers into the Koronadal Valley with government support and supervision. General Paulino Santos was appointed General Manager of this government undertaking.

The first group of Christian settlers led by General Santos landed on the shores of Dadiangas in the morning of February 27, 1939. Upon arrival the newcomers saw what lay before them: "lonely stretch of shoreline ... one vast emptiness marching out to the very foot of brooding hills and mist-shrouded mountains". Some were filled with dismay at what they saw. But after the initial shock wore off, and realizing that somehow there was no turning back, the immigrants disembarked and were met by local residents and later by officials from the municipal district of Glan. Soon after, the serious tasks of laying the foundation for a new life began. Temporary shelters were built, the land surveyed and distributed, new crops planted - administrative structures had been set up. In early March the first settlement was established in Lagao.

On June, 1939 President Quezon approved Commonwealth Act No. 441 creating the National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA). This was the signal many were waiting for. Soon influx of would-be settlers poured in from Luzon and the Visayas. The Catholic population, too, was swelling rapidly. Fortunately, in October of the same year, and a few months after the first settlers arrived in Lagao, the Oblate Fathers also came and started work in the south. For 19 years, (from 1939 to 1958), as the government were building settlements, the OMI missionaries were also there building the Church.

The Birth of An Infant

It is not without reason that the elders here fondly recall the day the Oblate Fathers came at a time they were needed most. The life of a pioneer - like that of Abraham - was most difficult. For settler families reared in the religious traditions of the north, the burden was not made any lighter by the absence of priests. Thus, anywhere the Fathers went eager settlers put up chapels where they could congregate for community worship.

As more and more immigrants came, they had to be moved upwards into the middle and upper Koronadal Valley. The clearing of forests, the planting of seeds and the forming of farming communities were also speeded up. Tupi was formally opened to settlers in 1939, Marbel in 1940, Polomolok in 1941. But as the  tide of settlers continued to pour in, it became necessary to open additional settlements beyond the mountains in the Allah Valley area. So, in 1941 new settlements in Banga (March) and Norala  (April) were  opened. Life in the new settlements was difficult. There were no decent roads, no electricity. Many got sick with the dreaded malaria. But during these difficult days of privation the Oblate  Fathers, led by Father Gerard Mongeau, entered the lives of the settlers, bringing the strength that could come only from the gospels. In time, the Oblates established eight parishes: Lagao (1941), Marbel (1946), Glan (1949), Banga  (1950), Norala (1952), Kiamba (1954), Tupi (1956), and Dadiangas (1957).

The early Oblate missionaries were spurred by the belief that, aside from the usual Church functions, a solid Christian education is the best means of evangelization. Few in number, they invited the Marist Brothers (FMS) who came in 1948, the Dominican Sisters of Siena (OP) in 1952, and the Augustinian Recollect Sisters (AR) in 1956, to run the schools and to open new ones when necessary. These schools were erected often with labor provided free by the local populace. These also provided the children of settlers with basic and necessary knowledge useful not  only for the understanding of the faith but  also  for  the advancement of the pioneer settlements. Thus various Notre Dame schools were opened in the south: Notre Dame of Marbel (1946), Lagao (1947), Glan and Banga (1952) Norala and Kiamba (1953), and Dadiangas (1954).

Everywhere  the Oblate Fathers always found  generous volunteers for such traditional Church ministry as catechesis. The settlers also eagerly joined organizations created by the Fathers, such as the Legion of Mary, the Catholic Women's League, the Knights of Columbus and others.

In spite of the war years (1941-1945), and soon after the war, the Church in Cotabato had grown so tremendously that in 1950, Cotabato was made into a new ecclesiastical jurisdiction and was called the Prelature Nullius of Cotabato. Bishop Gerard Mongeau, OMI, was appointed the first Prelate Ordinary.

Then, too, the population in the South kept increasing so rapidly that again, it became a question of dividing the Prelature into two. So, in 1957 Bishop Mongeau invited the Passionist Fathers to work in the South. Arrangements were made, and on Oct.10, 1957 the Superior General of the Passionists in Rome approved the plan of  sending missionaries to the South. A new Passionist Mission was thus created.

Accordingly, on January 21, 1958 Fr. Quentin Olwell, C.P. (Superior) and Fr. Anthony Maloney, C.P. arrived in Cotabato. They were the first Passionists to arrive. A few weeks later (Feb. 24) 7 more Passionists followed. They were: Fr. Reginald Arliss, Fr. Lawrence Mullin,  Fr. Paschal Smith, Fr. Leonard Amrhein, Fr. Jerome Does, Fr. Hilarion Walters, and Fr. Crispin Lynch. These new missionaries arrived by PAL to take up their stations in Norala, Banga, Marbel, Lagao, Dadiangas, and Glan. (Tupi  and Kiamba were turned over much later). Most of them had previously been assigned in China.

Rearing the Child

The people had come to love the Passionist Fathers dearly. They wondered what kind of men were this new group of American  missionaries who exposed over their breasts "black hearts embossed with a white cross and three white nails" and who literally motored into their lives - riding on their jeeps where once the Oblate Fathers traveled on horseback.

Times changed. The area was progressing rapidly. More towns were also being created. The Passionist Fathers, led by Fr. Quentin Olwell, moved with the times. Two more parishes were opened: Polomolok in 1958, and Milbuk in 1959. The mission to the tribal communities was opened at Bolul in 1958 and at Lem-ehek, Lake Sebu in 1961.

So fast were the developments that in December 19, 1960 a new ecclesiastical jurisdiction separated from Cotabato was created and called the Prelature Nullius of Marbel. Bishop Quentin Olwell, C.P. was made its first bishop.

But the work of sustaining the Christian communities will not be always done by the foreign missionaries. In 1963, the Diocesan Seminary in Marbel was opened. This was perhaps the single most important achievement of the first bishop. He realized that  the ratio of people per priest was extremely high (about 30  to  40 thousand  per  priest). In due time, a crop of young diocesan clergy would emerge and take responsible functions in the Church here.

The Second Vatican Council (1963-1965) opened new horizons for the Church in South Cotabato. To Bishop Olwell fell the task of guiding his flock from the days of the Latin Mass to those when Masses would be said in the vernacular. To the Council's call for more lay participation in the Church, the Bishop responded by opening to the laity more avenues of responsible participation.

Wherever permissible, parish councils were put up. In the second half of the decade, the Samaria-Cursillo Movement was introduced in the Prelature. Thousands of enthusiastic lay people, men and women, enrolled for the three-day retreat and they came out with more religious zeal than ever.

After ten years of guiding the Prelature, Bishop Olwell retired due to poor health in April 1969. He died in the United States on January 31, 1971.

Learning the Ways of Adults

The next decade ushered-in even more progress. The Most Rev. Reginald Arliss, C.P. was installed second Prelate Ordinary in February 24, 1970. Before this, he was rector of the Colegio Filipino in Rome for ten years. He was there during the  historic moment when the bishops from all over the world gathered for the Second Vatican Council.

During Bishop Arliss' eleven-year term, twenty-six of the  diocesan clergy were ordained. More parishes were opened. The number of religious men and women, mostly administering the Catholic schools, also increased. Although the initial burst of fervor among the Samaria-Cursillo graduates lessened, many remained active and took up responsible functions in the parishes and the different organizations and ministries. The tribal  Filipino apostolate expanded from the original bases to cover most of the tribal communities in the Prelature. The diocesan radio station, DXCP, was opened so that the Christian message would penetrate the airwaves.

The Christian spirit came to a test early during the term of Bishop Arliss. In 1973, the so-called Christian-Muslim conflict erupted. Despite the animosity, the Church here played host to Muslim refugees, and at certain periods denounced atrocities committed against innocent Muslim lives.

His genuine concern for the welfare of his people brought him in numerous confrontations with the authorities. Early in his term, Martial Law was declared. By the middle of the decade, more and more abuses attributed to military personnel were reported. The Church-Military Liaison Committee (CMLC) was activated. The Bishop, his clergy and many concerned lay-people were always there to defend the rights of victims. To facilitate this work, the Social Action Center was opened and several concerned Catholic lawyers volunteered their services. The diocesan newspaper, CONCERN, also began to be published during this time.

But the real character of the decade lies on the formation programs established to help the people understand better their faith so that they could act more responsibly in the world. Early in the decade, the Christian Formation Center (CFC) was set up and it rendered valuable educational service. The Center sponsored  several seminars and programs. The lay liturgical  leadership program was expanded to all parishes. The catechetical program was strengthened. New ministries and programs were introduced, like Kriska, the Family Life Apostolate and others.  All lay ministers were given the necessary education.

The upsurge of these educational programs gave the needed boost for the initial formation of Basic Christian Communities (BCCs) throughout the Prelature. Armed with the necessary  knowledge, several lay leaders emerged to lead their communities to a better living out of the faith. Near the end of the decade, the beginnings of streamlining of the various Church programs and apostolates were started. All these efforts were to blossom further in the next decade.

Into the Adult World

Dissatisfaction over the affairs of the country was intensifying. The government tried to defuse this popular sentiment, but it was not successful. The situation came to a head on August 21, 1983. Meanwhile insurgency, which was still in seminal stage at the beginning of 1980, grew to cover many parts of the province. A number of our people, particularly the youth, joined the rebels.

In 1981, Fr. Dinualdo Gutierrez, Vicar General of Capiz, was named Co-adjutor Bishop (cum jure successionis) of Marbel. Upon the resignation of Bishop Arliss in October of the same year, Bishop Gutierrez became the third Prelate Ordinary and inherited a progressive and well-run episcopal seat. His early task was to create the necessary structures to coordinate the various apostolates  and programs in the Prelature at a diocesan level. Hence, the whole jurisdiction was divided into four pastoral areas (the canonical equivalent of vicariates). Different coordinating bodies were set up at this level.

In twenty years, the clergy more than doubled. Most were schooled in the theological thought that sees society not as mere locus theologicus but more as locus evangelii. Hence, they had committed themselves to the transformation of society according to the demands of the gospels. This thinking gained several adherents among the lay leaders in the parishes. Many were drawn towards more progressive stance in the face of social realities.

In 1981, the Presbyterium in their annual meeting defined the diocesan thrust as follows: To build Basic Christian Communities (BCCs) towards total liberation and development in order to bring about the "new self" and the "new earth" thereby glorifying God. It also declared a "preferential option for the poor."

A groundswell of re-alignments and re-orientations followed. The different ministries and their programs were oriented to include and emphasize social transformation besides individual  conversion. The rollos of the Samaria-Cursillo retreats were updated to accommodate progressive theological thinking. Church organizations were required to undergo these new courses.

The move was met with stiff resistance from certain quarters. The BCC program became suspect and several communities experienced harassments. But the Prelature stood pat on its decision.

Amidst the controversy brought about by the Prelature's exercise of its prophetic role, the Prelature of Marbel was elevated into a Diocese in November 1982.

The following year, the new Diocese of Marbel decided to embark on sectoral organizing programs. Several parishes joined in organizing their farmers, laborers, fishermen, urban poor communities, teachers and lately tribal communities. It also launched several mobilizations in response to immediate problems and to the deteriorating social conditions.

The Church in the Diocese of Marbel has leapt from the confines of  the "churchy" towards a more responsible approach to the world. Its present position has not been without stiff resistance from quarters both inside and outside the Church. As it celebrates its 25 years of becoming a local Church, the Diocese continues to confront the problems brought about by the stance it has taken. But most of all, its biggest problem remains to be the eradication of evil in society.


1. Territory and People

The  Diocese  of Marbel was established as Prelature  Nullius  of Marbel on December 17,1960. It was released from the Metropolitan right  of  the Archdiocese of Davao and became suffragan of  the newly created Archdiocese of Cotabato when the latter was elevated to the rank of an archdiocese in 1979. The Prelature of Marbel was elevated to a Diocese on November 19,1982. The Titular of the Diocese is Christ the King.

The Diocese has an area of about 10,000 square kilometers; its boundaries cover the whole civil Province of South Cotabato and some parts of three municipalities of the neighboring civil Province of Sultan Kudarat. The Diocese lies about 1,000  kilometers south of Manila and is about six degrees above the  equator. The whole area enjoys a mild tropical climate.

The  total population of the Diocese is now about a  million.  Of which more than 850,000 are Catholics; the rest belong to several small Protestant denominations, tribal Filipinos and Muslims in the area.  The Province, according to  the  Provincial  Economic Development  Office of South Cotabato, has an  annual  population growth rate of about 4.7%.

There  is  no  single dominant language spoken in  the  area  but several. These are  the regional languages of the different settlers  who,  during the first five decades of this century migrated here from Luzon and the Visayas. Some of these languages are Ilonggo, Cebuano, Tagalog, and Ilocano.

The  economy  of the region is supported mainly  by  agriculture. Rice.  corn and coconut are the main products.  Fishing, poultry and livestock raising are the main industries together with lumber and pineapple which are mainly for exports.



Most Rev. Quentin Olwell, C.P., D.D. (1961-1969)
Born: November 4, 1898
Ordained Priest: February 4, 1923
Elected Titular Bishop of Tabraca and Prelate Ordinary of Marbel:
January 19, 1961
Consecrated: April 25, 1961
Resigned: April 14, 1969

Most Rev. Reginald Arliss, C.P., D.D. (1970-1981)
Born: September 8, 1906, at Orange, Newark, USA
Ordained Priest: April 28, 1934
Appointed Titular Bishop of Cerbali and Prelate Ordinary of
Marbel: November 1969
Ordained Bishop: January 30, 1970
Installed: February 24, 1970
Resigned: October 1, 1981

Most Rev. Dinualdo D. Gutierrez, D.D., M.A., S.T.D.
Born: February 20, 1939, at Romblon, Romblon
Ordained Priest: April 10, 1962
Appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Marbel with right of succession (c.i.s): November 19, 1980
Ordained Bishop: January 28, 1981
Bishop Prelate Ordinary by succession: October 1, 1981
Installed: November 18, 1981
Appointed Bishop of Marbel: November 15, 1982

"An Historic Pageant"

(Historical Development of the Diocese of Marbel on the Occasion of Its Silver Jubilee)

The Story

Originally, the Diocese of Marbel, like all of Southern Mindanao was inhabited mostly by Maguindanao Muslims and non-Christian minority tribes. (The very few Christians the Jesuits of Zamboanga served lived along the seacoast).

In 1939, the National Land Settlement Act opened South Cotabato to migrants from all parts of the country. In these years the place was served by the OMI Fathers of the Prelature of  Cotabato under Most Rev. Gerard Mongeau, OMI, DD. After World War II, they continued to establish parishes and Notre Dame schools in the area. Marist Brothers and religious Sisters were called to help develop the fast-growing Notre Dame schools.

In 1958, the Passionists came to serve South Cotabato. In December 1960 the area became the Prelature of Marbel under Most Rev. Quentin Olwell, CP, DD, as first Bishop. Bishop Olwell established additional parishes, strengthened the Notre Dame schools and implemented the reforms of Vatican II.

On October 24, 1970, Most Rev. Reginald Arliss, CP, DD, was installed as the second bishop under whose term new programs and developments were initiated to answer the needs of the time especially in the period after Martial Law had been declared. (Near the end of his term, he initiated the building of Basic Christian Communities as the primary thrust of the Prelature.) After he retired in 1981, Most Rev. Dinualdo Gutierrez, D.D. became the new Bishop by succession.

Marbel was elevated to a diocese in November 1982 and Bishop Gutierrez became the first residential bishop of the new diocese. As a diocese, it comprises the whole province of South Cotabato and two municipalities of Sultan Kudarat. The diocese is officially dedicated to Christ the King.

And in these days of Silver Jubilee, the Diocese of Marbel, faced with even more daunting and fundamental challenges, continues to unfold its never-ending story.


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Revised: Wednesday April 14, 2004 10:51:10 PM
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