Fray Pedro de Agurto, OSA, the first Bishop of Cebu

Fray Pedro de Agurto, an Augustinian, was the first bishop of the Diocese of Cebu. Cebu, as we have known, was one of the three dioceses created by Pope Clement VIII in August 14, 1595 with his Papal Brief “Super specula militantis ecclesiae”. The other dioceses are the Nueva Caceres (in Naga) and Nueva Segovia (Vigan). At the same time also was the elevation of the diocese of Manila as an Archdiocese.

Fray Pedro was a son of a noble Spanish family living in Mexico. His father was Sancho Lopez de Agurto and his mother was Bernarda Perez de la Torre. Unlike most of the missionaries who came from Spain, Fray Agurto was Mexican in origin. He joined the Augustinian Order in the Convent of Mexico. He studied in the University of Mexico in August 8, 1553, during which, he was already an Augustinian religious. Pedro was a favorite student of Fray Alfonso de Vera Cruz. The latter, was one of the founders of the first university in Mexico. Fray Pedro shows outstanding performance and brilliance in his study that in 1563, he succeeded Vera Cruz in the Chair of “Prima Escritura” (study of the Sacred Scriptures). His intellectual adeptness led him to professorship of Arts and Theology. In this capacity he held for many years, Fray Pedro received the honorific title as Master of Sacred Theology.

His intellectual capacity was not just confined within the academic aulas in Mexico. He also served as a definitor (or a councilor) and Prior of the Augustinian Convent there. In 1584, Fray Pedro was elected as Prior Provincial or Superior of the Augustinians in Mexico. Described as austere and simple, generous and understanding person despite of his renown as one of the wisest theologians of his age, he rendered humble service among his brothers. In an ecclesiastical council in 1585, he served as an adviser both to the prelates in the Augustinian Order and to other senior bishops.

King Philip II took notice of Fray Agurto as a rising star in Nueva España (the other name for Mexico that time). As Pope Clement VIII created the three dioceses, King Philip suggested the name of Fray Agurto to be the bishop of the Episcopacy of the Santissimo Nombre de Jesus of Cebu. Confirmed by the Pope, the new bishop of the newly created Diocese of Cebu hesitantly but ultimately accepted – out of obedience – the burden of being a leader.

After his consecration, he embarked to the Philippines with the other bishops who will be assigned also to the other pastoral posts: Archbishop Santibañez of Manila, Bishop Benavides of Nueva Segovia, along with other 15 Augustinian friars to work for the mission. They arrived on May 1598 in Cavite.

Bishop Agurto showed the same wisdom and zeal as the new leader in the diocese. A soon as he arrived, he called for a Synod to standardize ecclesiastical norms in the administration of the Sacraments. He also corrected a Bisaya catechism and made wise decisions on reestablishing ecclesiastical disciplines. Despite impossibilities, he managed to do pastoral visitations to his jurisdiction such as in Samar and in Leyte.

Bishop Pedro de Agurto died in October 14, 1608 with the reputation of holiness. After six months of being entombed at the Monastery and Church of Santo Niño, his body was found incorrupt and fragrance exuded from his body.