Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Finding the Padre in Padre Noconocido

Fr. Juan Aballe
Although Christmas has always had a religious significance for most, I have always seen it in a more feminist perspective. I have always appreciated the idea of a woman giving birth to a child without a father. This is only too true in the Philippines today where many unwanted childbirths happen everyday. And when I do think of the religious side of Christmas I always remember that many children born out of wedlock are children of priests. Crazy as it may sound these two thoughts keep crossing my mind every Christmas day.

The idea of having a priest in the family tree is not something new to the Filipino mind. In fact, having a priest in the family is a source of pride for a lot of Filipino families. Many towns in the Philippines take pride in having one of its residents ordained priest or bishop or even the occasional cardinal. During fiestas and special events the parish priest is always given a place in the presidential table and is always the first to be served the best course.

On the other hand, another image of a priest comes to most Filipinos’ minds. The country’s national hero himself portrayed the priest in two fashions: the pious and admirable confessor in the character of Padre Florentino in his novel El Filibusterismo, and the abusive, undesirable, and lascivious priests in the characters of Padre Damaso and Padre Salvi.

When one looks at the Spanish and early American period church records one would find many illegitimate births where the child is always listed as having padre noconocido, or roughly “father not known”. In fact, almost all parishes had separate baptismal books for illegitimate children towards the latter part of the 19th century, with these books called Libro de bautismos de hijos illegitimos (baptismal books for illegitimate children).

For many Filipino families, having a priest for an ancestor is always a terrible secret to be kept as much as possible. However, add a generation or two and the idea of a priestly ancestor becomes somewhat of a novelty. Some even proudly boast of their priestly antecedents, which may pinpoint to the more liberal times we all live in now. Indeed, many famous personalities have priestly antecedents. Imelda Marcos's grandmother's father was a Castillian priest while one of President Manuel L. Quezon's antecedents was also a Spanish friar.

The same may be said of one branch of the Aballe family of Argao, Cebu. One of its current members, Mr. Andrew Levine (who is married to an Aballe descendant), sought my assistance in tracing the roots of his wife, Felicia Salvacion Levine. This was a particularly fulfilling research work for me because it was my first time to trace the genealogy of a “priestly” family. The family of Felicia S. Levine has always believed that they are descended from a Spanish priest from Moalboal, Cebu by the name of Fr. Juan Aballe.

When I saw the name I immediately identified the priest as a descendant of one of the more prominent clans of Argao during the Spanish period. Its members served in various capacities during the Spanish era in the town of Argao, Cebu and one descendant even became the first Governor of the province of Cebu. Although my research has gone to disprove the family’s lore that Juan Aballe was Spanish, his story is still interesting enough to be told. Plus, he came from a family that helped shape not just the history of the town of Argao, but also of the province of Cebu.

Juan Aballe, the priestly ancestor of Felicia, was one of the earliest priests from Argao, Cebu and his name has been memorialized in various charts and books. It was thus another big surprise for me to find out that one more of the 52 ordained priests of Argao has left descendants today. For someone who has seen plenty of priestly ancestors in various genealogies, and someone who is a priestly descendant myself (twice, in fact!), I should not have been surprised at all. But it still surprised me because when I first set my eyes on the photo of Juan Aballe a few years ago I would have never thought that that regal-, pious-, and stern-looking priest actually had kids. Which just goes to prove that people back then were extremely gifted at hiding secrets.

The search for Padre Juan Aballe also gave me a reason to go back to the basics in genealogical research. When I checked my database of Argawanon families I immediately spotted Juan Aballe’s name but, to my horror, I failed to connect his name to his parents! I went back to all my digital copies of the church records of Argao but, alas, my baptismal records were deleted when I had to reformat my laptop a few years back. So, without any information on Padre Aballe except for the fact that he was a former parish priest of Moalboal, Cebu, and that he was ordained priest in 1887, I set about looking for this particular padre. In the end I had to go look at old books of ordained priests from the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City and had someone dig up Juan Aballe’s records from the LDS Family History Center in Quezon City as I had no time going to a FHC or to Argao to look for Padre Aballe’s records. But, in the end, my return to basic research steps proved successful.


Juan Aballe was born in the town of Argao, Cebu on June 24, 1862, to Ciriaco Aballe and Teresa Abear. By the standards of those days he was born into a life of relative wealth and prominence. Both his grandfathers were members of the principalia; as mentioned earlier his Aballe grandfather, Don Tiburcio Victoriano Aballe, was a long-time Juez de Semetera, while his maternal grandfather, Don Feliz Abear, was a long-time cabeza de barangay. Scores of his relatives also served in various capacities in the church and the government.  He was confirmed into the Roman Catholic faith in 1864 with Don Juan Ordaneta as his godfather.

When he was old enough to go to school he was groomed by the family to become a man of the cloth. His cousin, Julio Aballe Llorente, son of Martina Aballe de Llorente (a sister of Ciriaco), was already groomed for public office. The Llorente family sent their son Julio to Manila to study. As for Juan, his was a career geared towards the priestly vocation, and he was schooled at the Seminario de San Carlos de Cebu where he completed all minor and major subjects needed for his priestly education.

He was ordained priest in the year 1887 by Cebu Bishop Martin Garcia Alcocer. In that same year he was appointed as co-adjutor of the parish of Loay, Bohol. He was also the parish priest of Moalboal, Cebu, from 1896-1899, during which he became the father of at least two sons, one of which was Cornelio (Aballe) Sabello.

The tracing of this particular Aballe line’s roots has allowed me to yet again give the name of the father of one of the children baptized towards the end of the Spanish period who would have otherwise been forever branded as an illegitimate child: Felicia Levine’s grandfather, Cornelio Sabello, was baptized and listed down as having padre noconocido. His baptismal record only gave his mother’s name, Marina Sabello, while his father was not listed. For obvious reasons, priests could not list their names down as the father of this or that child. It took just three generations before the paternity of Cornelio Sabello has become documented for posterity.

Through this pursuit of the past, we have finally found the name of the father of Cornelio Aballe Sabello. Happy Christmas, everyone!

4 comments:

  1. This is interesting. I was searching for my great grandfather's history and you somehow got everything documented!

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    1. So you are Juan Aballe's great-grandchild? Cool! Nice to hear you were able to connect yourself to one of my research subjects.

      Cheers!

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    2. Hi!
      Yup am indeed. Really love your research and how you got his photo because I never thought I would find him.

      Regards, Marietta

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  2. I am interested in how you determined that Fr. Juan Aballe fathered two sons in Moalboal; was there any documentation for that? I know that he served as parish priest in Samboan from March 20, 1900, until at least December of 1933 (when that particular Libro de Recibo y Gasto ends), and he was very active in fundraising and building projects there.

    David

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