Our seminary traces its earliest beginnings to the mission school attached to the Colegio de San Ildefonso, the residence of the Society of Jesus in Cebu and their central house for the Visayas missions. Although not specifically for the training of priests, the school provided an ideal place for native young boys to develop good character traits and learn the basics of the newly-planted Christian faith. Founded on 25 August 1595, the school officially closed on June 1, 1769 when the decree of King Charles III ordering the expulsion of the Jesuits from all Spanish territories issued a year earlier was implemented in our islands.
On October 25, 1777 the Bishop of Cebu, Mateo Joaquin Rubio de Arevalo, petitioned King Charles III for the legal bequest of the land and building of the closed Colegio and use it for an institution exclusively devoted to the training of candidates to the priesthood in his diocese. The King’s decree dated October 29, 1779 granted the request and decreed the founding of a diocesan seminary to be called Real Seminario de San Carlos. But it was not until August 23, 1783 that the royal decree was executed and the administration of the seminary was given to the Diocesan Clergy of Cebu.
In view of the delicate and demanding nature of seminary work that only a few diocesan priests were prepared to assume at the time, the Dominican Bishop of Cebu, Romualdo Jimeno, invited fellow Dominicans to lend the diocesan clergy a helping hand. From 1852 to 1867 scholars from Manila took turns in acting as professors and Regents of Studies. During this period the seminary shed off its royal identity when it became Seminario Conciliar de San Carlos, a diocesan seminary according to the rules laid down by the Council of Trent.
When the Congregation of the Missions arrived in 1862 to administer the seminaries in the Philippine islands, Bishop Jimeno invited them on March 2, 1863 to take charge of the seminary. The request was fulfilled on January 23, 1867 with the arrival and formal turnover of the seminary to the hands of the Congreation of the Mission or Padres Paules, as they were fondly called. The rector, Fr. Jose Casarramona, assisted by Fr. Gabino Lopez and Fr. Francisco Potellas promptly set out to implement a formation program according to the spirit of church reform set forth by the Council of Trent.
The initial good results prompted the people of Cebu and the neighboring islands to petition Bishop Jimeno to open the doors of the seminary even to those not aspiring for the priesthood so that “they may duly be instructed in science and virtue.” On July 1, 1867 the seminary officially admitted extern students, hence the name Seminario Colegio de San Carlos. From an institution exclusively devoted to the training of future priests, the seminary became also a colegio or school for the education of future leaders of the nation. In 1891 the seminary obtained recognition for its secondary education program and in 1893 it had a 5-year Bachelor of Arts curriculum affiliated with the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.
(Prominent Cebuanos like Rama, Gullas, Sotto, Osmena, and many others studied at the Seminario-Colegio)
The period of turmoil caused by the Revolution for Independence prompted the closure of the seminary in April of 1898, but ecclesiastical training was however imparted to the very few that chose to remain during the intervening years until 1905. As things returned to normal the Seminario-Colegio was able to keep up with the standards of the American system of education and received government recognition on February 19, 1912, the first among the institutions in the country to receive such honor.
(Video Presentation: History and Heritage)
To implement the decree of Pope Pius XI, mandating that seminaries should be exclusively for students aspiring for the priesthood, the Seminario-Colegio became two separate institutions in 1924, a Colegio for the extern students and a Seminario for those in priestly training. In 1932 the Colegio de San Carlos moved to a new place in the city (P. del Rosario Street) while the Seminario de San Carlos remained in its original location near the Plaza Independencia. In 1934 the Padres Paules turned over the administration of the Colegio de San Carlos to the Fathers of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD).
The outbreak of the Second World War forced the seminary to close, although in June of 1943 classes were to resume in the parish convent of Argao for the menores or those in high school and in a rented house in Sibonga for the mayores or those in Philosophy and Theology. When the heavy aerial bombing during the liberation of Cebu in 1945 completely destroyed the seminary building, Archbishop Gabriel Reyes rallied the people of Cebu for the construction of a new building in Mabolo. In 1949 the seminarians and priests moved in to the new site.
The increase in vocations to the priesthood paved the way for the separation of the High School seminarians in 1952 and those in Philosophy in 1971 from the Theology level. The Seminario Menor de San Carlos
was renamed Pope John XXIII Minor Seminary when the Padres Paules turned it over to the diocesan clergy on July 14, 1969, while the Philosophy department became San Carlos Seminary College in 1973. The Theology department became Seminario Mayor de San Carlos.
The Seminario Mayor continued to be administered by the Spanish Padres Paules until 1973 when Fr. Jesus Dosado, C.M., the first Filipino Rector was appointed. Succeeded by Cristeto Mendez (1977-80), Jaime Belita (1980-
83), Rafael Sucaldito (1983-86) and Manuel Ginete (1986-1998), the Filipino Vincentians implemented the reforms of the Second Vatican
Council on priestly formation. The school year 1985-86 saw the start of the intensive one-year Spiritual Pastoral Formation Year (SPFY) Program. Bishops of suffragan dioceses started sending some of their priests to be formators and/or professors while competent lay people were carefully selected to help prepare future priests. In 1996 the Graduate Programs in Theology and Pastoral Ministry for priests and lay gained government recognition.
The seminary entered into a new chapter of its history when on March 21, 1998 the Congregation of the Mission officially turned over the administration of the seminary to the Archbishop of Cebu, His Eminence Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal.