Chronology of Catholic Dioceses:Two Notes on the Carolines


Till the middle of the 17th century there was no evangelisation activity among the Polynesian islanders. Thereafter there used to be occasional visits of chaplains who served on the Spanish fleet. In 1668 the Spanish Jesuits opened a mission on Guam and within a year spread their activities on to ten other islands. In 1631 the faithful numbered 30,000. In 1731 the Jesuits tried to establish a station on the Carolines, but failed.

The region called "Micronesia" was marked out in 1832 by Dumont d'Urville. In 1827 Leo XII entrusted the entire Polynesia to the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (SS.CC., better known as Picpus Fathers).

In 1833 Pope Gregory XVI created the Apostolic Vicariate of Western Oceania, comprising also the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia. The Carolines formed part of the Western Oceania Vicariate. Though the Vicariate was entrusted to the Marists (S.M.), the first Apostolic Vicar was the diocesan priest of Lyons - Jean-Baptiste Pompallier (1801-1871). In 1842 the Apostolic Vicariate of Central Oceania was carved out from that of the Western Oceania and entrusted to the Marists. The Carolines continued to be part of the Vicariate of Western Oceania.

In 1844 the Vicariate of Central Oceania was again divided into two Vicariates - Melanesia and Micronesia (Carolines, Marshall, Gilbert Islands) both under one bishop. The loss of personnel due to local opposition and the climatic inclemencies induced the Marists to request to be relieved of this Mission of theirs. In 1850 the Propaganda asked both the Picpus and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.) to take over the Mission. Both declined. The Italian missionaries from Milan (M.E.M.) arrived on the scene and worked for three years and then withdrew, again on account of antagonism and climatic conditions.

It was only after 25 years that the Mission was resuscitated. Rome's efforts to get a religious Order to assume responsibility for the Mission failed. Finally in 1881 Leo XIII found the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus ready for the task.

Gregory XVI divided the Oceania region into the two Apostolic Vicariates: Eastern Oceania (entrusted to the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary [Picpus]) and Western Oceania (including the Carolines under the care of the Marist Fathers)

A third Apostolic Vicariate is created: Central Oceania (also manned by the Marists).

Western Oceania is divided into the two jurisdictions of Melanesian and Micronesian islands (including the Carolines) but remains under one bishop.

The arrival of the Fathers from Issoudun (Confraternity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)

The Germans establish their flag on the Island Yap (or Jap). But since the Spaniards had considered the Carolines as their ancient possession, they raised a protest. On Bismarck’s request to Leo XIII to arbitrate, the pope assigns to Spain on 22 October 1885 political sovereignty over the Carolines but grants Germany equal trade and shipping rights as Spain.

1886 (March 15)
The Spanish Crown entrusts the Mission of the Carolines to the Capuchins.

1886 (May 15)
Leo XIII formally approves this decision of Spain; detaches the Carolines from Micronesia and entrusts it to the Spanish Capuchins. The Mission was divided into East Carolinian Mission with headquarters in Ponape and West Carolinian Mission with headquarters in Yap. Both the Missions were under the General Procurator, the Castilian Provincial Joachim of Llevaneras. The superior of the Western Carolines was Fr Daniel of Arbácegui and reached Yap on 29 June 1886. Fr Saturninus of Artajona, the Superior of the East Carolinian Mission reached Ponape on 14 June 1887.

The Superior of the East Carolinian Mission resided at Santiago of the Ascension. The West Carolinian Mission had Yap as its headquarters.

1899 (in the wake of the Spanish-American war)
Spain sold the Carolines and the Marian Islands to Germany. The German authorities found the Spanish missionaries very co-operative and accepted their presence in their territory.

A Westphalian Capuchin arrived in Jap, after Westphalia had informed Rome of its readiness to send German friars for the schools.

Both the East and the West Carolinian Missions are united, and the Spaniard Fr Daniel of Arbácegui, the Superior of the West Carolinian Mission is appointed Apostolic Administrator.

1904 (November 7 )
The Mission is again divided and the East Carolinian part is given over to the German friars. Fr Venantius of Pechthal is appointed its Superior.

1905 ( December 18)
Both the parts are once again reunited and constituted into an Apostolic Prefecture and entrusted to the German Capuchins, with Fr Venantius as the Apostolic Prefect. The Spanish Capuchins began taking leave.

(Information provided by Fr. Benedict Vadakkekara at the Capuchin archives in Rome, via Mr. Gerard Lovell in New Zealand)

- CT

Select Bibliography

1. "Premier départ de Missionnaires du Sacré-Coeur pour les Missions de la Mélanésie et Micronésie (Océanie)". Littre du P. Jout msc, Barcelone, 1er septembre 1881, in Annales de N.D. du Sacré-Coeur, XVI, Issoudun 1881, 217-226.

2. Pereira-Caldas, Ilhas Carolinas. Conflicto Hispano-Allemano arbitrativamente solvido en Roma a 17 de Dezembro de 1885 pelo Papa Leao XIII em mediacao diplomatica, entre los contendentes escolhida, Oporto 1886.

3. Giocchino Maria da Llevaneras, Relazione sopra le Missioni delle Isole Caroline e Palaos presentata alla S. Congregazione di Propaganda Fide, Roma 1893.

4. Salesius [von Stolberg], Die Karolinen-Insel Jap. Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis von Land und Leuten in unseren deutschen Südsee-Kolonien, Berlin 1906 [7].

5. Ambrosio de Valencina, Mi viaje a Oceania. Historia de la fundción de la misiones Capuchinas en las Islas Carolinas y Palaos, Sevilla 1917.

6. Clemens a Terzorio, Manuale historicum missionum Ordinis Minorum Capuccinorum, Isola del Liri 1926.

7. Josef Metzler, La Chiesa nel Pacifico, in Australia e Nuova Zelanda, in Dalle Missioni alle Chiese locali, a cura di Josef Metzler (Storia della Chiesa, 24), Cinisello Balsamo 1990, 451-476.


To retrace jurisdictions covering the Carolines before missionaries actually started effective work there, one needs to appreciate that in these (seen from Europe) remote areas by accident were under a double jurisdiction.

It was in fact the Portuguese who were the first Catholics to discover these islands (in 1527), and they called them the Sequeira Islands. According to their interpretation of the Treaty of Tordesillas (which was probably more sound than that of the Spanish), these Islands would thus be under the jurisdiction of some Portuguese Padroado diocese (1527-33: Funchal, 1533-1558: Goa, 1558-1576: Malacca; 1576- : Macau) - but all this is mere theory as no Portuguese missionary effort was ever attempted.

Then the Spanish established themselves in the Philippines. In 1686, Spain laid claim to the same islands, calling them the Carolines in honour of Charles II of Spain. The Diocese of Cebu had theoretical jurisdiction over the Carolines (but this was never effectively acted upon). The background of this, is the Spanish interpretation of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Then there were the jurisdictions established directly by Rome, by the Propaganda Fide. The Vicariate Apostolic of Micronesia was also theoretically in charge of the Carolines. In 1886 Spain, under pressure from Germany, began to "do something" about Micronesia, sending both civil officers and missionaries to Yap. The Propaganda was unaware that this area had already been claimed by Spain, which was not under Propaganda. Of course, the Vicariate Apostolic of Micronesia was never realized either (it was a name that was never actualized), so there never were two groups working in the same area with different sources of authority.

(Information from Rv. John F. Curran, SJ, provided by Gerald Lovell)

- CT

Last update: 2000-11-06 14:38 +0200
av Webmaster publisert 12.08.2004, sist endret 12.08.2004 - 09:39