Memorial Mass in honor of Rev. Fr. Jose Maria Arregui OP

Memorial Mass in honor of Rev. Fr. Jose Maria Arregui OP

As part of the commemorative celebrations of the 160 years of evangelization of Taiwan, the Dominican Mission in Taiwan and Saint Dominic Parish in Kaohsiung celebrated the 40th death anniversary memorial in honor of the Fourth Prefect Apostolic of Taiwan and the First Prefect Apostolic of Kaohsiung, Rev. Fr. Jose Maria Arregui Ipararregui OP who died on 5 August, 1979.

The Basque Dominican Fr. Jose Maria Arregui (1903-1979) had worked in the Dominican missions for more than fifty years during this time, he served as parish priest in the Lo Chhu, Yuanlin, Taichung in Central Taiwan as well as in Taipei. In 1947 he was appointed as Vicar Provincial of the Dominican Missions and the following year assumed the position as the Prefect Apostolic of Formosa. With the coming of missionaries and Chinese clergy to the island fleeing from the Communist takeover in Mainland China, His jurisdiction was reduced to the Southern tip of the island where he dedicated in organizing new Christian communities, opening missions and laying down the foundation of the future diocese of Kaohsiung.
1961, he resigned from his position in order to give way to the complete establishment of the Chinese episcopacy in the island, and thus opening the path towards the appointment of Rev. Fr. Joseph Cheng Tien Hsiang OP, a Chinese Dominican to become the first bishop of Kaohsiung.

After his resignation, he continued his dedication to the missions, as he was tasked to evangelize the Northern suburb of Kaoshiung, the the vast San Min District known as Aoya or the back of the Train Station. Thus establishing Saint Dominic Parish which would become the principal Church of the Dominican Missions in the city with the transfer of the Mission Central House in the complex.

Esteemed and revered by all for his goodness, generosity and human warmth, he died on 5 August, 1979 due to heart ailment as a consequence of his age and hard work. His funeral was celebrated on 10 August, 1979 with the assistance of all the bishops of the island, the Prior Provincial of the Holy Rosary Province, the native clergy and the women religious of various missionary congregations whom he welcomed into his Prefecture. He was buried at the mission cemetery in Wanchin, Pingtung County among his brethren and confreres who had given their lives and youth for the evangelization of the island.

The Memorial mass was presided by the Bishop of Kaohsiung, Rev. Msgr. Peter Liu Chen chung, assisted by the acting coordinator of the Mission, Fr Jose Ignacio Moronta Calles OP, the Vicar of the Vice Province of Queen of China, Fr. Tomasz Zalewski OP, Msgr. Bosco Lin Chin nan of Taiwan, a number of Diocesan priests and the brethren from the mission and from the Vice Province. Fr. Jarvis H. Sy OP, the Parish Priest of Saint Dominic Parish preached the homily while Sister Incarnata Chen Wen chen OP, Directress of Human Resources of Blessed Imelda School, read the short biography of the late Prefect.

After the Eucharistic celebration which was attended by many Christians from the Diocese as well as many religious women especially our Dominican sisters who travelled all the way from Taipei to be in the celebrations, the traditional funerary honors and the offering of incense was done led by the Bishop of Kaohsiung assisted by the two acting major superiors of the Dominican entities, as well as Sister Asunta Fang Chiu jing OP, President of the Major Religious Women Superiors of Taiwan, representing the women religious of the island, Mr. Tsai Sinyi, President of the Pastoral Council of Saint Dominic, representing the Laity; Mr. Liao Sui kok, the old catechist companion of Fr Arregui who evangelized the district and Miss Lee Siu ki, who was adopted by Fr Arregui and served in his household till his retirement to the Dominican central House.

Prior to this celebration, a delegation of Christians from the Parish accompanied the Parish Priest to pay homage to the beloved Prefect in his remains and offered incense in remembrance.


The Fourth Prefect Apostolic of Formosa and the first Prefect Apostolic of Kaohsiung, Most Reverend Fr Josemaria Arregui Ipparaguirre was on on 3 September, 1903 at Barastegui, (Guipuzcoa) in the heart of the Basque Country in Northern Spain. He entered the Apostolic School of Order at La Mejorada (Valladolid) where he studied Latin and Humanities. (1917-1920). He joined the Order of Preachers of the Province of Our Lady of the Rosary , taking the habit and emitting his vow on 11 September, 1921 at the Royal Monastery of Santo Tomas de Avila where he continued his studies Natural Sciences, Philosophy and Fundamental Theology (1921-1925). He was then sent to the Provincial Studium Generale of Rosaryville (New Orleans, USA) to complete his theological training (1925-1928) and was ordained to the priesthood on 25 August, 1928. He soon left for the Far East and after terminating his pastoral year and examination as confessor in Manila, he was immediately assigned to the Dominican Missions in Formosa.

He arrived in the northern port of Kilung on the 20 March, 1929 and was sent to study the Formosan dialect in Taitiong and was examined by Fr. Julian Villegas and Fr. Elias Fernandez on May 1930.

On 15 August of 1930, he was appointed as the parish priest of the mission at Lo Chhu Cheng(Changhua Country, Central Taiwan) where he stayed for seven years. In 1934 he began the evangelization of Toatangchheng establishing a mission post in the settlement. During this period he was also charged to the pastoral care of Yunlin. In both in Lo Chhu and in nearby Yunlin, he established youth groups, organized musical bands in order to promote the young to commit themselves to the life of the Church and its ministries.

By April of 1936, he was sent to Shikoku Prefecture in Japan to perfect his Nippongo which was very important in ministering to the island then. He stayed in Japan for about half a year. Upon his return he was reassigned back to Lo Chhu (8 December 1936). His return coincided with the ordination and the thanksgiving mass of Fr. Raimundo Tu, the first indigenous Taiwanese ordained priest who was from Lo Chhu and Fr. Arregui organized the island wide celebration for the priest’s first mass which was held on the parochial feast of Lo Chhu.

In 1937, March, he was reassigned to assume the pastoral work in Taitiong until November of 1942. Fr Arregui was bought to the military prison from 27 December 1941[1] to February of 42[2].

While serving as parish priest of Taitiong, he as well as the other Spanish missionaries in the island were imprisoned by the Japanese army. albeit during the course of the Pacific war, their movements controlled by the Japanese colonial government. From November of 1942 to October of 1947, he was transferred to Toatiutia Catholic Church (Taipei) where he served as Parish Priest.

Fr Arregui saw first hand the destruction of the Catholic Church of Taipei when it was destroyed by American bombs on 31 May, 1945. “ (He) was in the mission house when the bomb fell. The concussion shook him up, and he was showered with broken glass and other debris, but he escaped without any injury”.[3]

With the end of the Pacific War and the subsequent surrender of Japan and the return of Formosa to the Chinese government, many social changes began to happen in the island.

From 1946-1947, he had to assume the office of Director of the Blessed Imelda School with the exit of the Japanese Director and the Chinese law stating that “only Chinese nationals or Foreigners who can speak the language can become Directors of Schools”.

In May of 1947, the Provincial Chapter held in Manila appointed him as the Vicar Provincial of the Mission. But it was only in November that this appointment was known in Formosa as the Acts of the Chapter where not published and sent. From November 1947 to May 1948 he was assumed the role of Vicar Provincial and at the same time in charge of the Catholic Mission in Kagi (Chiayi) and exercise his service to the brethren.

In 5 March, 1948, he was appointed as the Fourth Apostolic Prefect of Formosa. He assumed office at the Holy Rosary Church of Kaohsiung on the 6 May.

In less than a year, (31 December, 1949) the Holy See divided the Apostolic Vicariate of Formosa into the Apostolic Vicariate of Taipei and of Kaohsiung, that is the Northern Vicariate and the Southern Vicariate. The Northern Vicariate was entrusted to the Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord while the south was assigned to Msgr. Arregui until 1961. Through the course of a decade (1950-1960) further excision of territories were made by the Holy See from the Southern Vicariate thus reducing it to the territories of what is now the Prefectures of Pingtung and Kaohsiung.

During his tenure as the Prefect Apostolic of Formosa and later that of Kaohsiung (13 years), he had contributed greatly in the development of the Church in Taiwan, especially in Southern Taiwan. During his term, Kaohsiung opened a new chapter in the evangelization of the island: the apostolate to the indigenous tribes in Southern Taiwan specifically among the Rukai and Paiwan tribes who had been living in the mountain regions of Kaohsiung and Pingtung.

While the formation of an indigenous clergy had been a priority in the missions, since the beginning of his office he had given much impetus in recruiting vocations for the nascent Vicariate Apostolic, establishing a seminary dormitory within the premises of the Rosary Cathedral Church and later to Gotechu, then a suburb of Kaohsiung. In 1959 he inaugurated the first seminary complex in the island known as Saint Joseph’s Seminary. This seminary laid down a firm foundation for the Diocese of Kaohsiung.

Conscious of the pivotal role of the laity in evangelization, he tirelessly promoted the formation and the employment of lay catechists to help and support the Foreign missionaries. He had organized and formed a group of catechists whom he cared and loved as his own, becoming their mentor, their friend and their protector. He also supported the Catechetical School founded by the SMIC sisters to form women catechists for the Diocese.

During his tenure as the Prefect Apostolic of Kaohsiung, he welcomed various religious entities to serve the Diocese. Among the women religious, the first would the Franciscan Missionary Conceptionist Sisters of the Mother of God, the Dominican Missionaries of the Rosary, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sisters of the Holy Family and the Dominican Sisters of Saint Joseph of Ilanz. He was instrumental in assisting the Religious Missionaries of Saint Dominic to return to Kaohsiung and establishing their noviciate and formation house in the diocese. Among the men religious, he welcomed the Dominican friars of the Teutonia Province, the Vincentians, the German Franciscans and the Italian Camillians. These missionaries began establishing mission stations and parishes within the jurisdiction of the Prefecture. He also supported contacts towards Taitung in the Southeastern part of the island and the outlying islands of the Pescadores.

In 1958-1959 he oversaw the centenary celebrations of the second evangelization of the island with a solemn high mass, a missionary exhibit and a solemn procession through the streets of the city.

Under his leadership, various mission stations were established in Tainan Prefecture. But in Kaohsiung and Pingtung Prefectures, the aboriginal evangelization commenced and soon it began to be the most successful mission in the island, which would continue to grow and develop in the coming years. Initial forays to preach the word of God in Taitung also began until Taitung was eventually ceded to the jurisdiction of Hualien as it is today.

When plans were ripe for the thorough reorganization of the hierarchy in the island, he humbly accepted the suggestion to Church authorities and tendered his resignation to give way to the establishment of the Diocese of Kaohsiung with appointment of a Chinese bishop in the person of Msgr. Joseph Cheng OP and the establishment of the Diocese of Tainan.

His act of generosity or “beau geste” ushered the indigenization of Kaoshiung bringing the birth of a true local Church. This paved the way for the appointment of his Chinese confrere Msgr. Joseph Cheng Tien Hsiang OP as the first Bishop of Kaohsiung in 1961. He ended his office as Prefect Apostolic on 9 June 1961 when the newly appointed bishop took possession of the Cathedral Church.

After his retirement, he returned to his religious community and continued his life as a missionary. He was appointed as the House Superior of the Central House and continued to serve the Diocese as a counselor.

He was then tasked to evangelize the Northern part of the Metropolis known San Min District which was at the northern side of the Kaohsiung Train Station, then sparsely populated but an emerging residential and commercial district. With his former seminarian and now catechist Liao Kok Sui, he began to rent a small storefront at the local market place and began to preach the Gospel. His efforts eventually bore fruit with the foundation of Saint Dominic Parish. The parish population was further strengthened by Christians who were originally from the Cathedral or from Gushan who had bought their homes and have businesses in the district aside from a great number of Christian migrants from Central Taiwan who came to live in the district. He also welcomed the mandarin speaking catechumens to the parish, and even employing a mainland woman catechist to serve the mandarin speaking flock.

The Vicariate also decided to look for a place to establish the Mission Central House and eventually a property was found in the vicinity. Thus the Diocese ceded the Church to the Order and S. Dominic became part of the Central House complex as we can see today along Ha Er Pin Street, a stone’s throw from the market place where evangelization began.

Eventually the Church and Central House was completed together with living quarters for the catechist and Catechism Hall in 1967. As in his days in Lo Chhu, in Taipei and Taitiong, Fr Arregui not only gave importance in the catechetical and moral instruction of the faithful, he also supported the formation of Parochial Pastoral Councils, Christian Youth groups and the Youth Choir. He was well remembered for his great love for the children and would inquire their whereabouts if they would absent themselves from Sunday school or at Church. He served as Parish Priest till 1973 when he had to retire due to his failing health and years of hardship. Yet despite all these, he continued to help in the various ministries of the house, celebrating mass at the Parish, assuming the chaplaincy of the Dominican sisters, hearing confessions and being available to the friars, his old collaborators and Christians from around the island.

In 1978, on the occasion of his golden jubilee of ordination, a simple celebration was organized by the friars and the Diocese. Though simple and low key as he had always wanted to, it did not diminish the enduring reverence and love of many to this venerable man. His health began to fail further especially after an operation of the prostate in Tainan.

On 1979, 5 August, Sunday, at four o clock in the afternoon, he breathed his last and died in the Lord’s grace and mercy. It was an auspicious day to offer his soul to God as it was the nearest Sunday in honor of Saint Dominic his beloved Patriarch and the patronal feast of the Parish he had founded and worked in the twilight of his missionary life and also the liturgical feastday of Our Lady of the Snows—the Virgin Mother of God whom as a Dominican and as a devout Basque was devoted throughout his life.

The solemn funeral services were held in the afternoon of 10 August, with the attendance of a great number of Christians from all over the island, the Chinese episcopate and the clergy as well as the brethren of the three Vicariates and members of the Dominican family.

He was buried at the Vicariate’s cementery in Wanjin (Pingtung County). The writer of his official obituary note for the Provincial Chapter ends with this paragraph: “Under the funeral crowns and bouquets of blossoms, the reverential banners and Chinese inscriptions to honor his funeral and had covered his tomb, rests the remains of a very good man and a heroe of God whose contributions none might even praise but shall blown one day with the resurgence of the Catholic Church in China!”[4]

Msgr Arregui had spent 50 years and five months doing missionary work in Taiwan. Of which the assumed the office of the Vicar Provincial for nine months and became the Prefect Apostolic of Formosa for a year and nine months, Vicar Apostolic of Kaohsiung for eleven years and three months. He thus assumed the leadership of the Diocese for thirteen years and had greatly contributed to the development of the Taiwanese Church with new parishes and ministries and thus established a firm foundation for Christianity which we can now witness personally.

[1] Personal typewritten notes. P. 2

[2] Obituary, ACPR, 1981, p. 132.

[3] Report of C. Montero… Hundred years… p. 281.

[4] Obituario, ACPR, 1981, pp. 132.

By Fr. Jarvis SY, OP

Province of Our Lady of the Rosary

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