Friday, June 20, 2014


Capuchin Bishop Miguel Angel Olano speaking to Fr Dueñas men - in Chamorro

Anthony J. Ramirez, one of our Chamorro cultural and historical fafana'gue (teachers), recently wrote about his experience seeing and hearing the last Spanish bishop of Guam, Bishop Miguel Angel Olano, visit Guam in the late 1960s, and speaking to the Father Dueñas students exclusively in Chamorro.

Olano lived on Guam from 1919 till 1942 when he was shipped off to Japan with all the other foreign Catholic missionaries.  He returned to Guam in early 1945, only to be replaced by the first and only American bishop of Guam, Apollinaris Baumgartner, in the fall of the same year.

Olano spoke English, but was more confident and at home with Chamorro.  I met him in 1970 when I was eight years old.  We were introduced by my grand uncle and aunt, who knew him well before the war.  He looked at me and I looked at him and that was all!  He and my older relatives continued to converse - in Chamorro.

Here is what Ramirez wrote.

In 1968, Bishop Leon Miguiel Angel Olano y Ortega visited Guam.  He
first arrived on Guam in 1919, one of several Spanish Capuchin
missionaries assigned to Guam..  In 1934, he was elevated and
consecrated bishop (Read the article by Pali' Eric Forbes / guampedia

During his 1968 visit, he came to FDMS . He wanted to meet the
students and address the student body and faculty. I was then a
freshman.  Prior to his presence on campus, I did not know who he was
other than a brief oral history account.

The only Spanish missionary I often heard off at home was Pali. Roman
de Vera.  He was almost venerated and a legend of his times.  He is
credited with the CHamoru translations of almost all the prewar WWII
"CHamoru Nobenas."  In addition, he wrote the CHamoru-Castellano
Dictionary. Through his translations, I learned at the age of nine (9)
how to read the "CHamoru Nobenan Ninu")

As the student body congregated in the cafeteria / waiting for Bishop
Olano / everyone assumed his address would be in Spanish or English.,
We were all wrong!  Bishop Olano addressed us in CHamoru. In those
years, it was unthinkable that such a person of such stature, a
non-CHamoru would have addressed us in our language.

I never forgot that day.  And I know that none of the students did!.
We were all awed and proud of his CHamoru address.  We listened and
heard him / a bishop / again a non-CHamoru / on campus addressing us
in our language. However, In those years at FDMS, almost all the
CHamoru students spoke CHamoru or if not at least understood the

FDMS was quite unique then in the educational system.  I was never
challenge by the "Only English" policy.  I spoke CHamoru at home and
in almost all social and religious ocassions in my time. Thus, I never
considered these issues of  "preferred language use" or "Language
Policies" / on the use of CHamoru language even at FDMS.
Collaborating my statements on CHamoru Language, Father Knute, OFMCap,
my FDMS principal for four (4) years and my Spanish instructor for two
(2) years often times used CHamoru both within or outside the
classroom.  In fact, Father Knute inspired me to learn more / read
more / and write more in CHamoru since 1967.

The percentage of Spanish loanwords in CHamoru is remarkably high.
Thus in my first quarter of Spanish, my vocabulary increased by the
hundreds in a few weeks.  All, I did was de-CHamorozie the Spanish

Father Knute required each student to read then Bishop Felixberto
Camacho's Umatuna Si Yu'us Ma'asi' article / a Sunday newspaper.  I
had to underline each CHamoru word that is a Spanish derivative,  I
did this every week and submit my assignment on Mondays.  I was often
amazed that nearly underlined 2/3 of the words used by Bishop Flores.
In retrospect, Fr, Knute developed the first trilingual program /
Spanish and CHamoru and English as a reference.

Today, if Bishop Olano addressed the student body at FDMS, the
students would not understated him. Perhaps a few!  They may even
assume he is speaking a foreign language.  Within just a little over
one (1) generation, the CHamoru language diminished!  Need I write

Bishop Olano, with Capuchin Father Peter McCall, at Fr Dueñas Memorial School

My own impression, reading this, is just how Chamorro the mindset of those Spanish missionaries was. These Spaniards had no connection with America or English.  They saw themselves as the spiritual leaders of the Chamorro people and, in order to connect with the Chamorro people, they had to speak their language. How interesting Olano was speaking to Chamorros in the 60s when some among them did not feel the same way.  By the late 60s, there were already some Chamorro youth who were losing fluency in their language by simply letting go of it.  A new mindset was in motion.

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