Fr. Fidel E. Villarroel, O.P. (2009). A History of the University of Santo Tomas – Volume II.
The Holy Father sent Monsignor Giovanni Battista Guidi [on a mission to the Philippines]. A man of long experience in the Vatican diplomatic service, he arrived in the Philippines in November 1902. Guidi brought with him the Apostolic Constitution Quae Mari Sinico, signed in Rome by Pope Leo XIII on September 17, 1902 and which he promulgated in the Manila Cathedral on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 9, 1902. This document was of unprecedented importance because it introduced great reforms of far-reaching consequences to the local Church.
The relevant topics discussed were: the creation of four new dioceses, the need to increase the number of the native clergy, the foundation of conciliar seminaries, the importance of the Catholic missions and norms for the organization of the parishes, etc. One important section in the document dealt with the education of the youth and the programs of university studies in Manila.
After the revolution, the University of Santo Tomas was on the brink of extinction because of some decrees passed by the Malolos Congress and the refusal of the new political regime to recognize its curricular programs and degrees. Nevertheless, it eventually saw the threats of extinction vanish, thanks to the support of the highest authority of the Church.
Guidi served a copy of Quae Mari Sinico to the Dominicans who accepted it with great joy and exuberance because Section VII of the document contains a Papal declaration that conferred upon the University of Santo Tomas the title of Pontifical University and recognized its academic degrees as having the same value as those of other pontifical universities in the world. The UST Press reprinted the document in December 1902, not only in original Latin, but also in five other languages: Spanish, English, Tagalog, Ilocano, and Visayan. The pertinent section of the Quae Mari Sinico read:
The Bishops should be concerned not only with the Seminaries, but also with the other young students [in country] who are likewise entrusted to their care and solicitude. It is therefore their duty to see to it, with all diligence, that the youths who attend the public schools are not deprived of religious training. In order that this be properly attended to, let the Bishops take effective measures that the books used [in these schools] be not tainted with error.
Since we are speaking, of public schools, We cannot let this opportunity pass without bestowing the much-deserved praise on the great [University of Santo Tomas], founded by the Dominicans under the authority of Innocent X. This school has always shone in the integrity of its doctrine, in the excellence of its doctors, and has rendered great service [to the Church and country]. Therefore, We desire that all Bishops look upon it with favor, and We and Our Successors take it under Our patronage.
Hence, We confirm in all their plenitude the privileges and honors conferred on the [University of Santo Tomas] by the Roman Pontiffs Innocent X and XI and Clement XII, and We endow it with the title of PONTIFICAL UNIVERSITY, hereby declaring that the academic degrees that are conferred by it. Shall have the same values as those of other Pontifical Universities.
Since the beginning of the 13th century, some important universities were distinguished by the Church for their excellent quality of education. History attests that “of the 52 universities founded before 1400, there were 29 created by Papal decree, and 10 others by decrees jointly issued by the Roman Pontiffs, emperors and reigning princes. The most famous among these were the universities of Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, Bologna and Salamanca.” But despite their establishment by Papal authorization, those universities were not referred to as pontifical. In fact, with the passing of the centuries some of them lost their Catholic character because of the Protestant Reformation.
A look at the list of the present pontifical universities will illustrate the singular privilege granted to the University of Santo Tomas by the apostolic constitution Quae Mari Sinico in 1902. The 2000 edition of the Annuario Pontifico, the annual official directory of the Holy See, lists all Catholic and/or pontifical institutes of higher learning, grouping them into two categories: Roman Athenaeums and Catholic Universities. Only 24 are called pontifical, and of these, six are located at Rome (Gregorian University, Lateran University, Urbaanum Angelicum, Salesianum, and the Holy Cross University); three are in Europe; fourteen in Latin America; and only one in Asia: the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.
The first university to be officially granted the title of pontifical is the Gregorian University in Rome. Although founded in 1551, it was only in 1873 that Pope Pius IX elevated it into a pontifical university. Among the other 23 pontifical universities, the first to have been conferred the title in the 20th Century is the University of Santo Tomas of Manila, through the Apostolic Constitution, Quae Mari Sinico, in 1902.
It must be pointed out that the University of Santo Tomas has been called pontifical much earlier than 1902, and not only once but hundred of times. References to it as Royal and Pontifical occurred frequently in printed speeches and sermons delivered by Dominican rectors and professors before 1902. Three statutes of the university drafted in the years 1734, 1785, and 1859 bore the title: Estatutos de la Real y Pontificia Universidad de Santo Tomas de Manila. The various inaugural addresses delivered during the opening of the school year also referred to the university as pontifical. But this was due to the fact that the university has always enjoyed the patronage and support of the Papacy, as evident in Quae Mari Sinico itself, where Pope Leo XIII clearly stated that he was confirming in all their plenitude, the privileges and honors conferred on the University of Santo Tomas by Roman Pontiffs. So, although papal documents always referred to the University of Santo Tomas as universitas or as academia, or lyceum, and not as pontifica, it is safe to say that in the mind of the Popes, the University of Santo Tomas has always been pontifical in character, and what Pope Leo XIII did in 1902 was simply to make the title official.