In the afternoon of October 26, 2016 (Wednesday), Rev. Fr. Fidel E. Villarroel, O.P., UST’s archivist for close to four decades, was laid to rest beside his brethren in the Santuario del Santo Cristo Cemetery in San Juan City. This culminated a three-day wake that began in the evening of October 23, 2016 (Sunday).
In his homily, former UST Rector Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, O.P., himself a historian, paid homage to Fr. Villarroel, saying that no one else can claim to have given the Philippines its first saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz. “San Lorenzo Ruiz and his companion martyrs as well as the Thomasian martyrs are all in heaven giving Fr. Fidel a grand welcome.”
Fr. Villarroel’s tenacity, patience, and diligence in scouring through centuries of archival references make him truly one of a kind. “Fr. Fidel’s works debunked myths that were otherwise taken as historical truth, through his years of hard work and research,” Fr. de la Rosa said.
The end of an era
Fr. de la Rosa lamented, though, that Fr. Villarroel’s death signaled the end of an era of preeminent Spanish Dominican historians—the triumvirate of Fr. Pablo Fernandez, O.P., Fr. Lucio Gutierrez, O.P., and Fr. Villarroel. “Fr. Fidel’s death poses a challenge to the young Filipino Dominicans to continue the mission of writing about history.” The Prior of the Priory of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Rolando M. Castro, O.P., in a chance interview echoed the same sentiment: “Fr. Fidel and his contributions, his scholarly work should serve as an inspiration to the next generations of Dominicans.”
After the internment, Fr. Angel Aparicio, O.P., Prefect of Libraries, thanked the late archivist and Prefect of Libraries, fondly calling him “Uncle Fidel.” “Uncle Fidel, your mother country Spain is always proud of you.” Fr. Aparicio underscored Fr. Villarroel’s faithfulness to his mission, for “he chose to live and die in the place of his mission [the Philippines].” At this point, Fr. Aparicio thanked the Dominican communities from the Provinces of the Holy Rosary and the Philippines, as well as the people whom Fr. Fidel worked with.
The holder of the master key to UST’s past
Fr. Villarroel was ordained in 1953 and assigned to UST in 1957. Demonstrating great love for history, Fr. Villarroel was appointed as the UST Archivist, a post he held for close to forty years. He juggled this duty along with being Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature for 32 years, Prefect of Libraries of UST, and head of UST’s old Spanish Department.
His works have been recognized, too. Fr. Villarroel was awarded the Pro Ecclesiae et Pontifice award from Pope John Paul II in 1984, the Cruz de la Isabella Catolica from King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1985, and the title Master of Sacred Theology in 2009.
Fr. Villarroel, who wrote extensively on Church history in the Philippines, is also known as the “prolific saint maker,” having written the positio that led to the canonization of San Lorenzo Ruiz and the beatification of San Lorenzo Ruiz’s companion martyrs and the Thomasian martyrs. He also wrote the positio for Servant of God Mother Francisca del Espiritu Santo, foundress of the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena.
Among his best works are the book Jose Rizal and the University of Santo Tomas, Miguel de Benavides, and the two-volume History of the University of Santo Tomas.