From Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of BoriquénPublishing Information
When Christopher Columbus first set foot on Puerto Rican soil, on November 19, 1493, he planted the cross on the western coast of the Island. In 1508, when Ponce de León arrived to colonize the Island, he brought with him priests to minister to the new colony and to teach and baptize the Indians in the Roman Catholic faith. The first church was constructed in 1509, followed by the Convent of Franciscans in 1511.
On August 8, 1511, Pope Julius II created two dioceses in La Española (Santo Domingo and Concepción de la Vega) and a third in the principal city of Puerto Rico, the bishops of which were all suffragans of the archbishopric of Seville. The Canon of Salamanca, Alonso Manso, was appointed bishop of the Puerto Rican diocese and took possession in 1513—the first bishop to arrive in America. The Island at that time had two Spanish settlements with 200 white inhabitants and 500 Christian aborigines.
On various occasions during the first century of the founding of this diocese the Holy See' extended the territory until it comprised not only all the Lesser Antilles to the Island of Trinidad, but part of Venezuela between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers. Fifty-five bishops have governed this ancient See, the cradle of Christianity in America, several of them born in the New World, and one in the city of San Juan—Don Alejo Arizmendi, co-founder of the Conciliar Seminary (see San Juan).
It was on Puerto Rican soil that the first Episcopal consecration in America took place; in 1529 Bishop Manso consecrated, in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in San Juan, the bishop-elect of Santo Domingo, Don Sebastián Ramirez de Fuenleal. To this diocese also belongs the honor of being the first bishopric ruled by a bishop born in the new land—Don Rodrigo de Bastidas y Rodriguez de Romera, immediate successor of Alonso Manso.
The first school of advanced studies in the Island was that established by Bishop Alonso Manso on September 26, 1512, even before his arrival in the diocese from Seville. During his episcopate two hospitals were founded: the Concepción in 1524, and San Ildefonso, converted in 1544 into a center of learning.
Because of the increased population, the Holy See in 1924 divided the Island into two dioceses. The southern and western parts were separated and enjoined to the new diocese of Ponce. The diocese of San Juan comprises the northern and eastern sections of the Island of Puerto Rico, the islands of Vieques and Culebra, and the Virgin Islands. Serving the Island are more than two hundred and fifty priests, of which half are secular clergy. The regular clergy is represented by religious orders and congregations from Spain, the United States, and Holland. The Spanish Orders are the Augustinians, the Lazarists of the Congregation of the Missions, the Mercy Fathers, the Carmelitas, the Recollects; the American Orders are the Redemptorists, the Capuchins, the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Servants of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinitarians), and the Marianist Brothers. The Dutch Order is the Dominican.
Orders of nuns consist of those originating in the Island, others from Spain, France, and the United States. French Orders are represented by the Mesdames of the Sacred Heart; Spanish, by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, the Servants of Mary, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Sisters of Mercy; American, by the Dominicans, Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, Sisters of Nôtre Dame, Sisters of Providence, Franciscans, Augustinians, Daughters of Charity, and Servants of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinitarians). The Carmelita Sisters, with a convent in Santurce, is the oldest native order. With the exception of the last, the orders and congregations have as their fields the schools, hospitals, and asylums; in addition they co-operate actively in mission work, particularly among children and young people.
Among the religious teaching establishments, the most noteworthy are the San José Military Academy at Rio Piedras, directed by Fathers and Brothers of the Most Holy Trinity; two colleges of the Sacred Heart, directed by the Mesdames of the same name; the Boys' College of Ponce, directed by the Marianist Brothers; and Academy of the Immaculate Conception, directed by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
Among important charitable institutions are the Girls' Orphan Asylum of Rio Piedras; the Catholic Dispensary of Ponce; the Old Peoples' Home of Puerta de Tierra; and the College of St. Gabriel for the Deaf and Dumb of Santurce. Prominent in the Social Action movement, or the participation of the laity in religious work, are the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Students' Guild, and the Catholic Daughters of America, who, united with the powerful parochial associations, offer a long-range program of betterment.
Since the change of sovereignty in 1898 all sects and denominations of the United States have come to be represented in Puerto Rico. The first Protestant congregation was that of the Anglicans in Ponce in 1873, when the formation of a republican government in Spain and the issuance of an edict of religious tolerance gave them the opportunity to organize. The ground for their house of worship was donated by the Schuck family on Marina Street, near Abolition Park, and a church building was brought over in sections from England. The first services were held during the summer of 1873, and the following year the church was consecrated by the Anglican bishop of the British Island Antigua. After the restoration of the monarchy in Spain later in 1873, the status of their church became illegal. The English Government intervened, however, and at length permission was granted the Anglicans to hold services, provided the church bell was not rung.
After the American occupation this congregation was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. The denomination is now represented by 16 churches, two community centers, five day schools, and St. Luke's Memorial Hospital in Ponce, which it supports.
The Federation of the Evangelical Churches of Porto Rico, composed of ten denominations, was formed in 1905, and in 1916 became the Evangelical Union of Porto Rico, consisting of the Baptist, Christian, Congregational, Disciples of Christ, Methodist, Presbyterian, United Brethren, and Union denominations.
The educational institutions connected with the Evangelical Union are the Evangelical Seminary at Rio Piedras; the Polytechnic Institute at San Germán; and the Blanche Kellogg Institute at Santurce. Each denomination also conducts its own schools, hospitals, and missions.
Other denominations represented in Puerto Rico are the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of Jesus, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostal, and Christian Scientists. The Federation of Spiritists, organized in 1903 in Mayagüez, comprised in 1939 more than 150 incorporated societies.