Silay’s City first recorded Catholic church was made of bamboo and nipa, built in 1780s under the administration of Gobernadorcillo Alejo Severino.
Before everything, the now known Silay officially became a city in the year of 1957 and was historically located in the present site of Barrio Guinhalaran by the side of the sea. But due to periodic invasions of the Moros from Mindanaw who came to plunder the place, the inhabitants moved to a safer location – a place presently known as Estaca situated between the Panaogao and Matagoy rivulets.
When the population grew they named the place Silay. The residents then asked the Spanish military governor to allow Alejo Severino to be the gobernadorcillo. As gobernadorcillo, Alejo Severino had the church of Silay constructed. The same goes true with the Catholic Cemetery that is a kilometer away from the town. The first priest was a Spaniard whose name was Padre Alejo Ignacio de Molinas. A series of gobernadorcillos and parish priest then followed in the later years.
In 1840, when Macario Samson was acting as gobernadorcillo and Padre Eusebio Locsin as the parish priest, the roof of the church was changed into galvanized iron. Padre Eusebio remained the parish priest for 40 full years until his death in 1881.
San Diego, also known as St. Didacus, is the patron saint of the church and was considered by the residents as their protector. They believed that the patron saints save them from of calamities. They later believed that San Roque was also another saint who protects them from pestilence.
The church just before the present structure was typically constructed of massive walls of concrete, masonry and bricks. In fact, it was larger than the present one. And there is an unconfirmed report that the church was built through voluntary labor.
Revolution against the Spaniards in Negros Island took place on November 5, 1898, leaving the church unfinished.
As the years passed, the previous church was considered by the sophisticated as an eyesore since it was unfinished, unpainted and without ceiling. The bat droppings would even fall on the faithful. The church lacked seats, kneelers and it had no pews, thus prompting the faithful to provide for their own seats and kneelers leaving it securely chained to avoid loss.
Aware that the church and convent were centers of community life, the church’s size and beauty became the measures of importance in towns. The residents then wished for a more presentable place of worship.
One charitable resident in the person of Jose R. Ledesma, Sr., volunteered to shoulder the cost in making the building of the new church possible. Several designs were submitted by many but they finally set their focus on the design made by an Italian name Bernasconi. Mr. Ledesma’s grandson, Freddie Ledesma was responsible for the paintings now found at the foot of the dome – the four Evangelists with their respective beasts.
Before the church was fully constructed, where Mr. Ledesma had shouldered 75% of the construction’s cost, he decided to welcome contribution from the residents since he hated the idea that if he would spend for everything the church would be known to be his.
There were conflicting reports as to how much was spent for this construction. Some say it cost Php 140,000.00while others would say that it cost about Php 240,000.00. We should not be bothered by these expenses though because what is important is that the church had been put up through the efforts of everybody. However, the length had been reduced from what was originally planned.
When the church was fully constructed, it was named the Church of San Diego with its distinctive dome becoming the famous landmark of Silay.
Silay was the cultural and intellectual hub of the entire Negros Island, thus gaining the title “Paris of Negros” during the Spanish era. Beautification of the church was further chanced when in 1925, Silay Public Plaza was built right in front of the church matching the Romanesque design of the church. The plaza was completed with fountains, statues and a balance landscape making the plaza appear to be a typical European garden. This project, at the time, cost around Php 40,000.00.
Other church accessories came later. Under the administration of Mayor Generoso Gamboa and Fr. Celso Hervas as the parish priest, certain projects were made to add to the beauty of the church. A clock costing Php 7,000.00 was installed at the tower in 1938 with the initiative of Mr. Vicente Montelibano. The iron fence that cost Php 5,000.00 was also constructed on the same year. There two still exist at present.
The big cross on top of the silver dome when lighted at night could be seen over the wide body of water, hence the church used to be included in the international naval map.
Fe S. Hofilena, one of the first presidents of the Catholic Women’s League in Silay, had the dome painted black at her personal expense. This moved had saved the church from bomber planes and destruction during the Second World War, keeping this important structure intact until now.
In the 1960s, some antique collectors were able to take out three elaborated carved cedillas (server’s seats), a set of nineteen little bells that was used during the Good Friday rites. This set was donated by Mr. Erneterio Montilebano in 1877. It is said that these items were taken with permission from the coadjutor. The bells were taken back from several antique collectors, mostly from Bacolod City, although one bell remained to be missing while the rest of the items were never recovered.
In 1962, the Catholic Women’s League, headed by Violeta H. Lomotan, had the walls of the nave opened up for better ventilation and illumination. A series of doors were built on the east and west walls. The CWL also had the entire church repainted. Perla V. Gamban, Rosario G. Gaston and the Locsin helped in accomplishing this project. The total expenses had reached Php 100,000.00.
In 1967, improvement of the convent was tackled. The only portion that was not touched was its balcony since it was made of concrete and it remained strong. Coadjutor Fr. Manuel Y. Porquez formed a committee to raise funds for the said project, with him sitting as the overall chairman. Other committess were headed by Forencio Legarde, Felix Ganon and Alfonso Calsena, while Noli Puentevella stood as architect.
The symbolic cornerstone was laid on the sixth of May in the year 1967 by the parish priest Fr. Jacinto Acedo and blessed by the former coadjutor of Silay, Msgr. Isidro dormido, while the newly constructed convent was blessed on the 13th of February in the year 1968 by Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich. The construction cost around Php 95,000.00.
Fr. Acedo, who was the parish priest then, was known for his diligence to his duties. He would hear confessions before and after the Holy Mass. He was at all times available for all parishioners and served as parish priest at the longest span. He was Silay’s parish priest from the year 1948 until 1971.
It was in 1970 that Mr. Jose Maria Locsin volunteered to shoulder the expenses for the repainting of the church and the iron fencing around it. He also donated ceiling fans for the church.
Msgr. Jose Silverio came to be the next parish priest. He introduced the so-called concert mass in 1980. Several pianos and organs were placed on both sides of the sanctuary, and the Church Community Choir stood in the center before the altar during the performances. Msgr. Silverio is commonly remembered for the intensive evangelization of the parishioners and for the creative and meaningful decorations of the altar at Christmas and on special occasions. To comply with the changes of the Vatican II, he removed the communion rails and the hardwood stairs of the pulpit of which were integral parts of the building. Many appreciated his idea of putting up the Katilingban Hall, a multi-purpose center and a place of much use even at present.
Msgr. Danilo Paderna, replaced Msgr. Silverio at present is the parish priest of Silay. He amazed the Silaynons with his fast and multiple achievements when it comes to the beautification of the church. Among the many projects that he accomplished in only a short time are the construction of the church’s drainage system, the construction of the concrete cemetery walls, renovation of the church’s roof, construction of the mortuary, the better ventilation, repair and repainting of the pews and the cushion on the kneelers, concreting the churchyard, repainting of the convent, construction of the homes for the aged, reinstallation of green windowpanes, and the installation of stained glass windows.
Today the ruins of the old church are preserved at the back of the present structure. They converted it into a mini chapel that serves as a prayer room. This structure was built through the efforts of Mr. Antonio J. Montinola, Ms. Fe Unson and friends.
The recent beautification of the park should be accredited to D’Dusters with Ruska M. Gamboa, Dida K. Locsin and Chona S. Montinola as members. In the middle of 1994, spotlights were installed in front of the church making it a site to behold at night as it is during day time.
In the later months of 1994, six impressive glass chandeliers were donated by an old Silaynon family.
The church of San Diego is continually maintained by dedicated parishioners of the city. Because of the illustrious beauty of our church Msgr. Camilo Gregorio proclaimed it a Pro-Cathedral on December 25, 2994.