On June 29, 1848, Spanish conquistador Don Jose Oyanguren conquered Davao and defeated the local Moro people led by Datu Mama Bago. That day was the feast day of the St. Peter the Apostle. And consequently, Oyanguren declared St. Peter as the Patron Saint of Davao.
When these Spanish colonizers settled in the area, among the first structures they constructed was San Pedro Church and it was modestly built in Nipa and Bamboo. The young church was put under the care of the Augustinian Recollects, the missionaries Oyanguren brought with him when he came to Davao. Before it became a parish, it was then called Yglesia Mision de Bergara dela Nueva Guipuzcoa. Nueva Vergara was the old name of Davao and Nueva Guipuzcoa was for the undivided Province of Davao, both were given by Oyanguren named after his hometown and province in Spain.
When the Augustinian Recollects left the missionary works in the area, the care of the Church was given to the Jesuits. When the Jesuits took over, it was the period when the population in Davao rapidly increased. The influx of settlers coming from Luzon and the Visayas added to the population. Sensing the growth of the churchgoers, the Jesuits initiated the construction of a bigger Church. It took five years to complete.
From the Jesuits, the administration of the San Pedro Church was handed over to the PME Fathers who arrived in Davao from Canada in 1938. It was during PME’s time when San Pedro Parish of Davao was elevated from a Parish to Prelature Nullius to Diocese and finally into an Archdiocese. The PME Fathers also initiated the construction of a much bigger church to cater the growing number of Catholic faithful in the city. The PME missionaries were headed by Fr. Clovis Thibault who later became the Bishop and finally Archbishop of Davao.
During the time of PME, the church was again reconstructed and was rebuilt in wood in the mid 1900’s. It was Architect Ramon Basa, the first professional architect to work in Davao who designed the new Church. He was the same architect who designed some of the most important buildings and structures in the City that until now exist.
Said to have been built in Neo-Gothic style, the design of the church reflected of those few old churches built in some parts of Mindanao. Like the most of the old towns in the Philippines, the church is situated within the area where the government buildings are located. This is the basic scene one can notice if traveling around the country and see that churches, plazas and municipal buildings are contained in one area.
Adjacent to the church was then Immaculate Conception College building (now University of Immaculate Conception) built by RVM Sisters. This is the oldest private school established in 1906. It was then called St. Peter Parochial School. When the Parish of Davao was granted a Prelature Nullius status, Bishop Thibault initiated the transfer of Immaculate Conception College to Father Selga Street in Bankerohan as its new site while St. Peter Auditorium in San Pedro Street was converted in the Parish Office.
By 1964, San Pedro Church went another reconstruction. From wood, it was finally remodeled in concrete by Architect Manuel Chiew. The rebuilding of the church also signified a symbolic design that is reflective of the convergence different people living in Davao – whether Christians or Muslims. The roofline of the church was designed to look like the prow of a vinta, a Mindanao boat, gliding on water, carrying a cross at its helm. The vinta representing Muslim Mindanao and the cross representing Christianity – united in spite if their difference – points toward the glory of the Supreme Being. 2 years after the reconstruction of the church, Davao became a full-pledged Diocese and finally in 1970 it was elevated into an Archdiocese.
The present church today is 62 years old since it was reconstructed in 1964, making it a built heritage. While most of cathedrals in the Philippines have the grand look of ancient times, the San Pedro Cathedral looks uniquely different that it stands out from other Cathedrals in the country.
In the right wing of the present church, the old altar (retablo) that was originally designed by Architect Basa was preserved. Those who grew up going to San Pedro Church in the olden days find the altar as great reminder of what Davao City and the Catholic faith have evolved in many years – not only as structure but Church of Christ as a whole.
Unlike other churches in the Philippines that survived natural calamities like strong earthquakes and destructive typhoons, San Pedro Church never suffered devastation from any natural disaster. Instead, it has survived two bombings back in the years when Davao City piteously struggled for peace and order. The first incident was in 1981 which killed 17 people, and in 1993 with 7 deaths.
Today, San Pedro Cathedral is an important historical landmark that stands tall, sturdy and proud silently witnessing how Davao City and its people has grown to become what it is now – peaceful, orderly and progressive but most of all grateful to its undying faith.