Don Leoncio Lopez: The Real Padre Florentino of El Filibusterismo

Calamba, Laguna circa 1858. The Rizal residence pictured with a coconut tree. Illustration from the Carl Johann Karuth album. Filipinas Heritage Library and Georgina and Alejandro Padilla y Zobel.

Jacob Adolf Bruno Wiselius was a Dutch colonial civil servant based in Java. He arrived in Batavia in 1866 and by 1875 has achieved the rank of Controller 1st class. He was entitled to a long furlough and on his way home to the Netherlands decided to travel first to Macau, Manila, and Indio China (Cochincina and Cambodia). 

Even though he was a tourist, he was a keen observer and wrote copious notes of his experiences and comparisons. He published his travelogue, "A Visit to Manila and Its Environs by Jacob Adolf Wiselius, controller with the Dutch Colonial Administration on Java" in 1876 while still in the Netherlands. 

As Wiselius moved from one town to another in Laguna, one of his main scrutinies was the religious orders and the secular clergy which was comprised of Filipinos ("indios" and "mestizos"). 

"In every village there is a native priest in addition to the European friar. I heard many different opinions about them. On one hand, it is claimed that the population prefers them to the European friar as they get along better with them, and as they understand their inclinations, they are better to lead them."

"On the other hand, I heard very unfavorable comments about these gentlemen. Truth is that they too live for free and at the expense of the population...They are no credit to their class, getting rarely involved in religious matters unless there is money to be made. They prefer to go into trading and otherwise spend time gambling, drinking, and womanizing." 

But, in one particular encounter that he had with a Filipino parish priest, his generalization changed. 

"My host in Calamba was a favorable exception to this general characterization of native priests. Although he was well-off, he was also well-read as I had noticed during our conversation, and he was in the possession of a well-stocked library. Later it was confirmed to me that this priest is indeed exceptional."

After traveling further in Laguna and then visiting Tanawan and Taal, Wiselius planned to take the steamboat from Taal to Manila. Unfortunately, the unpredictability of the arrival of the boat made him decide to journey to Calamba instead and take a steamer from there.

When Wiselius arrived in Calamba, he again sought accommodation with the same parish priest. Wiselius describes the residence of the priest as a "beautifully designed house". The cura parocco (parish priest) toured him in his substantial library and over cups of hot chocolate, the priest showed his guest some of the "picture books" that he owned. 

Wiselius did not provide the name of the "native secular priest" but we can deduce from the year of his travel (1875) that he was referring to Don Leoncio Lopez, the well-learned and well-respected Filipino parish priest of Calamba. Father Lopez was a great and close family friend of the Rizals. His nephew, Antonino Lopez, who was a school teacher in Morong, married Narcisa. Antonino and Narcisa (Sisa) would even name one of their sons, Leoncio, in honor of Padre Lopez. 

Cura Indio by Jose Honorato Lozano. copyright: Biblioteca Nacional de Espana

Right in front of the Rizal house is the San Juan Bautista parish church of Calamba. Even though the town was referred to as Hacienda de Calamba (due to the vast ownership of the Dominicans over rice and sugar lands) the cura parocco from the 1850s onwards has been a Filipino priest, who was part of the secular clergy. 

The Dominicans took control of Hacienda de Calamba in 1833 after the last Spanish owner failed in making the hacienda profitable.

Batañgueno Father Rufino Collantes, the cura parocco who baptized Jose Rizal, was followed by Father Lopez when he retired in the early 1860s. Rizal's godfather was another Filipino priest, Father Pedro Casañas. 

During Wiselius' arrival in Calamba in early 1875, Rizal has been a student of the Ateneo Municipal in Intramuros since 1871.

In one of the family stories that Asuncion Lopez Bantug shared in her "Lolo Jose" biography, Rizal was on Christmas vacation and attended a birthday celebration for his brother-in-law, Antonino Lopez. As a birthday gift, Rizal composed a poem and delivered it in front of the celebrants and guests. Father Lopez in his amazement could not believe that the young Rizal could have completed the well-made poem in such a short time. Rizal became hurt. 

Eventually, Father Lopez came to acknowledge Rizal's talent. Don Leoncio Lopez paid Rizal a visit in the Ateneo and humbly asked for an apology. They became kindred spirits and begun a lifelong friendship. 

In honor of Don Leoncio Lopez who died in 1882 or 1883, Rizal immortalized him as Father Florentino in El Filibusterismo

"Father Florentino was seated on one of the benches astern together with other passengers and was gazing at the view unrolled before him." 

"He was not haughty and was not above mixing with other men, returning their greetings with courtesy and grace as if he felt truly honored by their esteem."

"He was quite old, his hair was almost wholly white, but he seemed to be in good health, and, even seated he kept his body erect but without pride or conceit." 

"A certain air of self-possession and gravity, of one who was conscious of the dignity of his person and the holiness of his office, distinguished him from the ordinary run of native priests. These, few in number, in any case, served at that time merely to assist the friars as coadjutors in their parishes or administered others provisionally."

"A brief study of the old priest's appearance, if not his white hair alone, revealed immediately that he belonged to another era, another generation when the best young men were not afraid to expose their human dignity to outrage by taking Holy Orders when the native secular priests could look upon any friar as an equal, and when their calling, not yet defamed and degraded, attracted free men, not slaves, superior minds not subservient wills."

I tried to locate a photo or illustration of Father Lopez but could not find one. I did find an article written by National Artist for Historical Literature Carlos Quirino regarding documents on GOMBURZA, and Father Lopez was part of an examination for curacies in 1864 in which Father Jacinto Zamora and Father Jose Burgos also took part in.

Padre Leoncio Lopez in 1864 was 48-years-old and listed as acting curate of Longos, Laguna. He was a bachelor in philosophy and canon law. After the 1864 examination, he was assigned to Jalajala as cura parocco. Eventually, he will be reassigned to Calamba. 

After connecting the El Fili passages, the Rizal family references, and Wiselius' account, Padre Leoncio Lopez became more tangible and real. He was also able to somewhat sway the opinion of Wiselius about Filipino priests because of his grace and intellect.

More Readings About El Filibusterismo


Wiselius, J.A.B. A Visit to Manila and Its Environs by Jacob Adolf Wiselius, controller with the Dutch Colonial Administration on Java; translated by Geert Van Der Linden. 2016. Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Sánchez, Cayetano. “THE FRANCISCANS IN THE LIFE AND WORKS OF JOSE RIZAL.” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, vol. 11, no. 1, 1983, pp. 1–56. JSTOR,

Bantug, Asuncion Lopez. Lolo Jose: An Intimate and Illustrated Portrait of Jose Rizal 2nd Edition. 2008. Vibal Foundation, Inc.

Guerrero, Leon Maria. translated El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal. 2015. Guerrero Publishing. 

Guerrero, Leon Ma. The First Filipino: A Biography of Jose Rizal. 2012. Guerrero Publishing.

QUIRINO, CARLOS. “A Checklist of Documents on Gomburza from the Archdiocesan Archives of Manila.” Philippine Studies, vol. 21, no. 1/2, 1973, pp. 19–84. JSTOR,