Padre Faura

AT RANDOM - Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, SJ () - September 26, 2005 - 12:00am
One of the principal streets in Ermita is named Padre Faura, after Father Federico Faura S.J., Director of the Manila Observatory whose buildings were on that street. He is sometimes called the founder of the Observatory, but that is not quite accurate. The real founder was another Jesuit, the scholastic Francisco Colina, who taught physics at the Ateneo, but in his spare time kept a record of weather conditions, using simple instruments set up on the roof. That was in 1865. When the newspapers began to publish his findings, civic-minded citizens saw the importance of the work and they contributed enough money to buy the most sophisticated instruments of the time. Colina bought them in London, Paris, Germany and Rome.

Federico Faura, at that time still a scholastic, arrived in Manila in 1866 and became Colina’s assistant. In 1868 when Colina left for Europe, Faura took charge of the fledgling Observatory until 1871 when he himself had to return to Europe for his study of theology.

Meantime, however, an event occurred which put the Observatory in contact with the scientists of the world. A total solar eclipse was expected with maximum visibility in the latitude of the Celebes. Several European nations sent scientific delegations to various islands to observe the eclipse. The Ateneo, with backing from the government, sent a three-man expedition headed by Faura to a small island off Celebes. The report of their observations were published in Rome and thus came to the attention of scholars.

Faura returned to Europe in 1871 for the 4-year course in theology partly in Spain, partly in France. He was ordained priest in Toulouse. Afterwards he went to Rome to study astronomy under Father Angelo Secchi, and then studied terrestrial magnetism at Stonyhurst in England at the Jesuit Observatory. In Italy he visited various scientists involved in seismology.

He returned to Manila in 1878 and resumed direction of the Ateneo Observatory, and the next ten years were his most fruitful.

On July 7, 1879, Faura issued his first prediction of a typhoon. He said it would hit northern Luzon and cause much damage unless precautions were taken. Nobody paid attention and much damage resulted. On October 19 of that year he issued a second prediction: a severe typhoon would hit Manila. This time they took him seriously. They closed the port forbidding any sailings. All the ships in the Bay were saved. In the South, 42 ships sank.

People now realized that Faura’s warnings were to be heeded. There was also a request from Hong Kong for the publications of the Ateneo Observatory. The Governor General, Primo de Rivera, created a committee to study the matter. The committee submitted a Proposal that a Meteorological Service be established, supported by the government, but entrusted for management to the Ateneo Observatory. This Proposal was endorsed by the Governor and sent to Madrid for approval. The usual delay took place, lasting three years. Then on April, 18, 1884, King Alfonso XII signed a Royal Decree creating a Meteorological Service in Manila to be managed by the Jesuit Observatory. A second Royal Decree named Father Faura the Director.

The Jesuits now felt obliged to provide better facilities for the Observatory than their roof in Intramuros. So, on a 6-hectare lot in Ermita where the Jesuits were building the Normal School, they added a wing, two towers and several other buildings for the Observatory instruments and offices. The Observatory transferred there in 1886 and remained there till the total destruction by Japanese and American action in 1945.

Father Faura organized the Observatory (now renamed Observatorio de Manila) with four sections: meteorology, astronomy, seismology, terrestrial magnetism. The Bureau of Telegraphs provided support by submitting regular reports from the provinces, which enabled the Observatory to map out the weather conditions and issue warnings.

Faura’s biggest service to the country was twofold. First he was the first to understand clearly and decisively the nature and trajectories of typhoons. Other scholars in Asia were claiming that typhoons were born in the high mountains of Asia and moved eastward. Faura proved that typhoons were born in the South Pacific and moved northwestwards towards Asia, not from Asia.

His second big contribution: he identified the indicators of an approaching typhoon. He explained those in a treatise, and he invented the Faura barometer which helped to detect the indicators.

In 1888, after ten years of intensive work, his health broke down and he went to Europe for four years, returning in 1892. In 1896, at the start of the Philippine Revolution, he fell sick again. Despite his illness, he visited Rizal in Fort Santiago the day before the latter’s execution. Three weeks later Father Faura himself died. A grateful city named the street on which the Observatory buildings were "Padre Faura Street."

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