PART 2: Men who came to Bohol, made significant impact, and now largely forgotten

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PART 2: Men who came to Bohol, made significant impact, and now largely forgotten

Topic |  


Dr. James Alexander Graham was the first Protestant Missionary permanently assigned in Bohol by the American Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.  He and his wife arrived in Bohol in 1907 and established the Presbyterian Mission Hospital in 1912.

He stayed in Bohol until his death on March 25, 1940 at the age of 65 years.  He is buried in the Tagbilaran Protestant Cemetery at Dampas, Tagbilaran.  He was the attending physician at the final moments of the Chinese businessman Lim Cua.

In 1938 the Provincial Board led by Gov. Carlos P. Garcia declared Dr. Graham as an adopted son of Bohol.

Early years


James A. Graham was born on Feb. 6, 1875 at Blackhouse Farm, Village of Kippen, Stirlingshire, Scotland of the British Isles.  He came from a poor family.

Dr. Alexander James Graham | Photo: via Marianito Luspo

James wanted to become a missionary and thought that the medical profession will be the best vehicle to do missionary work.  Luckily the United Free Presbyterian Church of Glasgow, Scotland agreed to sponsor his medical education.

When he became a doctor he practiced at the slums of Glasgow.  There he met a hospital nurse named Henrietta Sully and married her on April 14, 1898.

Missionary to Brazil

A few months after their marriage, the couple was sent to Brazil to become missionaries.  They were assigned to Carolina, Maranhao Province.  It was a place that could be reached in two (2) months travel by boat along the huge Amazon River and full of wild Amazonian tribes.

On March 24, 1899 a daughter was born named Marion Neilson Graham but she was popularly known as “Merne”.


Mrs. Graham was not able to adjust to the harsh condition and became sickly.  The couple decided to return to Scotland.  Back in Glasgow, Mrs. Graham died after giving birth to another girl named Retta.  The child was also sickly.


In the USA

To ease his pain, Dr. Graham decided to leave his two young daughters to the care of his sister Margaret, and Dr. James James Graham went to the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland for post-graduate study in medicine.  His experience in the mission field made him much in demand as a speaker.

Dr. Graham married his second wife, Lilian Elizabeth Wilson Holmes who came from Oella, Baltimore, Maryland.  She came from a wealthy family.  Their marriage was childless.


Dr. Graham was then assigned as a missionary at Hyden, Kentucky.  His missionary work lasted only for six (6) months.  The American Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions was looking for Spanish speaking missionaries to be sent to the newly conquered Philippines.

Dr. Graham knew the Portuguese Language because it was the official language in Brazil.  Spanish and Portuguese languages are very similar just like our Sugboanon and Ilonggo languages.  The US Presbyterian Board decided to send Dr. Graham to the Philippines.


Arrival in the Philippines

Dr. Graham fetched his six (6) year old daughter Merne from Scotland and together with the second Mrs. Graham arrived in Cebu in 1905.  Dr. and Mrs. Graham helped the American missionaries Frederick Jansen and Mr. and Mrs. Pieters.  Mrs. Lilian Graham studied the Sugboanon language and mastered it after six (6) months.

Dr. and Mrs. Graham were reassigned to Dumaguete with Dr. Francis J. Purcell.  After 9 months, Dr. Purcel resigned due to ill health.  The Grahams started a dispensary in Dumaguete, Neg. Oriental and gave out Christian literature translated to Sugboanon by Mrs. Graham.

In 1907 Dr. James Graham was ordained a minister by the Presbytery of Dumaguete at Silliman Institute.  Dr. Graham searched for American sponsors for his proposed hospital.

The Grahams were then reassigned to Bohol.  They arrived in Tagbilaran on August 4, 1909 on board an American coastguard boat.  They lived in a rented house just across the old City Hall and in-between was the Public Market.

Missionary work

Dr. Graham used the “cacique” method in his missionary work.  The procedure was convert the head of a clan (Bis: ginhaopan) and the whole clan will follow.  In Buenavista, Bohol Don Pedro Del Rosario was converted after Dr. Graham cured his eye-ailment.  The whole clan including the tenants was converted.

In Canlaas, Antequera, Mr. Bolaño was converted and his whole clan followed.  In Alicia, Bohol Mr. Leoncio Garcia, the brother of Pres. Carlos P. Garcia, was converted, and his whole clan followed.  The same thing happened in other places in Bohol.

Dr. and Mrs. Graham were a good team.  While the patients were waiting for their turn to be treated, Mrs. Lilian Graham, who could now speak sugboanon preached to the waiting patients.  Dr. Graham only managed to speak a “carabao” Binisayâ.

Medical mission

When Dr. Graham arrived in Tagbilaran, there was only one other physician in Bohol.  That physician was soon reassigned to Negros Oriental and Dr. Graham became the only physician.

He helped the provincial officials in the maintenance of health and sanitation in Bohol.  During a cholera epidemic, he located the water-well that was the source of the deadly disease.

In 1912 the funding for the mission hospital arrived.  With the help of Gov. Fernando Rocha he established the Bohol Presbyterian Mission Hospital.  Due to lack of personnel, Dr. Graham had to train his own personnel.  The hospital was located in what is now “Galeria Luisa” at Gallares St.

In the 1920s, two young doctors came to help Dr. Graham. They were Dr. Pio C. Castro from Carascal, Surigao and Dr. Alfonso Del Rosario, a son of Don Pedro del Rosario of Buenavista.

By the years 1925 until 1940, the Mission Hospital was the best hospital in the whole Visayas and Mindanao.  Medical cases that could not be solved in Cebu and Mindanao were brought to Tagbilaran for treatment.  Now it is the other way around.  We bring our difficult cases to Cebu.

In April 1938 (1936?) the Provincial Board, led by Gov. Carlos P. Garcia passed a resolution making Dr. James A. Graham as an adopted son of Bohol.  The honor was in recognition of the tremendous contribution of Dr. Graham to the health and sanitation in the province of Bohol.  The award was given in a ceremony held at the patio of the Capitol Building (now: Bohol Museum).

Nowadays, except for the Graham Avenue and the Graham Memorial Church at Booy, Tagbilaran, only very few have any knowledge of the contribution of Dr. Graham.  Dr. and Mrs. Graham and Merne Graham are buried here in Tagbilaran.

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