Today, May 13 marks the first celebration of the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines. It was not in Baclaran, however. 74 years ago today, on May 13, 1946, just a year after World War II, the first novena was conducted at St. Clement’s Church in Ilo-ilo.
Former Redemptorist Provincial and author of the book, the Baclaran Story, Fr. Luis Hechanova recounts that in the year 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War, American troops, some from the famous Battle of Guadalcanal, found themselves stationed in Iloilo. Among them were Irish-American Catholics from Boston who were delighted to find that St. Clement’s Church in La Paz, Iloilo City, was run by Irish Redemptorists. They were disappointed, however, that the Perpetual Novena then flourishing in the popular Mission Church of the Redemptorists in Boston was not part of church services. Their disappointment, however, was one of the motivations that led the Redemptorist at Ilo-ilo to start a regular novena.
On May 13, 1946, the first Perpetual Help Novena in the Philippines was held in St. Clement’s Church, Iloilo, conducted by Fr. Patrick Nulty. On October 21 that same year, there were 500 people at the Novena. In August 18, 1947, the attendance was 1000 and there was a six year old boy attending by the name of Luis Hechanova.
The Redemptorist in Lipa soon followed suit and began the novena in 1946. The Redemptorists in Cebu also started the first novena on Sept. 15, 1946. In these churches, the novena were translated from English to the local languages. They were all well attended by the local people.
News of these well-attended novena in these three churches must have reached the Redemptorists in Baclaran. Despite the popularity of the novena in the provinces, many of the members of the community were hesitant to start the novena in Baclaran. They were concerned that by starting a novena in Baclaran, their main ministry of giving missions to remote parishes in the Tagalog provinces will be severely jeopardized. Only when all the community agreed that the mission would go on despite the novena that the Redemptorists finally decided to start the novena in Baclaran.
When the Redemptorists finally started the novena in Baclaran in June 1948, they were wonderfully surprised at the amazing response and rapid influx of devotees to the novena. The phenomenon went way beyond their imagination. The rest is history!
 Luis Hechanova, Baclaran Story, (Redemptorist Manila, 1996), 2
 Hechanova recalls this day in his book: “I happen to be a personal witness as a six year old. One of my childhood memories is of our mother teaching us the novena hymns on the family piano, the only thing saved when our ancestral house was burned down at the close of the war. I still remember the traffic jams due to the novena on the Jaro-Iloilo road on Wednesdays. In our family, we had to keep reminding each other to avoid that road on Wednesdays, unless of course we were going to make the novena.” Baclaran Story, 2.