Finding the Icon

This is the second part of the story when the Redemptorist missionaries returned to Baclaran in April 1945 after they were incarcerated by the Japanese in Los Baños, Laguna during World War II. This story is published to commemorate today’s “Araw ng Kagitingan” (National Heroes Day).

finding-the-icon

When the Baclaran Community were interned during the Japanese occupation, most of the equipment belonging to the Church had been saved. One thing, however, was still missing, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It had been left with a family living near La Salle, and when the Japanese raided their house, a number of things had been stolen and the rest, including the house, were burned. Where was the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help? Was it destroyed in the fire? Had the Japanese taken it?

We read in the Chronicles on April 30th 1945:

“A few days before April 30th, 1945 Bro. Athenasius, the Superior of La Salle came to see us. He said that he had been informed that some looted property had been recovered by the U.S. Army and was stored in the old Bilibid Prison. They asked him to come and identify any La Salle property that might be there. While there he noticed a icon which he thought he had seen in our Church and came to tell us. Fr Cosgrave , Rector of Baclaran, sent Fr. Gyger and Bro. Blacid to look at the picture. We (Bro. Placid is the writer) went with Fr. Scheuth a Major in the Engineering corps, who was one of our great helpers, just after we returned to Baclaran. We went in his jeep and on arrival at Bilibid, saw the Major in charge. He looked up his list and said there was no record of such a picture. Fr. Scheuth asked if we might go inside. He would not give his permission and accused us of doubting his word.

Fr Scheuth whispered that there were other ways of getting inside. We went around to a side gate where a Sargent appeared, We told him our story and he unlocked the gate and let us in.

Bro Placid wandered into a bodega and soon reappeared saying the icon was in there. The Sargent immediately handed it over. We asked if we had to sign any receipt but he told us to say nothing about it, as we had been told officially that the icon was not there. We put it in the back of the jeep and brought it home. Fr Scheuth asked us to have a special ceremony to celebrate the homecoming. In those days there was hardly anyone living in Baclaran, but a day was set and Fr. Scheuth was invited to say Mass in the chapel. With this modest celebration Our Lady was reestablished in the Chapel.”

The Chapel has since become the Shrine and the Icon is still above the High Altar.

John Maguire, CSsR

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Last House Standing

Today, “Araw ng Kagitingan” (National Heroes Day) we commemorate the heroism of our Filipino fighters who brought freedom and democracy in the Philippines during World War II. In commemoration of this day, we publish a story of the Redemptorist missionaries who returned to Baclaran in April 1945 after they were incarcerated by the Japanese in Los Baños, Laguna.

1200px-Manila_Walled_City_Destruction_May_1945

It was 1945, and the Japanese had withdrawn from the Philippines and were about to accept that they had lost the war. The Redemptorists had been released from internment in Los Baños in February and had slowly worked their way back to Baclaran.

On their return to Baclaran, they noticed that one house was standing alone in the midst of many blocks of wreckage in what is now the City of Pasay. What was so special about this house?

This is recorded in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community, 30th April, 1945:

We returned to Baclaran to day and our first meal was in the Sacristy of the Church. Much of the equipment belonging to the Church had been saved. The benches, the altars and their attachments except for a few small pieces. All of these had been placed in the house of a woman named Mrs. Chrisologo, who had agreed to have them put there even though this meant that she could no longer rent this section of the house.  This would have been a considerable financial loss to her at a time when life was very hard for anyone without a source of income. This house remained intact while those around were mostly destroyed.

Why was this the only house standing in the midst of the wreckage? Was the owner a friend of the Japanese? Surely not, for if this was so, the Americans would have certainly destroyed the house when they drove the Japanese out from Manila.

The final sentence of the chronicles’ paragraph says it all.

John Maguire, CSsR

The First Redemptorist Community of Baclaran

This month of February marks the 87th year of the Redemptorist missionaries at Baclaran. When the Redemptorists settled at Baclaran, the land area was a grassland near the shore of Manila Bay. Let us look back into the events of 1932, the year when the Redemptorists settled at Baclaran.

1st comm 1932
First Redemptorist Community in Baclaran, 1932

The Redemptorists had already been in Malate parish since 1912 but found that the work in the Parish made it impossible for them to give Missions, the work for which they were principally founded. As a result of this they handed over the parish of Malate to the Columban Fathers on March 9th, 1929. Eventually they all withdrew to Cebu.

When the Archbishop of Manila Very Rev. Michael O’Doherty generously gave the perpetual use of three hectares of land in Baclaran, to the Redemptorists in 1930, Fr Grogan was chosen to return to Manila and take charge of building a Monastery and Church. He returned to Malate as a guest on Nov 6th, 1930 and was warmly welcomed by the Fathers. He wasted no time in getting to work on the job that had been assigned to him.

This was not easy. The land had no fence and had not even been surveyed. Worse, there was a Public Artesian Well in the middle of the property. All he could do was to start working and leave everything in the hands of his patron saint, Sta. Teresita of the Child Jesus. This apparently worked for by June 1931, he was able to sign a Contract for the building of a Monastery and another for the Church by October 17th, of the same year. Both were to be finished by February of 1932.

The new Community arrived on Feb 15th, 1932. They were Frs. Gallagher, Frean, Cosgrave, Taylor and Bros. Paschal, Adrian and Albert. They had supper in Malate and then proceeded to Baclaran to check out their new home. We read in the Chronicles of the day:

All were delighted with their new home but the romantic was not wanting. They discovered late in the evening that the gas for the stove had not been connected and breakfast next morning, the first meal, was cooked in true camp style by boiling the billy in the open.

The blessing of the Church took place on the 21st, of February. The blessing was done by Very Rev. Michael Doherty, assisted by Fr. Clementine Rodriguez, Parish Priest of Sta Rita, Baclaran, James Hayes S.J., Provincial of the Jesuits and Canon Jose Jovelanos.

Fr. Grogan left for Australia by boat on March 21st. He had finished his work and left to the new Community a home where they could live as Religious and get on with their principal work of learning Tagalog to give Missions to the Filipino People.

On Sunday July 3rd Fr. Taylor preached the first Tagalog sermon in Baclaran Church. On July 18th, Fr Gallagher opened a retreat to the girls of the Good Shepherd Convent in Sta. Ana. This finished on 22nd, and the whole was preached in Tagalog. The next month they hired a translator, Juan Santos to help speed up the Translation of their sermons. Within the first year the community had succeeded in learning sufficient Tagalog to give Missions and had begun to do so.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

Cardinal Sin and Cory in Baclaran before the People Power Revolution

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

cory-cardinal-sin
photo courtesy of Philippine Star

During the week after the Snap Elections in 1986 the Superior of the National Shrine received a phone call from the Secretary of Jaime Cardinal sin requesting if the Cardinal could say Mass and preach on the following Sunday at the national Shrine at 5.00 P.M. The Superior said there was no need for the Cardinal to seek permission, as he was always welcome in Baclaran.

In the following days there was great speculation as to why the Cardinal had chosen to come to Baclaran and what he would say. Someone leaked the story to the press and it was suddenly news everywhere that Corazon Aquino, who was the loser in the so called Snap Election, would be in Baclaran with the Cardinal on the following Sunday.

Phone calls were coming in all day on the Saturday to know if the news was correct. However, we could only reply that they, the callers, seemed to know more than we did. On Sunday afternoon the churchyard was soon full and by the time of the Cardinal’s arrival people were even standing on the roofs of the cars in the parking area. Cory Aquino did arrive and the crowd went crazy crying out “Cory, Cory”.

The Cardinal spoke about the Election and said that due to the massive cheating and bribery that had taken place there was an obvious failure of election. From then on nothing could be heard of what happened as the people responded with screams of “Cory, Cory, Cory……….”

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

COMELEC Programmers Take Refuge in Baclaran

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

comelec-walkout

In 1986 when President Ferdinand Marcos was under some pressure, both at home and abroad, to show that the people still supported him he called a snap election. The election was held on February 6th. The official Comelec quick count of the votes was held at the PICC and computers were used to speed up the counting.

The people were able to watch the counting on Television and the figures being fed into the computers were transferred immediately to the large television screens in the PICC.

By Feb 8th, the second day of counting, the figures were big enough to be interesting and in the evening the Redemptorist Community of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual was watching the television, as was most of the country. Suddenly they saw a group of the computer operators stand up collect their belongings and walk out of the Convention Center. Was it a protest? Did they all have to go to the comfort room at the same time? What was the problem?

About twenty minutes later the front door bell of the Redemptorist Convent rang. One of the Fathers went to the door and returned a little later to declare that the people who had just left the Convention center were at the door looking for refuge. They had walked out because they had noticed that the Computers had been preprogrammed to count incorrectly. They could see that the figures going into the computers were nothing like the results appearing on the screens in front of them and on the Television. So they had left taking with them many of the computer discs with the incriminating evidence on them.

After a short discussion they were brought in and spent the night in an upstairs hall, which had been the community chapel many years before. One of the fathers provided merienda for them while they tried to contact by telephone their relatives and others who they felt would be ready to help them. By the following morning they left as they had already contacted lawyers and some support groups.

When asked why they came to Baclaran they said that they had no idea where they would go when they walked out but when they got outside someone said lets go to Baclaran. And so they did. Even the News reporters had no idea where they had gone.

The rest is history.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

All Saints and All Souls Day: Contemplating the Meaning of Death

grave

November begins with the twin feast days of All Saints and All Souls. We pay tribute to the lives of the many saints in heaven and we remember our dearly departed loved ones.  By contemplating about death and the saints we can learn more about the true meaning and purpose of our lives.

While many of us head to the cemetery all day and all night on November 1 – 2, we actually fear and abhor death.  Every year during these days close to the twin feast days of All Saints and All Souls, many horror movies are being shown on TV’s and cinemas, about ghosts of dead people, or dead people coming out of their graves, and other gory images of the dead. The fear and bastardization of death is also very much promoted in the celebration of halloween which has become more and more popular in the country, thanks to Western media and commercial establishments cashing in on halloween products. The commercial appropriation and secular co-optation of halloween from its original Christian meaning portrays children wearing costumes of vampires, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils playing trick or treat.  Halloween, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve is originally dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows),  martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

Perhaps the most innate reason why we fear death is because it confronts us about our own mortality.  We abhor the idea that our life will end tomorrow, next week, next year or several years from now especially if we are at the height of our career, if we are enjoying the success of our endeavors or if we have plenty of dreams yet unfulfilled.  We hate the thought that our once beautiful bodies will someday turn to dust.

With the vast technology and advances in science, life has immensely improved on earth.  Because of this, many see life here on earth as the ultimate and only reality.  Compared to previous generations, there are lesser people today who believe in eternity.  With death life has ended, nothing more.

mass-grave

On the other hand, death confronts us with the question of  what lies beyond death.  There is somehow the conviction from the deepest core of our being, that death is not the end.  The closest thing we may have experienced this is at the death of our loved ones.  We refuse to believe that when our loved ones die, they are gone forever.  We continue to feel their presence even in spirit or whatever, albeit constantly close to us and continue to hope that someday we will be reunited once again.

This is precisely the meaning of this twin celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  Through these celebrations, we bravely proclaim that our life is eternal and “with death life is not ended only changed” (Preface to the Mass for the dead).   Death is the passing over to immortality.  As St. Francis said:  “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Death is not the end but the bridge to eternity.  This carries plenty of practical implications on how we ought to live our lives here and now.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has constantly reminded us about these especially in the Gospel readings for this month: We need to be wise, we need to plan ahead, we need to be ready, prepared, vigilant always.  In other words we need to make the most out of our lives at all times by doing a good turn daily in loving service of God and neighbor. We need to live everyday as if it is the last day of our life. As the song goes:

Minsan lamang ako daraan sa daigdig na ito (Only once will I pass through this world).
Kaya anuman ang mabuting maa’ring gawin ko ngayon (So whatever good I can do now) .
O anumang kabutihan ang maari kong ipadama? (O whatever kindness I may express).
Itulot ninyong magawa ko ngayon ang mga bagay na ‘to (Allow me to do these now).

As we battle through life making the most out of the gifts that God has given us, our faithful departed is constantly on our side.  This is what the belief of the Church as a communion of saints tells us. By this, we mean that the saints in heaven, the faithful departed in purgatory and we Christians still living on earth form the Church. All are saints because as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be holy, to be saints. We are a communion because in the Church, there is unity and sharing. By our unity, we stand in loving relationship with the saints in heaven, the faithful departed in purgatory and those still here on earth. Because of this unity among Christ’s followers, there is sharing of goods and graces. The saints in heaven pray for those in purgatory and those on earth. And we who are on earth ask the intercession of the saints in heaven and also pray for the faithful departed in purgatory.

Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, continue to bring us to your Son Jesus who is our constant guide and our hope in our journey towards eternal life!

Dead or Alive? Remembering the Missing

cemetery

Come November 1 and 2, the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively, all roads in the Philippines leads to the cemetery.  Millions of Filipinos will visit the tombs and graves of their deceased family members. Families will be reunited  around the graves of their dearly departed ones sharing stories, laughter, food and drinks. Some will even spend the night around their loved ones’ tombs, passing the long hours of the evening by playing card games, eating, drinking, and singing.

But how about those who have died yet have no graves or urns of their ashes where their families could gather around? Where would their families go to? What object can they hold on to to commemorate their dearly departed loved ones?

First of all, this begs the question, why are there dead people who have no graves or ashes? There are people who have disappeared and believed to have died due to an accident, crime, death in a location where their bodies were not found (for example, at sea). There are also those who disappeared because they were forcefully abducted and believed to have been killed by armed elements because of their beliefs and principles. Families of missing persons suffer grievously because they do not know whether their beloved is still alive or dead as his or her location and fate are not known. For many of these families, there is no closure to the pain and sadness they have long endured.

Over 1,600 people were disappeared in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship and since. None of them has ever been found. The successive governments that have followed the Marcos regime have failed to bring both light as to the fate of the disappeared, and justice. The families of the disappeared have received neither compensation or redress of any kind. Yet, they continue struggling for truth and justice. Meanwhile, human rights violations persist; people continue to be extra-judicially executed and murdered as well as tortured and imprisoned for political reasons.

rudy-romano

One of the better known among the thousands of desaparecidos–victims of the Marcos dictatorial rule is our very own Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano. Fr. Rudy was a Redemptorist assigned in Cebu who was actively involved in struggle against the Marcos dictatorial regime. He courageously spoke out against the abuses under martial law. On July 11, 185 he was abducted by military intelligence agents and since then has not been found. After Marcos was deposed by people power, we heard from sources within the military that he died during interrogation. Until now we still don’t know where they buried him.

The Baclaran shrine has reserved a special place for Fr. Rudy Romano and his fellow desaparecido. At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance.

bantayog-ng-mga-desaparecido

The families of desaparecidos come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.  Despite that they do not have any tangible object that remains part of their loved ones, they hold on to to the memories, principles and beliefs their missing beloved have dedicated and died for.

 

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR: A Man with No Guile

John Maguire

Fr. John Michael Maguire, “Fr. Mags” as we fondly call him, was born on the 19th day of November, 1932 at Leichhardt, New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. His parents were John Thomas Maguire and Ivy May O’Neill. He was professed a Redemptorist on February 11, 1954.

His sister Anne, told Fr. Frank Pidgeon about how Mags practice his faith during his childhood years:[1] 

“John made his First Communion at the age of 6. From that day on, he was never absent from daily Mass. At that early age, he became an altar boy.”

His sister also narrated to Fr. Pidgeon how Mags decided to join the Redemptorists:

“John came down from Sydney to Wagga Wagga with our parents for my profession as a religious sister. Someone had given him a small booklet entitled ‘Van, beloved of God and man’, which told the story of a young American Redemptorist seminarian who died shortly before his ordination. John read that book while he was with us, and afterwards decided to write to the Redemptorists to learn more about their life and work. A short time later, John found himself in the Redemptorist seminary – he was 18 at the time – studying Latin.”

On March 20, 1960, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop J. O’Collins of the Diocese of Ballarat. A year after his ordination, Fr. Maguire took part in parish mission in New South Wales, Australia until the early months in 1963. In the same year, he was sent to the Philippines. He arrived in Manila on March 3, 1963 at the age of 30.

He spent the best years of his life in the missions and in the shrine ministry in Baclaran. He spent about half of his missionary life in the Philippines in mission and half in the shrine ministry in Baclaran.

The first thing he did upon arriving in the Philippines is to learn Tagalog. He became very fluent in it that he was able to talk in Tagalog very fast. Even in his native English, he doesn’t mince lots of words and could get across his message in simple and few words. More than words he was a man of action. He was a man without pretense, without “airs”; a man who would do you no wrong and who was open to the world.

Besides learning the language, Mags understood the culture and made friends with a lot of people especially from the mission areas. He gave mission mostly in Tagalog provinces especially in Quezon. He also gave missions in Bulacan, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Cavite as well as many Squatter areas in Manila, like Tondo, Tramo in Pasay, Pandacan, Paranaque, Muntinglupa, Cubao etc.

He had always a genuine interest in people. He was willing to put himself out to anyone who had any special needs especially for the young. He helped a lot of young people in their education and other needs. In recognition of his work for the youth, the shrine named its newly established youth center as John Maguire Youth Center.

Above all, he had a great love for the Baclaran shrine and the many thousands of ordinary people who flock there each Wednesday and Sunday. The wellspring of his love for the shrine and the devotees is his love for Mary. His Rosary was always beside him. He gave flesh and blood to the instruction of Mary to His apostles—“Do whatever (Jesus) tells you.” In generously offering his time and life in service to God and his people in an uncomplaining way, he took his Mother at her word.

Mags was a prolific writer. He was one of the original writer and editor of the shrine’s newsletter, The Icon. In fact, he was the most sought after writer of The Icon with his humorous section—Shrine Trivia and the interesting bit of historical chronicle—Ala-ala ng Kahapon. He also wrote a book, To Give Missions to the Filipino People Wherever they were Needed, an enlightening short book on the missionary endeavors of the Baclaran community since 1932.

In his later years, he was into painting. He painted about the meaning of all he encountered in his lifetime: his hopes and dreams and faith, the suffering of the people he ministered to, their unanswered prayers of yearning and longing for a more beautiful life.

In the last year of his life, Fr. Mags had suffered from both lung and brain cancer. Didoy Fajarda, the man who took care of him during his six months of illness recalled that two days before he died, Father John told him:

“Lahat ng gagawin ay para sa tao, sa mga kabataan, at mga bata. Huwag humingi ng tulong sa iba, tumulong sa kapwa.” (Whatever you do, you do it for others, the people, the youth, the children. Do not seek help from others. Rather give them your help.”

Here two days before he died, John had laid bare his soul. He had revealed with utter clarity the truth about himself. He had made his own the quintessential message of the Gospel: He was prepared, like Jesus, to give his life for others; “to serve and not to be served.[2]

On October 11, 2007, at around 9:20 in the evening in San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila, Fr. Mags, a true servant of Jesus and Mary, passed over to eternal peace.

Is it allowed to have beer in heaven? I am sure Mags would love to. But more than enjoying beer in heaven, in the presence of a most loving God, he is enjoying the company of ordinary people who have genuinely served God and others.

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)


 

[1] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

[2] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

Fr. Phil Vinteres: Composer for the Masses

fr.-phil-vinteres

When I was still young and active on the missions Fr Phil and I were members of the Community of Lipa. Most of our work at the time was in the Province of Quezon and we only returned to Lipa to rest between Missions. On one of those nights during our rest time I said to Fr. Phil I have a few ideas I wrote down today, can you make them fit some tune (I suggested a possible tune) so that we can use it to teach the children more easily. He took the paper and said nothing. Next morning at breakfast he gave me another bit of paper. All the ideas were present but now it was in poetic form and it fitted perfectly the tune of a well-known Kundiman. We sang it for many years on Missions and it is still remembered as Ang Salita ng Diyos.

Fr Phil was a well-known musician and composer of religious and liturgical songs. In the early seventies just a few months after Mass was permitted in the vernacular, he had produced a Tagalog Folk Mass, which was so Filipino, that it was quickly learned by the people, and so popular that it was translated into many Filipino Languages. During the visits of Pope John Paul 11 to the Philippines, Fr Phil’s composition of the Ama Namin was sung during the Pope’s Masses and caught the attention of the Pope. Another much better known priest composer of Liturgical Music is reported to have said, I would be willing to give up all my compositions and be the composer of the Ama Namin of Fr. Phil. He was not as prolific as most composers because he usually found his inspiration in happenings and Liturgical Seasons. Also music was only his hobby. He wrote his songs to teach the people and help them to remember.

Who then was Fr. Teofilo Vinteres or Fr.Phil?

Fr Phil was born in Dagupan in 1932, the 7th, of 8 children. He entered St. Clements College in Iloilo in 1954, after 2 years of college at the UP in Diliman, Quezon City and the UE in Sampaloc, Manila. He was professed as a Redemptorist on July 22nd, 1957, and was sent to Ballarat, in Australia to study Theology. After a few years in 1963, he had to return to the Philippines due to ill health. However, after a short break and one semester teaching Catechism in the Juvenate he was able to return to his studies in Australia and was ordained on Sept 24th 1966. He was ordained by Msg. Hernando Antiporda, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila.

He was appointed Prefect of the college from 1972 to 1975, and was the first Formator to change the locus of a Formation House from a big building separated from the people to a rented house among the ordinary people. This was the inserted community in Libertad St, Mandaluyong. He was Novice Master from 1978-81 and Prefect of Students in 1990.

He was the first Filipino Vice-Provincial of the Manila Vice Province and was elected for three consecutive terms 1981-90. He took a break as Vice Provincial for two terms and then was elected again from 1996 until his death in 2001. Fr Phil had his gall bladder removed in 1998 but this was not the end of his medical problems as he had hoped. He had recurring trouble with his pancreas and in 2000 had an operation to bypass the pancreas. He was diagnosed to have chronic pancreatitis, and suspected cancers. He refused to give up his work and often had to call time-out during meetings when the pain became too great to bear. For the last year of his life he was in and out of hospital. He died in Baclaran on the 5th of November 2001 at 12:07 just after midnight, surrounded by his Community and most of the Formation Community.

He will always be remembered by us who knew him as a wonderful confrere, a person of tremendous gifts, with a great fighting spirit, and a remarkable hobby.

John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

Fr. George Tither: God is Rich!

tither

Fr. David Januarius Tither C.Ss.R. was born on August 20, 1920, at Edendale, Southland, New Zealand. His father, William Tither was from County Kerry, Ireland.   His mother was Frances Snodgrass, the first European child born in Te Anau, at the time a backwater. Though he was officially David Januarius, he was widely known as “George”, a name bestowed on him by his contemporaries in the Redemptorist juvenate.[1]

Fr. George always dreamed of becoming a priest. He was introduced to the Redemptorists by a teaching brother in his parish, who told him that by becoming a missionary he could do more good, and save more souls.

He was professed as a Redemptorist on February 2, 1940, and ordained priest on September 9, 1945.  He was appointed to the Philippines in 1948.  He was to minister there, apart from brief home visits, for the next sixty years.

Because of his beard and chubby frame, people would call him Fidel Castro. But the kids loved to call him Santa Clause. He loved to gather the kids around him and would sit the kids one by one over his legs and let them touch his beard. Then he would teach the kids the song, “Ang mga ibon …” The kids loved him and would always follow him wherever he goes.

He preferred speaking in Tagalog than in his native English, and he was very fluent at it. He was a fast talker just as he was a fast doer.  He is known for great energy and drive. The word “No” seems to be not part of his vocabulary. He had unbounded energy and zeal in mission and vocation.  He was a zealous promoter of vocation having recruited a number of Filipino Redemptorists.  Many of today’s Filipino Redemptorists and even those who have left the Redemptorists have testified that he was a decisive influence in their lives.

He had a knack for connecting with the young especially those who attended his Vocation search-in and “Night with the Lord.” In his correspondence to them, he would always sign his letters with words like utol George (brother George) or ang iyong ka chokaran (your buddy).  Whenever any of his recruits would hesitate to enter the seminary especially because of financial problems, he would always tell them, don’t worry, mayaman ang Diyos (God is rich!). Because of George’s magnanimity in giving his time, assistance and resources to anyone, people saw in George that, indeed, God is rich!

In mission, he was a hard worker and innovator. He especially inspired the explosion of the pioneering Kilusang Ilaw (Light Movement) mission.  In 1968, George challenged his confreres to give a mission in the entire fourth district of Manila and in the process he was able to secure the approval of the archbishop and the support of the parish priests. The mission was conducted simultaneously in the parishes of Paco, Pandacan, Peñafrancia, San Andres, Sta. Ana and Pius X. The mission was called Kilusang Ilaw and ran from 4 January to 29 March 1969.

Apart from being a missionary, he was famous for being a water diviner.  He can pinpoint streams of water underground in lands that were bone-dry using nothing but a Y- or an L-shaped twig. Sometimes he would just use a rod or a pendulum.  Those sceptical of his ability to divine water were silenced when a well drilled in the spot indicated by him provided a copious flow.  His reputation at this mystical craft had apparently spread far and wide that even the Philippines’ biggest landowning families were sending for him to search for water in their vast haciendas and farmlands.  It was far cheaper to get him than consign the job to a group of earth-digging geologists from the state university.

George’s commitment to the confessional was exceptional. Even in advanced old age he devoted many hours each week to this ministry.  One penitent who had known him for years had this to say after sharing with him last year a very personal problem.  “As I looked into George’s tear-filled eyes and listened to his soft, trembling voice, I realized more clearly than I ever did before, that I was truly in the presence of a holy man, hallowed by living, loving, and compassionately walking with the poor and the suffering. “[2]

In 1990, after serving in various capacities at the Redemptorist community in Baclaran, Manila, he was assigned to the community in Legazpi City, and never really left the place, except for a few periods. He was a popular confessor and spiritual director for many of Legazpi’s faithful – clergy, religious and laity alike. He had long suffered the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease before finally succumbing to severe pneumonia.

Fr. Tither was deeply committed to his religious community.  In his final illness, when it was realized that he had only a short time still to live, he was brought back from hospital so that he could end his life among his brethren. As one who was present put it, “After he was wheeled into the living room of the community, George’s face lit up immediately.  He had come home.”[3]  On January 31, 2008 Father David “George” Tither, passed on to eternal life at the age of 87.

His death left many people grateful and inspired to seek the richness of God through the goodness and utmost holiness in their own lives. In 2015, the Chapter the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila approved the initial process of investigating the worthiness of his life for canonization purposes.

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

 


 

[1] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[2] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[3] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.