The First Intervention of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines

1st Comm Opon 1907
First Redemptorist Community at Opon, 1907

On June 30, 1906, the first Redemptorist community in the Philippines arrived in Opon (now presently Lapu-lapu City), in the island of Cebu. Those appointed to the Foundation were Fr Leo (at the time Rector of Ballarat, Australia) as Superior, Creagh, O’Sullivan, O’Callaghan, Casin, and Bros. Casimir and Eunan (shown in the picture above).

The settling down in the parish did not go as smooth as the Redemptorists had hoped for. The first community found the parish Priest, Fr. Roa and his 12 houseboys still in possession of the convento. The Bishop of Cebu, Thomas Hendrik, did not make matters clear to Fr. Roa, so that when the Parish Priest finally left, some local lay leaders objected that the parish was being taken over by foreigners and had driven out the Parish Priest.

Indeed, the negative experiences from the Spanish friars were still fresh in the memory of the natives that the local people gave the pioneer Redemptorist from Ireland and Australia a very cold treatment.  Someone even organized a boycott against them and soon even the services in the church were boycotted. The convento had been a meeting place for the President of the Municipio (a classmate of Fr. Roa) and his cronies. The parish was a good one and the annual Fiesta was big business. The Municipio had a stake in this. Because of all of these, the pioneer Redemptorists were too disheartened to initiate anything in the parish.

Added to these woes was the fact that the new Community fresh from the cool air of Ireland found themselves crowded into two rooms and sleeping on the floor.  Their reactions to all this differed. Fr. Leo blamed Fr. Boylan for everything. Fr. Boylan was the Irish Provincial who arrived first in the Philippines to prepare for the establishment of the Foundation. He  joined the incumbent Parish Priest, Fr Roa, in residence in Opon on March 17, 1906. Despite all the pressures, Boylan took them well, putting on frequent celebrations for the community and appealing to holy hope.

Not all people, however, were inimical to the Redemptorists. The wife of the President of the Municipio defied the boycott from the beginning. Three sisters from a nearby barrio smuggled in food supplies, and another convinced her husband, who piloted a launch, to bring in supplies from Cebu. Also some of the priests were very supportive from the day of their arrival, especially the parish Priest of Mandawe Fr. Emiliano Mercado and Fr. Gregorio Reynes who was assigned as curate and language teacher. Filipino Hospitality won out in the end and after six months we read in the chronicles, the people are very friendly towards us.

But the most significant change was about to happen on July 24, 1906.  Fr. Patrick Leo, the superior of the community, erected the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) in the tribune looking into the Church. We read in the Chronicles of the time: “It is remarkable that on this day the people became notably more friendly towards us.”

Redemptorist historian Fr. Michael Bailey describes this providential event as perhaps the very first intervention of OMPH in the mission of the Redemptorists in the Philippines.[1]

We could just imagine the reaction of the people the first time they saw the picture of OMPH. It was not one of the usual Marian images that the locals were used to. Although they have painted images of the Virgin with Child, this seemed strange for them, as it did not portray the innocence of the Child Jesus like the one cradled by their own Virgen dela Regla.[2] They could have given the strange icon a cold treatment, in the same way that they treated the missionaries who brought them, but they gladly welcomed and embraced the icon in their parish.

With the people’s much needed approval through the maternal intervention of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Opon, the Redemptorists now had the peace of mind to promote devotion to OMPH. The first novena to OMPH in Opon was celebrated on March 17, 1907. The Redemptorists also brought the icon when they began to give missions to the barrios. This is in keeping with the Redemptorist tradition of bringing the icon wherever Redemptorists gave missions. In one of these missions, Bailey recounts the very significant event of the barrio mission that Redemptorists conducted in Compostela, Cebu in 1907 which showed Mary’s already special place in the early mission of the Redemptorists in the Philippines:

The most significant thing about this “missionette” was that the picture of OMPH was placed over the altar, and presided, as it were, over the work. So began the patronage of the Redemptorist apostolate in the Philippines by OMPH that was to bear much fruit in missions and retreats, and later, in the devotion of the Perpetual Novena.[3]

mission-omph

 


 

[1] Michael Baily, C.Ss.R., Small Net in a Big Sea, The Redemptorists in the Philippines, 1905-1929 (Cebu: San Carlos Publications), 19.

[2] Trizer Dale Mansueto, “Make her Known,” How the Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help Flourished in the Philippines, Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon and the Philippines: Multidisciplinary Perspectives to a Perpetual Help Spirituality (Manila: Institute for Spirituality in Asia, 2017), 36.

[3] Baily, Small Net in a Big Sea, 20.

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Remembering the Arrival of the Redemptorist in the Philippines

mission-omph

The month of June is a special month for the Shrine.  On this month we celebrate the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on the 27th of June. A nine days novena and mass precede the fiesta. Both the 9 days and the feast are well attended. Many complete the 9 days novena and masses out of panata (promise). During the 9 days novena, the shrine comes alive with daily activities. Often there are concert in honor of OMPH, Karakol which is a religious dance procession held at the eve of the feast day, bazaar or flea market which features products from poor mission areas of the Redemptorist missionaries, games and beautiful decorations inside the shrine and in the whole shrine compound. All these exude a fiesta atmosphere during the month of June.

For Redemptorists, the month of June is also a special month for another reason. It marks the arrival of the Redemptorist in the Philippines, 113 years ago.

On June 30, 1906, seven Redemptorists arrived at Opon on the island of Mactan in the Philippines to begin a new mission. They joined Fr. Andrew Boylan, C.Ss.R. who had already taken up residence in Opon earlier in the year. The arrival of these seven Redemptorist confreres marked the beginning of more than 100 years of the Redemptorist mission and presence in the country where without doubt the Congregation was to play a significant role in both the religious and social life of the people.

This commemoration of the beginnings of the Redemptorist in the Philippines is an opportunity to give thanks first of all to the Lord for leading and guiding the Redemptorists especially in the trying times of missionary growth.  It is also an opportunity to give thanks to the Filipino people especially the poor and ordinary people in the missions who because of their hospitality, courage and ingenuity in embracing the faith and the good news have made Redemptorists realize that they too were evangelized. This is also an opportunity to give thanks to the pioneering Redemptorists, from Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and our own Filipino confreres, most of them have passed away, for their great dedication and sacrifices in learning the language, understanding the culture and living with the people just for the sake of preaching the good news especially to the poor and most abandoned people of the many remote barrios of the country.  It is also an opportunity to give thanks to the many lay partners in the mission areas and in the church who have shared their special gifts and talents in the preaching of the good news and the building of basic Christian communities.  Finally, this is also a special opportunity to give thanks to our Mother of Perpetual Help who has guided the Redemptorists in the missions especially in the spreading of her Son’s abundant redemption to all.

113 years ago, the Redemptorists came to the Philippines in response to the need of the church out of the shortage of priests.  Our country is not much better off than 113 years ago.  The country is still mired in deep poverty and disunity.  There is pervasive indifference and hopelessness amongst our people.   Sadly, the church has been wanting in giving hope and impetus for change.  The same sense of urgency and opportunity beckons upon us all. Thus this commemoration is also a challenge to be open, bold and break new ground to where the Lord is inviting Redemptorist in the Philippines now and in the years ahead.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help pray for the Redemptorists that that they may continue to proclaim the fullness of redemption in Jesus your son.

 

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

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,

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.