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,

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.