The History of Montfort Missionaries in the Philippines
The preliminary contacts with the Philippine local church regarding the possibility of a new foundation started as early as 1981. It was Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila who invited the congregation to establish in the Philippines. In his conversation with the Superior General, Fr. Gerard Lemire in Rome (March 1982), the Cardinal told him that Saint Louis Marie de Montfort and his spirituality are already known in this country. The approval by the General Superior with the agreement of his Council and the Extraordinary Council was made on October 15, 1983. “This foundation is, in the first instance, an answer to the appeal of a certain sector of the church (e.g. the Legion of Mary) and is supported by an official invitation of the Cardinal-Archbishop of Manila, and secondly, in order to find Montfortian Vocations which could answer the needs of the local church, especially as regards the poor. As well as replying to the appeals of the Foreign Mission Churches….” (Cf. A Proposed Program for the SMM Formation Team in the Philippines, Vol.1 By Mario Belotti, Smm)
The first Montfort Missionary came on April 3,1984 by the name of Fr. Claude Sigouin. He is a Canadian who had been working in Papua New Guinea for eighteen years. The second member of the founding team arrived in June 6,1984 by the name of Fr. Mario Belotti. He is an Italian who was a missionary in India before he was asked to come to the Philippines. The third member of the team was a newly ordained priest from London, Great Britain who arrived on October 24, 1984. However, in the following year he went back to his own country for good because he discovered that he is not fit for a formation project. He was then replaced by a missionary from Colombia, Fr. Jose Luis Sandoval, who arrived on July 9,1986 in the middle of a typhoon.
The founding team was staying in the community of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers in Sta. Cruz, Manila while they were preparing the ground for the foundation. Fr. Claude began establishing contacts around Metro Manila while learning Pilipino language in a Language School near Pantranco, Quezon City. Fr. Mario on the other hand was attending a Formation Course in Asian Religious Formation Institute, SAIDI in Antipolo, Rizal. It was at this juncture when Fr. Mario wrote a 2-volume book entitled “Proposed Program for the SMM Formation Team in the Philippines”. He graduated from the course on March 14,1985. Fr. Danny studied also the local language in the same school where Fr. Claude went.
Part of the preparation was also searching for a house and lot to be purchased for the first community of the Montfort Missionaries. After some months of scouting around Metro Manila, they finally found an ideal place in Quezon City. It took some time for the negotiation, payment and processing of the documents before the Montfort Missionaries acquired the new property. At last, on November 15, 1984 the final transaction was made between the Archdiocese of Manila in behalf of the congregation and the Infante family, the owner of the property. It was on the same day when the Montfort Missionaries moved into their new house. They concelebrated mass for the first time. It was also on this day that they formally bid goodbye to the community of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. The founding team had expressed their sincere gratitude for their kind hospitality and generous help during their stay in the community.
A little renovation of the house was undertaken and new furniture and appliances were also purchased. Meanwhile, the fathers were also busy responding to calls and invitation for preaching retreats, seminars and recollections. They had also regular Sunday ministry in some parishes in Manila. Through their apostolate, they were slowly expanding their contacts with a lot of people. And on February 3, 1985 the first search-in was held and was attended by five searchers. Two among the five joined the first batch of recruits. Several search-in sessions were still conducted in the following months. Most of the searchers who attended were coming from the Legion of Mary. At this stage the Montfort Fathers had already contacts with many senior women legionaries and other Marian oganizations. This year was also the celebration of the Marian year so much so that the Montfort fathers became “sought after” Marian preachers.
The month of February of the year 1986 was very memorable for the two Montfort Fathers, Frs. Claude and Mario because of the historical “People Power”. They have witnessed millions of people in the street: old women, priests, seminarians, nuns and people from all walks of life. They formed human barricade against military tanks to prevent assault of uprising military officers in Camp Crame and Aguinaldo. They were very much impressed with how the Filipinos ousted a powerful dictator through non-violent means and most significantly trough prayer power. They have witnessed so may miracles during the 3 days siege of EDSA.
Life went back to normal. The Montfort fathers were again busy with various ministries. They took every opportunity to get prospective candidates. Fr. Jose Luis Sandoval arrived on July 9, 1986 to complete the founding team. He enrolled also in SAIDI, Antipolo. Meanwhile, more search-ins were conducted and after a series of sessions, five prospective candidates were showing interest. They were given stay-in seminars on topics of self-knowledge, affective life and discernment. At the end of more than a year of decision-making, only three finally applied for the Pre-novitiate and Novitiate. These three working professionals were asked to resign from their job. They were accepted on March 7, 1987 by the Superior General and his Council. The official entrance of the first pre-novices: Ricardo Reyes, Ariel Aquino and Richard Magararu was on the first of April 1987. May 31, 1987 marked an important step in the history of the SMM foundation in the Philippines. A simple but beautiful celebration was held to make official the entrance of the three candidates. The Novitiate process went on smoothly under the direction of Fr. Mario who was appointed the Novice Master. The two priests, Frs. Claude and Jose Luis were also giving courses to the novices. It was on the same year when Fr, Mario took his first home vacation in Italy for three months. Fr. Claude became in charge of the novices. Time ran very fast. On May 31, 1988, the three first Filipinos were received as members of the SMM by their Religious Profession. More than 125 relatives and friends attended the celebration despite of the heavy rain, the whole day. The celebration was officiated by Fr. Claude, the Regional Superior of the Montfort Missionaries in the Philippines. He was the one who accepted the first vows in behalf of the Superior General.
The three newly professed Montfort missionaries were then ready for the next stage of formation, the Scholasticate. The congregation chose Maryhill School of Theology for the theological formation of its candidates because of its missionary orientation. It is owned and ran by the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) and is located only few blocks from the Scholasticate house. Fr. Claude was also the Master of the Scholastics while Fr. Jose Luis was the one in charge of the Pastoral Formation and the Vocation Director. More search-ins were held and this time the name of this seminar was changed to Discovering One’s Vocation (DOV). This resulted to having five young professionals ready to join the congregation. Another house was necessary for the second batch of the Novitiate, hence a new property was bought in South Triangle, also in Quezon City. It was immediately approved by the Generalate. So, on March 16,1989 the Deeds of Sale was formally signed. The five candidates were accepted to the pre-novitiate which began on April 24, 1989. Fr.Mario received them at the new property and they worked very hard since a lot of renovations were necessary. The works were not yet completed even on the day of the entrance to the Novitiate so, the celebration was held at the scholasticate house in New Manila on May31, 1989. It was also in the same occasion that the three scholastics made their renewal of vows for the first time. The Novitiate of the second batch went on very well. However, at the middle, one novice was asked to leave the community and one scholastic also decided to leave the congregation. On May 31, 1990, four novices namely, Bros. Dennis Cabrera, Ramon Pedroza, Angelito Pusikit and Carmelo Esteban made their First Profession of Vows while Bros. Ariel and Richard renewed their vows for the second time. There were also three candidates who were admitted to the Novitiate on the same celebration. Because of the increasing number of scholastics the old house must be demolished to give way to the construction of a dormitory for the scholastics. The six scholastics stayed temporarily in the middle building that was constructed as transient house in 1988 by the founding team.
The third batch of the Novitiate was quite unique because this was the year when Fr. Mario took his three-month home leave. In his absence Fr. Paul Allerton from England took over for two months ( September-October) and Fr. Jean- Louis Courshesne, one of the assistant generals accompanied the novices for a month. Fr. Mario returned on January 17, 1991. The First Profession was held for the first time in the church of the Sacred Heart Parish in Kamuning, Quezon City on May 31, 1991. This is the parish where the novitiate house belongs. In the same celebration six scholastics also renewed their vows. The new building, Saint Loius de Montfort Seminary was completed on July 1991, so the six scholastics together with the three newly professed moved to the new dormitory. It was inaugurated and blessed by Fr. Gerard Lemire, the Superior General on the occasion of his canonical visit to the Philippines.
As vocation promotion continued, headed by Fr. Jose Luis, six new candidates joined at different time for prolonged pre-novitiate. Fr. Mario was the one in-charge of them. It was at this time when he asked already for a new Master of Novices to replace him because he desired to leave the country for good. On May 16, 1992, Fr. Anthony Periera, a young Montfort Missionary from India arrived to be the formator of the new six incoming novices. The entrance of the six new novices was held in the Novitiate House while the renewal of vows of the nine scholastics was held in the Scholasticate House. Fr. Mario left the country on the month of June 1992.
Fr. Jose Luis returned from Colombia on June 16 1992 after his three-month vacation. He assumed a parish ministry soon after his arrival since it was already decided that the congregation would run a parish for the pastoral formation of the SMM candidates and obviously to be of service to the Archdiocese of Manila. It did not take too long that on July 12, 1992 a new parish was erected namely, Sta. Teresita of the Child Jesus and Fr. Jose Luis was installed as the Parish Priest. The Celebration was officiated by Jaime Cardinal Sin and was concelebrated by several Montfort Fathers who came for the meeting of Regional Superiors of Asia. In an effort to run the parish in a non-traditional way the New Image of the Parish (NIP) Seminar was introduced to the parishioners and the seminarians as well. From this time on the scholastics and novices come to this parish every Sunday to accompany the people in building the Christian community and to get involved in preparing the children for first communion and the Sacrament of Confirmation. All the six novices of the fourth batch were admitted to the First Profession of Vows. The celebration was held on May 31, 1993 at the Sacred Heart Parish in Kamuning, Quezon City. The nine scholastics renewed also their vows during this occasion. After a short home vacation, they moved to the Scholasticate. Except one all were enrolled at Christ the King Seminary for Philosophical studies.
The first two Filipino candidates had finished their theological studies and so the next stage was the preparation for Final Vows. It was held in India in 1993 for four months (August-November) together with candidates from India and Indonesia. Fr. Claude was the one in-charge of this preparation. Fr. Anthony has to replace him as Master of scholastics for 4 months. Fr. Claude and the two Filipino participants returned home on November 25, 1993.
The Final Profession of Bros. Ariel and Richard were held on March 25, 1994, the feast of the Incarnation. It was held at the grotto of the Scholasticate and was witnessed by invited family members, friends and benefactors. The ordination to the Diaconate followed. The celebration was in Sta. Teresita Parish but held at the stage of the Barangay plaza. It was presided by Bishop Cornelio de Wit, MHM, the then Vicar for Religious in the Archdiocese of Manila. The two deacons exercised their ministry in the same parish.
On April 28, 1994, the feast of St Louis de Montfort, a new regional superior was installed. Fr. Jose Luis assumed leadership to the emerging SMM entity while remaining his post as Parish Priest. Fr. Claude retained his post as Master of Scholastics. A new venture was undertaken by the three Asian SMM entities and that was the International Novitiate. It was opened on May 30, 1994 with seven novices: 3 Indians, 1 Indonesian and 3 Filipinos. Fr. Anthony was again appointed Novice Master of this fifth batch. Rev. Richard was assigned in the Novitiate to assist Fr. Anthony.
Around the month of September, 1994, Fr. Claude accepted a new assignment to be the Director of the International Montfortian Center in Belgium. After ten years in the Philippines which he learned to love, he left the country as a true missionary. He really just planted the seed and allowed it to germinate. Fr. Arie van der Hulst from Holland had replaced Fr. Claude as Master of Scholastics and bursar. He was a missionary in Africa for many years. He had just finished his term as one of the assistants to the Superior General in Rome when this new assignment was offered to him. He went to the United States for some studies before he came to the Philippines. He arrived on the month of October 1994 and few days later, Fr. Claude left the country.
The first work of Fr. Arie was to preach a retreat to the two deacons, Revs. Ariel and Richard- the first Filipino Montfort Missionaries who will then be ordained priests. The entity was blessed with highly qualified personnel. A new Montfort Father arrived in the Philippines as additional personnel on the month of November, 1994 just before the ordination of the two deacons. He was Fr. Donald McDonald coming from Great Britain. He was a prolific writer and a specialist in Pauline Writings and well-known retreat master. He worked also in India for several years. He was the acting Parish Priest of Sta. Teresita for three months since Fr. Jose Luis was due for home vacation.
The very much awaited time had come when the first two Filipino candidates were ordained priests on November 29, 1994. The celebration was presided by the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin at the Parish of St. John the Baptist in San Juan Metro Manila. It is the parish where Fr. Ariel formerly belonged and it was his parish priest who requested that the ordination be held in his parish since they are also celebrating the centennial anniversary of foundation. The celebration was very festive and very solemn. The occasion was graced by the presence of the Superior General Rev. Fr. William Considine, Fr. Claude, Fr. Rajah, Superior of India and Fr. Peter, Superior of Indonesia. They all came to witness this historical event.
The beginning of the year 1995 was very significant in the Philippines. It was because of the celebration of the world Youth Day. The SMM community became part of the mammoth crowd at Luneta, Manila to encounter the Pope, John Paul II. After big celebrations, life came back to normal. The next step is to find a place for the two newly ordained Montfort Missionaries. Initial contact was made by Fr. Jose Luis for possible entry to the Archdiocese of Cebu. Finally a nod was given for the Montfort Missionary to enter Cebu. Fr. Jose Luis and the two newly ordained priests went to Cebu to personally explore different possibilities. They were offered accommodation at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center. This was going to be their temporary dwelling place.
After the visit to Cebu, they went back to Manila to evaluate and finalize the plan.
It was decided that the two priests were going to join the Cebu Archdiocesan Mission Program (CAMP). This was designed for the newly ordained priests of the Diocese so that they can be oriented to the approach of the Basic Ecclessial Communities (BEC) which is the thrust of the Archdiocese. After a month of orientation seminar, Frs, Ariel and Richard joined a team of four Diocesan priests and some lay volunteers who was assigned in Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Minglanilla for ten months. It was very difficult for them in the beginning since they have to learn the local dialect. They learned very fast because they were staying with host families. Home visitations, holding BEC seminar, preaching, forming Bible sharing groups, etc., were some works of the missionaries. The mission ended on May 1996.
In Manila, the Preparation for Perpetual Profession (PPP) was being held for the first time from September to December 1995. It was participated by three candidates from Africa, two from India and three Filipinos namely Bros. Dennis, Ramon and Carmelo. They stayed at the Novitiate House with Fr. Donald. The program was under the direction of Fr. Arie.
The two young Montfort Missionaries meantime went back to Manila to evaluate their experience and to plan for the next move. It was decided that they have to go back to Cebu and look for a possibility for joining the Redemptorist Mission Team. This is to have another experience of itinerant mission. This time, the two missionaries moved out from the Living the Gospel Renewal Center and rented an apartment in Minglanilla. While waiting for the response of the Redemptorist to the request, the two were busy doing some ministries in the Parish of the Immaculate Heart through the permission of the Parish Priest.
As the year ended, the congregation was gifted with another two priests namely, Frs. Ramon and Carmelo. They were ordained on December 8, 1996 by Jaime Cardinal Sin. It was held at the quadrangle of nearby West Rembo Elementary School to accommodate more people. The newly ordained were then given assignments; Fr. Ramon was going to stay at the Santa Teresita Parish and Fr. Carmelo in Cebu. Bro. Denis was likewise assigned in Cebu. The Cebu Mission Team was composed now of four members with Fr. Ariel as the Superior. His installation was held later on at the Parish Church of Immaculate Heart of Mary with Cardinal Vidal, the Archbishop of Cebu presiding the Eucharist. Because of the increased number of members of the Mission Team, an additional apartment unit had to be rented besides the two units which they were already occupying. They were small units anyway.
The beginning of 1997 was very challenging for the newly formed Cebu SMM community. They were finally allowed to join the Redemptorist Mission at St. James Parish in Compostella, northern part of Cebu. The four Montfort Missionaries were distributed to four sub-teams. They penetrated the whole parish for a period of ten months doing things according to the plan in coordination with the Parish Priest. After the first phase Fr. Richard had to be recalled to Manila to prepare himself for a new task and that is to be a formator. So, in the following school year he found himself back to classroom. He enrolled at the newly opened school, the Institute of Consecrated Life in Asia (ICLA). Fr. Carmelo had to be away also but only for a month to go to Rome. He was chosen as one of the representatives of the SMM for a Gathering of Young Religious to be held there. This trip had brought him to France also so he was the first Filipino to step on the Generalate in Rome and the Montfortian places in France. He returned to continue the mission at Compostella which ended on October 1997. Meanwhile, Bros. Angelo and Paul Arnel were in Kenya, Africa around this time to participate in the Preparation for Perpetual Profession (PPP) directed by Fr. Claude.
The year 1997-1998 was also a busy year for the SMM in the Philippines and the SMM at large. This was the fiftieth anniversary of the canonization of its founder, St. Louis Marie de Montfort. The Jubilee celebration was opened formally at the Santa Teresita Parish on July 20, 1997. A motorcade was held around the parish with the statue of Montfort being carried by a van bedecked with flowers. Different activities were lined up throughout the whole jubilee year. It was highlighted by a 2-day Marian Congress that was held on April 25-26, 1998 at the auditorium of St. Paul College Quezon City. Fr. Gilles Dallaire, SMM from Canada was invited to speak about Consecration according to St. Louis. Participants were mainly coming from the Legion of Mary from different parishes. It was around this time that Bro. Dennis left the congregation for good.
After the mission experience with the Redemptorists it was decided that the SMM Mission Team undertake a parish mission of its own. The Parish Priest of St. Joseph in Tabunok offered a place in his parish to be evangelized. The Mission Team was composed of Fr. Ariel (the team leader), and Fr. Carmelo and Fr. Ramon as the new members. However, Fr. Carmelo was given a new task, that is to be the Vocation Animator. He then, returned to Manila. Reverend Paul was the one who replaced him. He was sent immediately to Cebu after his ordination to the Diaconate.
Fr. Donald already left the country for good in the beginning of 1998 but additional personnel arrived in the person of Fr. Peter Swammy from India. He was the one in-charge of the Scholastics while Fr. Arie was appointed as the Novice Master for a year. In the middle of the year 1998, Fr. Richard went to Europe to participate in the Formator’s training entitled “Living and Sharing Montfortian Spirituality. It was held in Rome and France from October 15, 1998 until March 17, 1999. To prepare himself for this international encounter he left as early as July to learn a bit of French language and culture in France. There were five novices this time but only four made it to the First profession on May 31, 1999. During this time the General Chapter was being held in Arricia, Italy. For the first time a Filipino capitulant, Fr. Ariel participated in this chapter aside from Fr. Jose Luis who was the Delegation superior. Before the year ended Fr. Joseph Pastoril who had been also to Kenya Africa to join the Preparation for Perpetual Profession (PPP) was ordained priest on December 5, 1999.
The Cebu Mission Team had moved now to St. Francis of Asissi Parish in Naga. It was now the turn of Fr. Paul to be pulled out from the team. He was going to Rome for a further study in Spirituality. Fr. Angelo replaced him. It was decided and approved that at this juncture the Montfort Missionaries in Cebu can build a house in the lot that was purchased earlier. The construction was began at the end of 1999 and was finished around April 2000. Cardinal Vidal, the Archbishop of Cebu, inaugurated it on June 2000.
On April 2000 the term of Fr. Jose Luis as delegation superior ended. After consultation, Father General appointed Fr. Arie as the third Delegation Superior of the Philippines. He was installed by Fr. General during the Eucharistic celebration held at the Chapel of the Scholasticate. Fr. Jose Luis remained the Parish Priest of Sta. Teresita. Then in Cebu another mission was opened in the Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary, Tuyan upon the request of its pastor. Fr. Joseph was the new member of the team while Fr. Richard had his first experience as a formator. He had seven postulants whom he had prepared for the Novitiate. He was then appointed Novice Master. All the seven were admitted to the Novitiate but only five made it to the First Profession on May 31, 2001.
During the Jubilee year Fr. Nelson was ordained priest at Santa Teresita Parish. The ordaining prelate was the Bishop of Lucena, Most Rev. Ruben Profugo who is in loved with the Montfortian spirituality. Fr. Nelson was assigned to the Cebu Mission Team in the beginning of the year 2001. It was also around this time that some changes took place in the life of the delegation. Fr. Jose Luis left the country for a Sabbatical year. After his home vacation in Colombia he went to the United States for a one-year study program. Fr. Ariel left Cebu to replace Fr. Jose Luis as Parish Priest. Fr. Ramon was in turn appointed superior of the Cebu Mission Team.
The newly composed team launched another mission on the request of its pastor, a young priest who was known to the team since seminary days. This time it was in Our Lady of Perpetual Parish located in Lapu-lapu City. It went on very well with the active participation of the people and support of the parish priest. The participants of the Asian Superiors meeting had the opportunity to experience this mission. They had an overnight stay in the different host families arranged by the Mission team. Bishop Gilles, a Montfortian Bishop from Papua New Guinea was among the participants. The meeting was held at Montfort’s Center from August 21-23,2001. The aim of this meeting was to foster better cooperation and collaboration among Asian SMM entities.
On June 2001, a new building was constructed in the Novitiate House. It contained a bigger chapel, library, conference room and eight small bedrooms for candidates. The two old annex buildings remained as they are. The construction was finished at the end of the year and was inaugurated on March 16, 2002 on the occasion of the Final Profession of Bro. Rey Bullas Jr. He participated earlier in the Preparation for Perpetual Profession (PPP) held in Kenya, Africa. He was ordained Deacon on April 15, 2002 at Santa Teresita Parish and was ordained priest on November 3, 2002 at the same Parish. Both ordinations were officiated by Bishop Socrates Villegas, one of the Auxiliary Bishops of Manila. At that time there were nine Filipino SMM priests and eight temporary professed scholastics who were all theology students of Inter-Congregational Theological Center (ICTC). This school is a joint endeavor by different congregations wanting to respond to the urgent call for a relevant and liberating theology. Pastoral and missionary orientation was the main reason for changing the venue of the SMM theological formation. Fr. Rey was the first SMM graduate of this school.
The summer of 2001 was very significant for the young SMM scholastics. They joined the Cebu Mission Team for one month in the new mission area. It was in the mountain places of Inayagan which is still part of the town of Minglanilla. They had a foretaste of the “mission a la Montfort”. Everybody was happy with the experience of being close with the people and depending on Providence. It was also the first time that the Renewal of Vows was made in the mission area in the presence of the local people. Fr. Arie went to Cebu for that occasion. It was really something memorable for the scholastics and the people as well.
The Montfort Missionaries are indeed growing in the Philippines. Slowly their presence is already felt in the local Church. They are not known only for their special love for Mary but for the Parish itinerant missions. However, on-going reflection is a felt need for the young delegation to translate the richness of the heritage left by its great founder St. Louis Marie de Montfort into the Philippine context. The search is still on for ways and methods of doing mission while trying to be faithful to the ideal of their founder: “to be true disciples of Christ-Wisdom, men consecrated to Jesus through Mary and entirely dependent on Divine Providence, living poor and loving the poor. They are to be “liberos”, freemen, working together for God’s glory to bring about the Kingdom of Jesus through Mary.