Among the Recollects and Tarlaqueños, there is a future saint being talked about who served the town of Capas with extraordinary devotion and grace. Above all, he dedicated most of his missionary life improving the lot of Aetas by creating the mission center of Patling just for them, to facilitate their integration to Christian society. His name is Fray Juan Perez de Santa Lucia, who, at one point, also served Mabalacat town as a companero of Fr. Jose Varela Fernandez de la Consolacion.
Born to Felipe Perez and Juliana de Lucio on 8 February 1817 in Santander, Spain, Fr. Juan joined the Recollect order in 1843, choosing for his patron, Santa Lucia. Arriving in Manila as a member of a mission group on 22 July 1843, he was ordained here in December of the same year. Mabalacat was his next stop, where, on 23 February 1844, he joined Fr. Varela as an assistant. Here, he quickly immersed himself in learning the Kapampangan and Zambal languages. He stayed on in Mabalacat until September 1845, because by the 2nd week of the same month, he was named as missionary of Capas, which was then still a part of Pampanga.
It is in Capas where he truly left his mark, working with indefatigable zeal and fervor among his parishioners. For instance, when water from Mt. Pinatubo inundated Capas in May 1850, he stayed with his parishioners, leading them to higher grounds, unmindful of his own safety. He wisely made use of donations to build a stone church for Capas.
Beyond Capas, he also worked tirelessly among the Aetas in Patling, protecting them from the exploitation of Spaniards and settlers hungry for new lands. So detached was he from materialism that when his Father Provincial gifted him with clothing, he tore the fabric into smaller pieces which he then gave away to the Aetas. In yet another instance, when several Aetas were jailed by the police for allegedly hiding contraband merchandise, the good father joined them in jail! Not even the governor of Pampanga, Don Jose Paez, could make him move out of the prison.
In 1864, a great cholera epidemic hit Capas, and a large number of the population fell victim to the plague. Fr. Juan labored day in and out to minister to the spiritual needs of the dead and dying. Sadly, he too was afflicted by the same disease. This holy man who started his walk to sainthood in Mabalacat, breathed his last on 20 June 1864, in his beloved Capas mission.
(Adapted from Dr. Lino L. Dizon, “Fr. Juan Perez de Santa Lucia, OAR: A Forgotten Saint?”, Kapampangan K Magazine Issue 6, pp. 27-29.)