Sunday, June 6, 2010


O SISTER, WHERE ART THOU? A cloistered nun is visited by relatives who could only peek through the wooden window slats for a few, precious minutes. They could not even touch her. Monastic rules were designed to be severe to test the faith, will and morale of religious people. But even life in the convent could not prevent early Kapampangan nuns from achieving their highest spiritual goals of serving man and God. Ca. 1920s.

Kapampangan men of cloth figured early in sowing the seeds of the Catholic faith in our Islands. The early Filipino members of the religious orders introduced in the Philippines were mostly Kapampangans: the 1st Filipino Jesuit (Martin Sancho, admitted to the novitiate in Rome in 1593), the 1st Recoleto (F. Juan de Sta. Maria Dimatulac of Macabebe, 1660). Pampanga’s revered pioneers also include the 1st Filipino priest ( P. Miguel de Morales, Bacolor, ordained in 1654) and the 1st Filipino Cardinal (Rufino Cardinal Santos, Guagua, elevated to cardinalship in 1960).

But the pious daughters of Pampanga were equally commendable in their quest to serve the will of their God; and it can be said that their was a more daunting task than the challenges faced by their male counterparts, as they had to over come overcome barriers like gender, class and racial prejudices before they could find their place in the Philippine church.

The first Filipino nun, for instance, Sor Martha de San Bernardo, a Kapampangan whose roots are no lost in history, had to make a great personal sacrifice to be admitted to the religious order of Poor Clares. The order, the first in Asia, had been founded by the Spanish Franciscan nun, Madre Jeronima de la Fuente (now Venerable) in 1621. It barred ‘indias’ like Martha, despite the backing of Spanish nuns who testified to her nobility and virtue. To skirt the Spanish laws that applied to the Philippine colony, Martha sailed for Macau, where, aboard the ship and far from Spanish domain, she was invested with the holy habit. She must have professed her vows in the monastery of the Poor Clares in Macau. Here--even after King Joao IV of Portugal ordered the expulsion of Spaniards in Macau as a result of Portugal’s secession from Spain in 1644-- Sor Martha would stay and serve the order for the rest of her life.

The Franciscan Provincial, after taking note of Sor Martha’s exemplary life and example, relaxed the rules for the next wave of Filipina applicants. Another Kapampangan member of the principalia was admitted to the mother house of the Poor Clares in Manila to become the second Filipino nun. Sor Madalena dela Concepcion received her habit from Abbess Madalena de Christo on 9 February 1636, and professed her monastic vows a year later. For 49 years, this Kapampangan nun led a humble life, performing difficult taskas and abhorring positions of honor until her death on 5 April 1685.

Two persevering sisters with clear Kapampangan roots would work against all odds to found a religious congregation which, in the the 21st century, would find worldwide recognition and acclaim. Dionisia Mitas Talangpaz de Santa Maria (1691-1732) and her younger sister, Cecilia Rosa de Jesus (1693-1731) were born in Calumpit, Bulacan but were half-Kapampangans owing to their paternal grandmother, Juana Mallari and maternal grandfather, Agustin Sonsong de Pamintuan, both from Macabebe. Pamintuan was revolutionary leader in the 1660 Pampango Revolt. Another notable kin is their great granduncle, the saintly Bro. Felipe Sonsong, a Jesuit and a martyr from the same Macabebe town.

The duo founded the Beaterio de San Sebastian de Calumpang in Manila in 1719, the only one founded by Indias among 4 Philippine beaterios (a Chinse mestiza, Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo founded the 1st beaterio in 1684, now known as the Religious of Virgin Mary). But they had to overcome great difficulties and oppositions posed by cynical Recollect authorities who stopped their screening of applicants, recalled their habits and expelled them from the convent grounds. Today, the Beaterio is known as the Congregation of Augustinian Recollects, the oldest non-contemplative religious community for women in the Augustinian Recollect Order throughout the world.

Coming from a patriotic and affluent family from Bacolor, Srta. Cristina Ventura Hocorma y Bautista, was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and could have chosen to live a life of ease. But she forsook all these to become a nun of the Hijas de la Caridad (Daughters of Charity) in 1872, only the 3rd Filipina to do so. Using her inherited wealth, she founded the Asilo de San Vicente, a school for underprivileged girls in Paco. She dedicated her lifetime teaching and serving the poor.

Many more holy women of Pampanga followed the path of these early trailblazers. Sor Bibiana Zapanta of Bacolor and a nun of the Beaterio de la CompaƱia was the 1st beata missionary to Mindanao. In 1875, she was assigned to the mission school in Tamontaca, Cotabato as a principal. Sor Josefa Estrada de San Rafael became the first Filipino Poor Clare in the 18th century. Descended from Lakandula and with roots in San Simon, Josefa or Pepita professed her vows in 1881. Beata missionaries to China included Sor Ana del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus and Sor Pascuala Biron del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus who founded the Asilo de la Sta. Infancia in Fijian.

The life stories and achievements of these nuns, sisters, beatas and mystics are incredible testaments to Kapampangan women power, providing inspiration to both the laity and Philippine clergy. Shoulder to shoulder, they stand as co-equals alongside the Kapampangan men who preceded them, in their unyielding pursuit to serve Man and God.

(Source: Laying the Foundations: Kapampangan Pioneers in the Philippine Church 1592-2001, by Dr. Luciano P.R. Santiago. Holy Angel University Press © 2002)

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