1979 – 2004
Laying the foundations
The Camillians (Ministers of the Sick of St. Camillus) arrived in the Philippines in 1975. They were struck by the poor health condition of many people, particularly in the slums of Manila. Moved by the desire to meet at least some of these people’s needs, the fathers invited the Camillian sisters (Sister Ministers of the Sick of St. Camillus) to open a mission in this country and thus work together according to the common charism, founded on the words of Christ: “Heal the sick and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Following the visit of three Sisters from Taiwan (Sr. Camillina Cristofoli, Sr. Helen Ho, and the late Sr. Claudia Wang) and their report to the general chapter (the highest decision-making body of the Congregation) in September of 1978, this same chapter decided for this new opening in South-East Asia.
Sr. Maria Sara Lippi and Sr. Lauretta Ausilia Gianesin left Rome on December 31, 1978, and arrived in Manila in the afternoon of January 1, 1979. This day marked the beginning of a new adventure. It was such for Sr. Maria Sara who had just finished her term as Superior General of the Congregation and for Sr. Lauretta who was fresh from academic preparation in education and some experience in the care of the sick and of young women from broken families. But it was a new beginning also for the entire family of the Camillian Sisters.
After a seemingly endless trip, the two sisters were warmly welcomed by the Camillian Fathers, who continued to help them out in the crucial needs of the beginnings and whose care softened the first impact of the new environment.
A taste of Filipino hospitality
Sr. Maria Sara and Sr. Lauretta were then to experience the exquisite, heart-warming care of the Filipinos as they stayed for about three months in a small wooden house within the compound of the Good Shepherd sisters along Aurora Boulevard. Sr. Guadalupe, who was then the superior of that community, gave them her warmest welcome and made sure that their basic needs would be met.
Aling Naty joyfully took upon herself the task of accompanying her two new neighbors to markets and supermarkets to watch over their needs. No one else in this world could have been more marvelous than Aling Naty! Her simplicity and cheerful serenity, her respectful and yet deeply caring presence, her generosity, and constant availability made her one of the most precious gifts of the first months of the Camillian sisters’ Philippine mission.
Near the compound of the Good Shepherd sisters lies the seminary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It was in their chapel that Sr. Maria Sara and Sr. Lauretta spent long hours of personal prayer and participated in the community’s Eucharistic celebrations. Sr. Lauretta, encouraged by Fr. Orlando Quevedo, then rector of the seminary and now an outstanding bishop, took delight in the song practice of the OMI scholastics, thus being helped not only to learn the English language but also to enter into the religiosity of Filipinos.
Settling down on Melchor Street
On March 29 of the same year, the two sisters transferred to a bungalow-type house on #50 Melchor St. in Loyola Heights. This became the first convent of the Sister Ministers of the Sick of St. Camillus in the Philippines. For several weeks, they worked hard to clean the house, paint the closets, do some small repairs and supervise the workers who did the major jobs. While striving to learn English as they attended classes at the Interchurch Language School in Pantranco, they spent all their remaining energy transforming their empty house into a home. Quite often, wanting to save some coins for greater necessities and to the horror of the local people, these pioneering sisters would walk kilometers—each of them with four or five bags filled with plates, glasses, and all sorts of things needed for the future community.
From the very beginning of their stay in Quezon City and their travels within Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, the sisters were stunned by the wonders of the Philippine landscape: flaming clouds of fire trees, colorful showers of bougainvilleas, enormous acacias, white-sand beaches punctuated by tall coconut trees… The sisters thought they had come to the Garden of Eden.
Wading through deep waters
Then the rainy season arrived and the two sisters experienced what most Filipinos ordinarily have to face: violent monsoon rains or typhoons causing floods all over Metro Manila. Long hours of waiting for jeepneys or buses often tested their patience while they slowly got used to hazardous transportation and learned that, with the floods, the normally chaotic traffic of Manila becomes totally crazy or completely frozen for hours. One particular day, August 15, 1979, captured all this: Sr. Lauretta had gone to the Camillian fathers in Makati to get some letters coming from Italy. The journey home took four and a half hours, ending in a walk through almost waist-high water, along the entire stretch of Melchor St., since no tricycle driver would take any passenger only to wade through deep water.
Oftentimes due to leaks, it seemed to be raining inside the house, too. This led to the endless moving of the few pieces of furniture. When the rain stopped, the sisters would spend several hours getting rid of the two-foot-high water that had filled up the rooms.
Meeting the human face of poverty
Very soon the sisters came in contact with the reality of poverty in the Philippines. They tried to find ways to extend some help to those who were knocking at their door, particularly the sick. In their struggles to adjust to climate, food, and culture, the two sisters often found themselves also in the ranks of the sick.
On November 19, Sr. Rosanna Boseggia arrived in the Philippines. She had served as a missionary nurse in Taiwan for many years.
A few weeks later, the Camillian sisters in Taiwan requested the assistance of Sr. Maria Sara in their archival work. She left the Philippines on December 8.
On February 8, 1980, a third sister was sent from Italy to bring new energy and share her nursing experiences for the good of the Filipinos. Sr. Graziana Tondini remained in the mission for two years, dedicating much of her time to visiting the people in the nearby slums.
Another great consolation of that same February was occasioned by the arrival from Italy of Fr. Giulio Ghezzi, OSC who offered to celebrate daily Mass for the sisters in their house.
March 14 of that year was a sad day for the small community and a very painful trial for Sr. Lauretta who received the news of the sudden death of her beloved father. She was at that time in the process of recovering from a surgical operation which, though minor in itself, had caused her, Sr. Rosanna, and the Camillian Fathers much anxiety.
From the beginning of 1980, some young women were regularly visiting the sisters, helping them in household chores and joining them for prayers. Little by little various vocation promotion activities began to be organized and the families of those who were deciding to be part of the Congregation were visited. In May and June, the house came to resound with more life as five of these young women started their aspirancy.
The difficulties with transportation and the growing needs of the community persuaded the sisters to invest in a second-hand car (Ford Escort) offered by an acquaintance at what seemed a very reasonable price. Sr. Lauretta then got her driver’s license in a few days and later had many experiences, some hilarious and some dangerous, with that vehicle. A hole in the luggage compartment once caused her to lose a whole consignment of glorious mangoes along the length of EDSA. More hazardous was the complete breakdown of the windshield wipers on a wet night journey back from Pangasinan.
On June 22 the appointment of Sr. Rosanna as the first superior of the Philippine mission was celebrated with joy. August 7 brought further rejoicing over the arrival of Sr. Anastasia Wisnheski. She came mainly to study English for her future mission in Kenya, but the community was delighted with the gift of her being.
In October the aspirants were invited to help with the translation of the booklet of the community prayers from Italian to English. This translation was to be of great value also for the sisters of Kenya. On October 29 the community was filled with gratitude to the Lord as they began to use the beautiful chapel built by a young architect, Florencio Santiago. This was the first of a series of architectural and building contributions to the Camillian sisters by this man who was to prove himself as one of their most loyal and generous friends.
On December 8, the sisters made their distinctive fourth vow: by this, they committed themselves to serve the sick even at the risk of their lives. The recovery of this fourth vow was a return to the original wish and practice of their Foundress and first sisters.
The community bid goodbye to the year 1980 with the consolation of a water reservoir, putting behind them two years of water problems.
Struggling with the bureaucracy
What increasingly ate into the sisters’ time as 1981 unfolded was the struggle with civil bureaucracy. Interminable queuing at different offices for the processing of the sisters’ documents and other transactions related to the house and the community consumed entire days and weeks. During that same year negotiations over a reasonably priced lot measuring 8,000 sq., m. in the municipality of Antipolo involved seemingly endless meetings. What made such time-consuming transactions even more difficult to bear was the thought of a better way to spend time, such as for vocation promotion activities, if the foundation and its work were to flourish.
Serving the poor and the sick
With the cooperation of postulants and aspirants, the sisters organized many initiatives, mainly in the fields of catechesis and service to the sick. They tried to respond to some needs of the people in the surrounding streets of Melchor and Jocson. They also tried to help out in the areas of Marikina and Makati where the Camillian fathers were operating.
Despite the demands on their limited time, the sisters decided to attempt to respond to an urgent request that they fill a serious lacuna in the chaplaincy department of the Philippine Heart Center. Every day, for several months, they ensured that the Eucharist be celebrated and saw to the pastoral care of the patients and their families.
On April 2, 1982, the news of her mother’s death brought deep pain to Sr. Rosanna and the whole community.
Some aspirants and postulants now began to take theology subjects at the Sisters Formation Institute while others completed, or began, professional courses. This involved many sacrifices on everybody’s part, the least of which was an earlier rising and a later bedtime.
Due to the over-extended commitments of the few sisters in the mission, the Superior General and her councilors decided that the postulants continue their formation in Rome and so in October the first two postulants, Fe and Leandrina, left for Italy. From then on, postulants were sent to Rome almost every year.
In the middle of October Sr. Noemi Albarello came from Thailand to give a hand to the community, especially in the area of formation. She stayed in the Philippines for a couple of months, generously sharing her rich experience of missionary commitment.
The sisters sustained their efforts in vocation promotion. One time, in one of her visits to the family of a candidate whose parents were very much against the idea of their daughter’s vocation, the sister was received by the father with a bolo. Fortunately, peace prevailed and after their long talk they became the best of friends and the daughter was allowed to pursue her calling.
The whole of 1982 saw the sisters and formandae much involved in the organization of medical services for the many indigent people of Santa Maria della Strada Parish. The parish priest himself, Msgr. Patricio Lim and some active laypeople offered their support to the sisters’ efforts to improve the health condition of the poorest sector of society. Three young lady doctors, coming from different hospitals and clinics, were glad to regularly give their service. Also, a few pharmaceutical firms responded positively to the request of the sisters and gave some basic medicines for patients who could only ill-afford to buy them. Slowly, medical services became more regular, thanks also to the big amount of medicines coming from Action Medeor (Germany) through the generosity of the late Fr. Heinrich Dammig, OSC. The sisters were able to extend emergency aid in times of calamities. Dental services were offered in the house twice a week, particularly to meet the needs of the indigent people.
Against their better judgment, the sisters gave way to the persistent appeals of the hospital directors and for a period brought Holy Communion to the patients of Lung Center and Hospital ng Bagong Lipunan, both without chaplains.
But the visit to the families nearby, especially to the sick, remained their priority.
On January 28, 1983, the community welcomed Sr. Idilia Dall’ Agnol with great joy. She’s a young sister sent from Brazil to help particularly in vocation promotion and formation in the Philippines.
On August 21 sisters and formandae were one with the whole nation in mourning over the assassination of Senator Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino on his return from the United States. They joined the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who lined up before the coffin of Ninoy. They found new courage and strength from the example of this martyr of freedom. Meanwhile, disorder and repression brought ever-growing tension all over the nation
The second half of 1984 saw the construction of the new house in the lot of Antipolo, along Marcos Highway, well underway. As with any construction, this period severely tested the patience and sanity of the community. The endless efforts, as exhausting for the builders as for the sisters, to explain what needed to be modified to make the building serve the community’s needs took their toll. Some fruitless attempts to economize brought their frustration; successful attempts brought disproportionate delight. The sisters tried to face together all the challenges confronting them. Through weekly meetings, they shared their opinions and feelings and searched for the best ways of responding to the demands of formation, vocation promotion, apostolate, community life, and the problems in the construction.
The sisters increased the frequency of their visits to the slum areas, discovering evermore malnourished children. Often they brought some sick children or adults to the hospital and faithfully visited them there until their discharge, procuring needed medicines for them. One night a man knocked desperately at their door calling for help for his wife who was about to give birth. Sr. Idilia and two aspirants went with him and offered their first aid to the 29-year-old mother and her newly born baby, while the other five children were observing the whole scene crouched around the tiny hut. Such emergencies highlighted the inadequacy of existing health services.
All through 1985, the sisters tried to motivate the people of Santa Maria della Strada Parish to avail themselves of the assistance of visiting groups of doctors. Slowly, the health care services to the sick improved. Health care education was also included in those medical missions.
On March 25, 1985, the community rejoiced with the whole Congregation in the celebration in Rome of the First Profession of the first two Filipina sisters: Sr. Fe and Sr. Leandrina. These two junior sisters returned to the Philippines on September 11 of that same year, to the great joy of everyone. With them another Italian sister, Sr. Serafina Perusi, arrived, to help in the tough time of the finishing stage of the construction and the transfer of the community to the new house. She was to stay until the end of March of the following year, supporting everyone with her tireless work.
Moving to Kingsville
By October the construction was practically finished. Little by little, the furniture, linens, and all other basic things were either bought or transferred from the house at Melchor St. The community itself finally moved to Kingsville on December 9. From the very beginning, with the Camillian fathers’ commitment to celebrating daily masses, quite a several people joined the sisters in the Eucharist, at times coming to pray on their own.
At the peak of the EDSA revolution, on February 23, 1986, the new house of the Camillian sisters was inaugurated. The occasion was graced by the presence of the vicar general Sr. Angelina Vannini, the late Sr. Paola Dalberto, and three sisters from Taiwan. It is impossible to capture in summary the account of that peaceful revolution that was written in diary form during those days and which is movingly enhanced by the comments and reflections of the two junior sisters and the twelve postulants and aspirants who joined the people in EDSA.
By the end of April, new appointments arrived from Rome: Sr. Lauretta was appointed as superior of both the Kingsville and Melchor houses. Sr. Idilia was appointed postulant directress on Melchor St. where she was joined by Sr. Leandrina. Life became more and more difficult for these two sisters and the young formandae as the house, already in bad shape, was found to be riddled with termites. A thorough renovation of the building was called for. They had to ask the postulants to transfer back to Kingsville. Following reconstruction, that convent functioned briefly as a boarding house for female students.
In December the secretary-general, Sr. Angelica Lucarelli, came to bring the support of the superiors in Rome to the young mission. Her presence for three months was truly a gift.
With the transfer to Kingsville Subdivision, the sisters strongly felt the call to know the people around the place, most especially the poorer ones. After some meetings with the parish priest or more often with two of his representatives, Fidel and Marica, personal visitation of some areas began. For several months, the sisters, postulants, and aspirants went every Sunday to visit the people of different depressed areas, particularly Pagrai, Ruhat, and Peñafrancia.
One day Sr. Leandrina and some postulants found a very sick 19-year-old woman in Pagrai. Noticing her serious conditions they brought her to Rodriguez Hospital and succeeded in getting her admitted. The following day, amid heavy rain and high-level floods, another sister brought her all the medicines the doctor prescribed which her family could not buy. Without the support of the sisters, such people had little hope of being admitted to hospitals.
In August the sisters met for the first time with a group of young women working in Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company in Makati. The head of their department, Mr. Edoardo Ledesma, a sensitive and generous man, motivated them to support the community in its apostolate with the sick. From then on and for several years that group of young women and a few men contributed out of their monthly salary towards funding some initiatives in favor of the sick, particularly the needy children, in collaboration with the sisters.
Organizing medical services
By September a good number of doctors, nurses, and other volunteers from St. Francis Xavier Parish began to meet with the sisters. Together they organized regular medical services in the poorest areas of the parish. Later on, they took time to meet and monitor the effectiveness of their activities, improving plans and focusing more and more on the most urgent needs of the people. They welcomed hundreds of patients and followed up closely the most serious ones, accompanying several of them to hospitals and caring for them until they were discharged from the hospitals.
The Camillian sisters were being changed as they drew closer to many of their sisters and brothers struggling daily to survive.
The story of Janice (Genise) is indicative of how this happened. It all started on October 5, 1986, when Marica (the volunteer friend) came to the sisters and with much concern talked to them about the condition of three children who had been abandoned by their parents. Teresita, their good-hearted neighbor, took care of the three for some days. But, noticing that the youngest one, Janice, was very sick and fearing for her life, she called for help. The baby (around two years old but so frail and undernourished that she looked just a few months old) had a high fever and a swollen cheek, probably due to a big abscess in her mouth. Upon seeing her, the sisters rushed her to Children’s Hospital with Marica and Teresita. After four hours of waiting, the doctors said that the child, afflicted also by primary complex and infected with parasites, needed constant care but could not be admitted for there was no vacancy in the hospital. The sisters knew that if she had to be sent back to the hills with Teresita, she would surely die in a short time. And so, while trying to find another solution, they decided to keep her in the convent and for a few days took turns to watch over her day and night with much love. In the second week of October, Janice was finally admitted to the National Children’s Hospital and her confinement lasted several months. Sr. Fe donated blood to save the life of the little girl. Through the financial support of some friends from Italy and the parish, the sisters paid two young women who took turns in watching over her uninterruptedly.
Meanwhile, a sister or an aspirant went daily to the hospital to get Janice’s clothes to be washed and to bring all that was needed, including the food. On November 5 Sr. Lauretta signed some documents where she agreed to let the little one be operated in the mouth. The following day Janice underwent surgery and Sr. Fe remained at her side for the whole day. From then on the little girl’s health improved slowly but steadily. Some months later she had the good fortune to be adopted with her brother Jonel and her sister Janette by a couple from abroad.
On February 2, 1987, the Filipino sisters and aspirants went to vote in the national plebiscite. They voted again on May 11 in the subsequent political elections. Some of them, responding to the bishops’ appeal, gave their time and energy to supervise the voting process and thus protect and defend the sacredness of the votes against manipulations or violations.
In February the mother and sister of Sr. Lauretta visited from Italy. As was to happen with other later visitors, they were deeply moved by the people’s warmth and the difficulties of the poor. From then on they supported the mission in many ways. The two were to return bringing their parish priest, Fr. Giorgio, in February 1990.
In February Mother Ernestina Rossetti was finally able to carry out her canonical visit. Sr. Tomasina Gheduzzi, who was then a missionary in Brazil, came with her and offered helpful advice, particularly in matters of formation. In December she had to go back to her original mission.
Through their work in vocation promotion, the sisters, particularly Sr. Fe, experienced the joy of welcoming many young women to the house. They had to grow in response to the demanding side of formation work, experiencing the difficulty of inviting some candidates to leave and the sadness of seeing others, who seemed suited to religious life, follow another path.
At this time Sr. Leandrina, working with the people in Ruhat, concentrated on giving health education to a group of women, with emphasis on maternal and child care. As they extended their ministry to a growing number of sick people, the sisters realized they needed the financial support of Filipino friends, aside from that of Italian benefactors. They began organizing fund raising activities like “Dinner for a Cause”: a beautiful get together of around two hundred people who enjoyed a simple meal and came to know something more about the Camillian sisters and their apostolate among the poor.
The following day the joy of the community grew even more for the arrival of another sister from Italy, Sr. Camillina Cristofoli, a generous missionary full of experience who was still to give the best of herself to the Philippines.
Establishing a health center in Mambugan (Antipolo)
By 1988 the health care program for the needy was better organized and reached a point where it became necessary to have a center for more regular and complete services. With approval from the superiors in Rome a lot in Mambugan (Antipolo) was bought. Its existing bamboo and nipa hut was spacious and well-made. This hut was transformed into a wonderful venue for health care services, including a nutrition rehabilitation program in favor of a group of malnourished children who urgently needed such service. One sister and some aspirants, with the collaboration of two or three volunteer doctors and a social worker, lovingly attended to an ever growing number of patients which reached one hundred and forty a day on a three-day weekly schedule. Beginning in October fifty children began to enjoy a nutrition rehabilitation program intended to promote their physical, intellectual and spiritual growth. Their mothers attended courses on hygiene and child care.
January 1989 was blessed with the visit of Wilma, Sr. Camillina’s niece, her husband Umberto and two other couples from Verona, Italy. Their stay would prove to be very significant not only for the generous donations they gave, but also for their future commitment to regularly support the initiatives of the Camillian sisters.
March 1989 saw the construction of a pre-school in the Kingsville property. This construction was made possible by the sale of the property on Melchor Street. In June the long-awaited Maria Domenica Child Development Center was inaugurated. Under the direction of Sr. Leandrina, it had eighty-five enrollees in its first year. The sisters’ dream was to reach out to families trough a holistic education of little kids.
Meanwhile, the number of patients seeking assistance at the Mambugan clinic constantly increased. Programs of preventive and curative medicine were implemented by doctors and paramedics. All expenses were sustained by Italian benefactors, whose number grew bigger thanks also to the enthusiastic missionary animation of Fr. Adriano Toniolo and Ms. Adelina De Boni who had come from Vicenza.
More help from Filipina junior sisters
The year 1990 was particularly graced with the return of more Filipina junior sisters. Having finished their initial formation in Italy, they were eager to contribute to the growth of the young mission.
In Mambugan Sr. Leandrina slowly organized a pre-school program (Kapit-Bata) for many children whose parents could simply not afford to send them to school.
In another initiative the sisters and young formandae began rendering services to the residents of the Golden Acres home for the aged located in Quezon City. Many of these elderly women found comfort, joy and hope in the presence and care of these dedicated religious and young women who saw their charism as inclusive of these new victims of social neglect.
In July a disastrous earthquake shook the whole of Luzon, causing death and destruction in several places. Apart from frequent natural calamities, widespread political corruption intensified the misery of the poorest of all.
Welcoming our superiors
In September the whole Congregation found cause for rejoicing in the election of their new Superior General, Sr. Tomasina Gheduzzi.
The year 1991 began with the encouraging visit of Mother Tomasina and the Vicar General Sr. Rosaria Ronconi. With their support the sisters embarked on the construction of a center in Mambugan with a clinic, a pre-school and sisters’ quarters. The building complex was actually finished in December.
The decision to transfer responsibility for novitiate formation to the Philippine mission was important to the local community. The novitiate was opened on February 11, 1991. Four novices began their journey with Sr. Lauretta as their formator.
Facing new challenges
From the beginning, the sisters understood that the direction of their ministry would be dictated by the actual needs of the people. In Lent of 1991, they found themselves approached by the Poor Servants of the Divine Providence, a male congregation recently arrived from Italy. The new pastoral district of the San Juan resettlement area had been assigned to them by the bishop of Antipolo. They earnestly requested the help of the Camillian sisters in attending to the task entrusted to them. The sisters and formandae began to visit the relocation areas of San Juan Homes, Pag-ibig Homes (Taytay, Rizal) and Floodway (Pasig). Each Sunday they prepared the Eucharistic celebrations in improvised chapels and spent some hours visiting people and getting to know their crucial concerns and needs.
At that time a young nurse from Verona, Amelia Cherubin, through contact with the father general of the Poor Servants, volunteered to participate in the mission and was joyfully welcomed to join in the life of the Camillian sisters. She came in the middle of April and for five months engaged herself in the different activities, particularly in Mambugan and San Lorenzo. After she returned home she became a generous and constant benefactor of the sisters and their mission among the poor. In subsequent years other young women were to visit the mission for shorter periods. In each case, it brought blessings to themselves and to others and invariably led to lasting interest and friendship.
The Camillian sisters’ community of Mambugan was formally established in January of 1992. In the course of their home visitation, the sisters found an elderly woman in a very miserable condition and decided to take her to the center. Shortly afterwards two young women, both severely handicapped and practically abandoned, were also admitted. The presence of these first three “treasures” led to an eventual reorganization of the sisters’ community apostolate, which now required a twenty-four-hour service. For the first few months, the novices, postulants and aspirants, all coming from the Kingsville community, took turns in serving them. The movement from Kingsville to Mambugan proved to be getting more and more difficult. Thus, in order to facilitate services to the sick, it was decided that starting November, Sr. Veronica C. and the aspirants would transfer to Mambugan. The aspirants extended their help to both the sisters’ community and the beneficiaries of the center.
During that year Sr. Leandrina, directress of the pre-school in Kingsville, intensified her visits and services to the people of San Juan resettlement area, particularly those residing along Floodway. There she gathered willing parents and, after having trained them for a while, organized pre-school centers where the mothers themselves imparted a basic education to quite a number of less fortunate children. A few of the fathers became catechists and leaders of the communities. The very real physical sacrifices involved in this extension work were gladly borne for the sake of such results.
First Perpetual Profession
On October 25 the whole Congregation, represented by Mother Tomasina and the Secretary General Sr. Angelica, rejoiced with the Philippine mission in the perpetual profession of Sr. Fe and Sr. Leandrina. Mother Tomasina challenged the sisters to search for new ways to make a difference within the Kingsville Subdivision while inspiring them to a more radical living out of their vocation.
Another ‘first’ was celebrated on February 2, 1993 with the first profession of the novices Rebecca, Angelita, Natividad and Bernadette. This was the first group of novices who underwent their whole initial formation in the Philippines.
In May of 1993 Sr. Camillina and Sr. Lauretta joined the First General Assembly of the Congregation in Rome which focused on formation. This was a wonderful and inspiring experience, filled with hopes for the spiritual growth of all the members of the Congregation. A source of great inspiration at this time was the recognition of the heroic virtues of the foundress on the part of the theologians who had examined her deeds and teachings.
993 marked a major development. Although, back in 1988, Sr. Lauretta and Sr. Carla Chiou from Taiwan had visited Sabah (Malaysia), that visit was not to be immediately fruitful. Now certain Indonesian SVD priests, who were classmates of Sr. Veronica C. in her course at Southeast Asia Interdisciplinary Development Institute (SAIDI), persistently invited her to visit Indonesia and make contacts with some young women who showed interest in religious life. After some months of discernment, Sr. Veronica C. and the late Sr. Claudia Wang, who was coming from Taiwan, spent the whole month of August in Indonesia. This they did with the approval and encouragement of the Superior General. There they got acquainted with some bishops and priests, particularly the SVD religious, who introduced them to several groups of interested young women.
In September Sr. Camillina and Sr. Benilda left for India. This was in response to the persistent request of Fr. George, an Indian Jesuit who had known the Camillian sisters of Kenya. His effort was significant in having some bishops invite the sisters to open a community in Bihar for healthcare apostolate in their dioceses. These two sisters spent forty days in the northern part of India, generously accommodated and assisted by the Ursuline sisters of Ranchi.
These initial visits to Indonesia and India paved the way for many other visits in subsequent years. These transformed the make-up of the Philippine mission internally and the Congregation’s future mission.
Creating the San Lorenzo community
owards the end of the year a new community was established in San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish with Sr. Fe as the first Filipina superior. The erection of the parish of San Lorenzo in the San Juan resettlement area did not of itself transform the poverty of the people. It did, however, ensure a permanent ecclesial presence to those people and a stable structure within which the efforts of the sisters were more likely to bear fruit.
In December Sr. Camillina was appointed local superior of the community of Mambugan and Sr. Benilda as postulants’ directress.
In 1994 the Philippine mission was constituted as Delegation with Sr. Camillina as the first Superior Delegate while Sr. Lauretta and Sr. Benilda served as her councilors. On May 21 and 22 the opening of the year-long preparation for the beatification of the foundress was celebrated in the Antipolo cathedral and in the Kingsville chapel respectively.
The intense formation program for Junior Sisters focused more and more on the spirituality of Maria Domenica. Mo. Tomasina, during her canonical visit in September, emphasized the need to assimilate that spirituality. While appreciating the efforts of all the sisters to carry out many activities in favor of the sick and the poor, she expressed her concern about the possible harmful consequences of laying excessively heavy responsibilities on young sisters. She was happy to see the first Indian and Indonesian aspirants begin their formation alongside Filipina candidates.
Fr. Hoan Ribera, SJ spent some time with the Kingsville community towards the end of July and on to the month of August. He had come from Japan to the Philippines as retreat master to formators and superiors of different congregations. The community enjoyed his presence as he gave lectures to both sisters and formandae. Coming to know the Camillian sisters, Fr. Hoan became deeply involved in furthering their spiritual growth. Almost on a yearly basis, he returned to generously share his gifts of discernment and spiritual guidance to sisters and formandae.
The year 1995 opened with the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Philippines on the occasion of the World Youth Day. The celebration was a very significant event for the Philippine Church and society. Along with all the religious houses, the sisters accommodated some of the huge number of the foreign participants. Among them were some old friends and relatives of the sisters.
In preparation for the coming celebrations much work was needed to be done at the Generalate House. It was in this context that the Superior General requested that Sr. Fe’s transfer to Rome to help in some secretarial jobs. She did so in January.
Maria Domenica beatified
The most important event for the entire Congregation during that year was the beatification of the foundress, Maria Domenica, which took place at St. Peter’s Square on May 7. Quite a number of sisters, novices and friends from the Philippines were present in the solemn celebrations held in Rome and in Lucca. The four novices were able to make their first profession in Rome on May 22.
The sisters remaining in the Philippines organized several Eucharistic celebrations and took other initiatives to thank God for the gift of Maria Domenica during the month of May. On June 1 they celebrated a solemn Thanksgiving Mass at the Antipolo cathedral with bishop Protacio Gungon, DD and countless priests, religious and lay people from the whole diocese.
During the first months of the year, the sisters intensified their efforts in the translation of the autobiography of Maria Domenica and later turned their attention to her letters. The late Bro. Luke Pearson, FMS gave his enthusiastic and invaluable help in editing the texts.
Branching out to Luwalhati
At the end of March the Mayor of Manila, Alfredo Lim, sent a written invitation to the sisters, through the Camillian fathers, to offer their services at the Luwalhati ng Maynila home for the aged located within the Boys’ Town Complex in Marikina. The sisters, aware that Golden Acres no longer needed their presence, were enthusiastic to accept the new apostolate at “Luwalhati”. In September, after some negotiations, a group of sisters and formandae began to minister to the elderly residents. On January 2, 1996 three sisters began their daily service in that institution. They were entrusted with the responsibility to look after the health needs of the elderly, the spiritual animation of residents and staff, and the supervision of the kitchen.
Early January Sr. Veronica C. left for Italy. She was invited by the Superior General to assist in the development of some initiatives with lay people in Palermo.
During that year many meetings and activities took place in preparation for the coming general chapter. Sr. Camillina and Sr. Benilda were elected as representatives of the Delegation. In the middle of September the news of the re-election of Sr. Tomasina Gheduzzi as Superior General was welcomed with much joy.
At the end of the year Sr. Lauretta was appointed Superior Delegate. Sr. Camillina and Sr. Veronica C. were appointed as her councilors. Sr. Veronica was also given the responsibility of novice formator.
The effort of constantly commuting to the Luwalhati institution in Marikina was taking its toll. The sisters increasingly felt the need to have their own residence in “Luwalhati” and on May 22, 1997 a new community was established within that institution.
Translation works and formation activities
Much time and efforts were given for translation work, first on the new constitutions and later on the writings of the foundress. Fr. Tom O’Connor, OSC gave his precious time and energy for the improvement of the English text. Fr. Brendan Lovett, SSC also contributed to the final editing. This enormous work continued through all of 1998 and in September the published copy of the Writings was in the hands of each sister. Once again the Delegation of Kenya benefited from this work of love.
The Superior Delegate organized a series of formation encounters for superiors beginning May of 1997 and gave much emphasis to other formation activities for juniors and perpetually professed sisters. In August of 1997 Sr. Benilda was appointed novice formator.
During that year, though in different months, two young women from China came to the convent. Sisters from Taiwan came by turns to assist in their initial stage of formation. Despite everybody’s efforts, the adjustment proved too difficult for them.
During the presidential elections in May of that year, the sisters were once again very active in supervising the voting process, conscious as they were of their duty as citizens and as Christians to protect the people’s votes. On May 30 Joseph Estrada was officially proclaimed president of the Philippine republic.
In June some sisters of the Daughters of Our Lady of Divine Love were accommodated in Kingsville community for a week. They were about to start their mission in Mindanao and, lacking of any support for accommodations in Manila, were very grateful to find assistance and support from the Camillian sisters.
In September the sisters were delighted at the opening of a new home for the aged and handicapped built in the Mambugan compound and financed by Pro Victimis of Switzerland. They called it “Bahay Kanlungan”. Starting with a modest group of six or seven beneficiaries, the center is now home to twenty-five residents, many of them with disabilities.
On October 11 the sisters gathered together to offer their prayers for the death by accident of the Provincial Superior of Brazil, Sr. Elisabete Cavalli. They felt one with the whole Congregation in deep sorrow for that great loss.
October 30 marked the anticipatory celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the mission with a cultural program of songs and dances. This was held in honor of sisters who were part of this mission and had come a few days earlier from Taiwan: the late Sr. Claudia, Provincial of Taiwan, Sr. Sara Lippi and Sr. Rosanna Boseggia. During that evening the four local communities were present in full with their personnel and other friends. The canonical visit of Mo. Tomasina coincided with these celebrations and lasted for four weeks.
In November and early December each community and group of formandae were guided by deacon Mario Van Loon and Sr. Yonni in a seminar-workshop on community-building called “Triple Communication.” It was a very important initiative which led the sisters to a more committed involvement in all aspects of community life.
Celebrating the 20th Anniversary
On January 1, 1999 the sisters celebrated with great solemnity the twentieth anniversary of their mission in the Philippines. A large crowd of friends, staff and co-workers of the sisters participated in the Eucharistic celebration and enjoyed a simple snack. On January 17 the sisters and their friends organized a concert entitled “Lode a Dio.” Their purpose was to celebrate the foundress’ birthday, to praise God for all the graces received during the twenty years of life of the mission, and to raise some funds for its apostolic initiatives. The highlight of this concert was the performance of a chamber orchestra under conductor-composer Agripino Diestro. It included works written by him in honor of blessed Maria Domenica.
In February the General Councilor Sr. Juliana Fracasso came from Thailand. In her two-week stay she met with the different groups of sisters and formandae, particularly stressing some aspects of formation.
In April Sr. Lauretta, Sr. Benilda and Sr. Liberty joined the Second General Assembly in Rome on the Charismatic Identity of the Congregation.
In the middle of that month the mobile clinic sponsored by the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) was blessed. The sisters in San Lorenzo put it into immediate use. Its arrival generated impossibly high hopes in the hearts of the many who desperately needed its services.
On April 30 all the sisters were one in prayer in response to the deep pain of postulant Adelia from East Timor who had received the news from her family of the assassination of her brother.
Another day of great sorrow was June 6, when they came to know about the death of Sr. Paola Dalberto, a Brazilian missionary to Albania, still young and full of zeal. Sisters and novices had offered entire days of prayer during her painful illness.
In July Sr. Lauretta was able to present to each community the final document of the General Assembly, the directives of the major superiors and of the Central Commission on Formation, and the three-year congregational program of on-going formation. All the sisters received with joy these precious guidelines particularly for their monthly recollections, and committed themselves to the assimilation of their charismatic spirituality.
In the first week of July a great flood covered the surroundings of Kingsville and Marcos Highway. Some Kingsville residents sought help from the sisters and found temporary shelter in the Central House and pre-school building. Attentive to the needs of the moment, the sisters themselves went in some military trucks to look for other possible flood victims and brought back around thirty persons, mostly children.
In September Sr. Veronica C. and Sr. Magdalena Buan went to Indonesia and East Timor. As a result Teresa, a nurse from Dili, asked to join the Congregation. They came back with terrible stories of massacre and destruction in that land. Both Adelia and Teresa carried the deep pain of their people. Their presence in the community heightened everybody’s awareness of East Timor’s critical times.
In November Sr. Lauretta was appointed Superior Delegate, while Sr. Camillina, Sr. Grace, Sr. Liberty, and Sr. Leandrina were designated as her councilors.
The year 2000 was particularly loaded with joyful, growth-promoting and painful events.
In April the sisters, divided into two groups, had the honor of being guided in their annual retreat at Silang, Cavite, by bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, OCD, DD, who spent his whole life in building up the Church of the Poor in the Prelature of Infanta.
A further milestone in the unfolding story of the Philippine mission was reached with the sending of Sr. Ruby to Rome in order to prepare herself for a new mission in Haiti. Although she was the first sister on mission from the Philippines, the other sisters were no less missionaries of the Delegation, assigned as they were to work in Italy, immediately following their formation years there. The pioneers were Sr. Purissima, Sr. Catherine, Sr. Gemma and Sr. Teofanisa.
The establishment of a fifth community, this time in the island of Mindanao, was very significant for the Philippine Delegation.
It occurred on May 1, after a long process of consultation with the bishop of Digos, Most Rev. Generoso Camiña, PME, DD. It was a product of long discernment and preparation. The presence of the Camillian sisters and their service to the poor were to touch the lives of many people in Digos and neighboring towns. Soon, with the support of the bishop, the parish priest and other members of the clergy, the sisters found help and cooperation from some middle-class families. Slowly they organized their home and hospital visitations and started simple livelihood projects.
Along with the whole Church, the sisters and formandae participated in several Jubilee Year celebrations on parish and diocesan levels. They also organized some related activities in their own respective communities.
Superiors and councilors, perpetually professed sisters and most especially the different groups of juniors met regularly for intensive formation encounters all throughout the following year.
In September Sr. Benilda asked to be relieved from her task as novice formator and was replaced by Sr. Liberty at the end of October. In that same month Sr. Marijoe asked to be released from her role as superior of the community of “Luwalhati.” The superiors assigned Sr. Catherine to take the role of an elder sister beginning in November.
The whole Delegation mourned with deep sorrow the death of Sr. Angelita’s sister, Sr. Gemma’s father and Sr. Natividad’s mother. Then—in a moment of resurrection—the sisters greatly rejoiced with them as they offered their total “Yes” to God through perpetual profession in October.
At the beginning of February, Sr. Liberty left for Italy for a four-month course for formators.
Sr. Benilda was assigned to Italy to help at the Generalate House.
In September Sr. Grace, Sr. Liberty and Sr. Lauretta joined the Third Congregational Assembly in Rome. The objective of the assembly was to study and reflect on the new text of the constitutions.
In early December, Mother Tomasina arrived from Thailand for her canonical visit which lasted for about three weeks. Among other things she appreciated the theater presentation of the children from Sitio Cavite (Kabataang Kabalikat ni Maria Domenica). These children were mostly guided by Sr. Asuncion. They too were trained in theater arts by the liturgical group called, “Kairos.”
In February 2002, a close friend and generous benefactor of the sisters initiated in coordination with Sr. Daisy a nutrition rehabilitation program for a group of malnourished children from Sitio Cavite within the compound of the Central House.
In the middle of February Sr. Grace left for Italy for a course for formators.
In March Mr. Eliseo Lademora, Jr. led the sisters and formandae in a two-day seminar on the vision and mission of the Delegation. In that same month Mr. Danny Carreon facilitated a group work on “vocation promotion”.
On May 6 the new bishop of Antipolo, Most Reverend Crisostomo Yalung, DD came with a deacon to the Central House to get to know the sisters and assure them of his support as a pastor and a friend.
The Delegation was deeply shocked at the news of the cancer diagnosis of Sr. Catherine. She was invited to undergo treatment in the Congregation’s hospital located in Lucca, Italy.
A gradual transformation in the character of Maria Domenica Child Development Center was taking place throughout these years. From the exceptional presence of children with special needs, the ratio changed significantly from year to year. By June, the number of special children being cared for was forty-one, half of the children’s population.
On September 1 the sisters opened the Balay ni Maria Domenica Home for the Aged in Digos. The whole construction was financed by Pro Victimis. Within a short time the sisters began accepting elderly women in need of temporary shelter.
Throughout the year, at both community and Delegation level, much work was done in preparation to the general chapter. In February they began a journey of personal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and looked into all the areas of religious life: spiritual and community life, the vows, and charismatic fidelity. At the same time they made a thorough study of the constitutions.
At the end of May and in June the juniors and the perpetually professed sisters held separate meetings. They reflected on the main events of the last six years and a half to identify the moments of growth and those of darkness of the Delegation, together with the factors that had contributed to them. Each community presented also its own profile. Together they focused on the present resources of the Delegation and on its weak points and formulated their dreams or projects for the future.
This year marked a breakthrough in organizing the lay associates. Certain women had long expressed interest in becoming a sort of associate organization to the Camillian sisters. Despite the efforts of a series of individual sisters, this initiative proved difficult to realize. The seeds of a viable group, Shekinah, finally emerged through the committed attention of Sr. Asuncion.
Those who participated in the general chapter were Sr. Liberty, Sr. Grace and Sr. Lauretta. Mother Tomasina was re-elected Superior General of the Congregation and Sr. Lauretta was elected Vicar General. In November Sr. Liberty Elarmo was appointed Superior Delegate in the Philippines. The Delegation councilors were: Sr. Camillina, Sr. Veronica C. Sr. Adeline and Sr. Asuncion.
This very condensed story culminates with a moment of jubilee, the Silver Jubilee. Activities for the 25th anniversary celebrations had begun and continued through the whole of 2003, but other events overshadowed them. This transition period was marked by the departure of an unusual number of sisters. This phenomenon inevitably challenged the communities to a yet deeper commitment in living out the charism and spirituality of the Congregation.
As if the transition period was not enough, the sisters had to reckon with yet another formidable challenge even as they realized that they could no longer contribute creatively to the work in “Luwalhati.” The decision may have been painful. But the long and tiresome process of consensus-building enhanced the growth and commitment of the sisters.
Counting our blessings…
So, at the end of twenty-five years, what must we thank the Lord for?
In the Philippines, the sisters are active in five different communities, reaching from Luzon to Mindanao. Thanks to the Spirit these sisters have grown in creative maturity through all that they have experienced, both good and bad, over these years.
While the perpetual profession of sisters from Indonesia and India remains a future event, the actual character of the Delegation has been enduringly enriched by opening itself to vocations from these lands.
Focus on the Delegation in the Philippines should not cause us to forget the members of the Delegation serving abroad. They are a primary fruit of what the Spirit has been doing among us.
The warmth of Filipino welcome and the enduring friendships documented extensively in the opening pages of this historical summary, though scarcely mentioned in the preoccupation with later developments, continue to mediate God’s love and care for us through the support of many people.
Finally, we must give thanks for the fact that our commitment to search out ways and means of responding to those most in need of our care—the sick and the poor—is alive and well. This is the ultimate gift of the Spirit for which we gratefully rejoice.