NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
The Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Ubujan district, this city marks today its 30th year anniversary after it was established as the first monastery of the Canoness nuns in the Philippines during the tenure of the late Bishop Feliz Zafra of the Diocese of Tagbilaran.
The Monastery has been in the dioceses for 30 years as a home of faith and devotion, the Spiritual Home of the Boholanos, according to Mother Monica who thanked the benefactors and the spiritual families supporting the monastery since its existence in the province.
The Canoness nuns are the first religious contemplative community founded here in the province of Bohol.
A commemorative mass will be officiated online by Bishop Alberto Uy together with the SVD priests at 11 o’clock this morning.
The Monastery of the Holy Spirit was Canonically erected on November 18, 2018 by the bishop.
Among the 15 members of Nuns in the community of the Monastero Dello Spirito Santo, CRL in Rome the youngest Madre Anna Maria Rossi with the support of Mother Abbess Madre Maria Giovanna Zaffarano and Madre Vicaria Giovanna Battista accepted the recommendation and sent me and Madre Giovanna Battista to the Philippines in favor of pursuing the establishment of a formation house in the Philippines.
On January 6, 1990, I returned to the Philippines with Madre Vicaria Giovanna Battista Medda on a mission to explore the feasibility of the plan and to search for the best site for the monastery formation house to be constructed and opened.
We both eyed Cebu City as a good place because of its strategic position and the deep religiosity of the Cebuanos. Yet, as always, God’s ways are different and surprising.
On January 15, 1990, we went to Cagayan de Oro to meet Bishop Jesus Tuquib to express our desires to establish a monastery in his Diocese because one of my relatives was willing to donate a piece of property for the monastery. Bishop Tuquib happily welcomed and invited us to his diocese.
On January 20, 1990 we scheduled a courtesy visit to Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal to hand over the letter of Cardinal Poletti from the Sacred Congregation to introduce our community in Rome and our desire to open a formation house/ monastery in the Philippines. The good Cardinal happily accepted us but expressed his desire for us to establish our monastery in the Diocese of Tagbilaran. He said that the then Tagbilaran Bishop Felix Zafra had been in need of a contemplative community in his diocese but not one order accepted his invitation.
We were confused about where to start to build our foundation because while Bishop Tuquib wanted us to come to Cagayan de Oro, Cardinal Vidal also wanted us to come to Tagbilaran City, Bohol.
On January 25, 1990, we returned to Cagayan de Oro to check around the property to be given to us and Msgr. Roa guided us also to see some of the properties of the diocese and we prayed where really God wants us to establish our Monastery. It was God’s guidance that none of those properties proved suitable for the building of a monastery.
On February 2,1990 Madre Battista and I decided to accept the recommendations of Cardinal Vidal. We returned to Cardinal Vidal and told him that we will go to Bohol to meet Bishop Zafra. Cardinal Vidal handed to us a letter for Bishop Zafra telling him of our desire to establish our monastery/formation house.
On February 5, 1990 we arrived in the capital city of Tagbilaran in the Province of Bohol. Sr. Mary Claire, the superior of the Pink Sisters, wrote Bishop Zafra, who happened to be her cousin, to introduce us and to tell Bishop Zafra that it was our first time to come to Bohol and we had no place to stay.
The good Bishop Zafra invited us to stay in the Bishop’s residence. Bishop Zafra was very happy to read the recommendations of Cardinal Vidal and welcomed us with great joy to establish our monastery formation house in his diocese. He accompanied us around the properties of the diocese; our intention, however, was not to build in one of the properties of the diocese for the sake of our own stability. Besides, the diocesan properties were far from the City. We were looking for some properties not far from the city for people to come and join us in the celebration of Holy Mass, Adoration, and Prayer. Furthermore, we also relied on the providence of God. Our ideal place requires accessibility to the people.
By this time, I personally felt like giving up as I was so tired going around due to my health; I just wanted to return to Rome. Early in the morning the following day, at about 4:30 a.m. I went to the Cathedral crying to St. Joseph to intercede our intentions if it’s God’s Will to build our formation house here in Bohol. I prayed to St. Anthony of Padua as well to help us look for a place for our Monastery.
On February 28, 1990, a pleasant development came. The Most Rev. Felix Zafra, sent an official letter to Mother Abbess for the Sacred Congregation about his warm acceptance, welcome, and favor for the establishment of the formation house/monastery in Tagbilaran City.
We continued to look for a place suitable for us. Meanwhile, I became inspired and started to work for and prepare all the documents needed by the Sacred Congregation and Bishop Zafra to establish our Monastery Formation House in his diocese.
On March 3, 1990 the miracle of God’s providence and divine guidance unfolded during our trip to Bohol. A lady approached me and asked me to see her properties.
I hired a driver in service of a public utility “rent-a-car” to bring us to Baclayon to see another property but again we did not like it facing the sea because it would cause our things to become easily rusty. Already exhausted, I told the driver we needed to buy a property to build our monastery. This proved providential.
The driver brought us to the Parkside restaurant and introduced us to Mrs. Teresita Garcia Azcona, who owned many properties. We met her and were impressed by her kindness. We inquired about her properties for sale as we were looking for a place for our monastery. We were accompanied by her staff to show us some of her properties but we remained undecided. During our conversation her cousin came and told her that her properties will soon be sequestered by the bank. Mrs. Teresita G. Azcona told her staff to show us the properties. When we saw the properties I was personally amazed because it was along the hi-way. I was particularly very happy to see the place and said to myself that it was where GOD the Holy Spirit led us; God selected the site for the monastery.
I thanked St. Joseph and St. Anthony di Padua whom I believed truly interceded on our behalf to finally find a suitable place to build our monastery/ formation house. And we gave Glory to the FATHER, to the SON and to the HOLY SPIRIT.
Mrs. Teresita Azcona told me to go to the bank to settle the properties of her cousin that was about to be foreclosed by the bank. I met the bank manager and the kind manager prepared the documentations and assured me to have the titles already changed to our name.
On March 19, 1990 with the approval of our Abbess Madre Giovanna Zaffarano and her council, I concluded with Mrs. Azcona the purchase of the lot and processed the transfer of title to the community. We acquired the property measuring 3,325.6 sq.m and the other close properties were bought and donated and made us acquire a total land area of 11,835 sq.m.
By March 25 the lot was finally acquired thru the Bank.
On April 16 the transferred titles were released under the name of the Canonesses Regular of the Lateran, CRL.
On April 18, 1990, the clearing of the site started and through the help of the City government it was done very fast. Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude in particular to Vice Mayor George Cabanlit who represented Mayor Jose Torralba and the City Council, and City Engr. Adelaida Paylado. Congresswoman Venice Borja Agana sent workers to help us dig our deep well in the site before the construction starts.
On May 08, 1990 with the monastery site ready and the approval of the bishop granted, we acted swiftly and proceeded with the ground breaking and blessing of the whole area by Most Rev. Felix Zafra. It was blessed with Msgr. Cirilo Darunday, the parish priest of St. Joseph Cathedral and the doicesan Clergy and SVD Fathers present. With us also were Ms. Betty Balatero who helped with the planning with the catholic organizations and Engr. Joseph Yu and his staff. The momentous occasion was also graced by the presence of different representatives of many religious congregations.
On November 13, 1990 Typhoon Ruping hit Tagbilaran and we prayed hard because the construction had barely started. When we visited the site we found that God kept the constructions safe and there were no damages.
On December 10, 1990 I and Sr. Maria Agnes returned to Rome.
The completion of the monastery was, however, realized through funding aid and donations from the Generalate of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in Rome, the Bishops Conference of Italy, Aiuto Alla Chiesa Che Soffre, The Missio, the Kirch-in-Not, the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, through the kind assistance of Rev. Fr. Robert Schmitz, SVD, who personally knew me when I worked with the SVD at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. Then the rest of the financial assistance was provided by the benefactors of Cuore Amico through Don Mario Pasini, Sigr. Carlo Gualandi and from various generous benefactors in Italy, Engr. Joseph Yu, Mrs. Teresita G. Azcona, and the relatives and friends of the nuns in the Philippines.
On April 11, 1991, the pioneering nuns composed of myself, Madre Vicaria Giovanna Battista, Sr, Mary Monica, Sr. Mary Agnes , Sr. Maria Pia, Sr. Maria Paula arrived from Rome to prepare for the opening of the monastery/formation house and to start the new foundation with their pioneering postulants.