Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia



Image of St. Rita of Cascia

Sibalom was founded as a parish in 1732 by the forty-eighth mission of the Augustinian Order, Province of the Santisimo Nombre de Jesus of the Philippines. At that time Sibalom was a flourishing little settlement of about two thousand inhabitants who occupied the site which up to now is called Barabanua.

The parish was first administered from Bugason by Fr. Jose Celfa, OSA. In 1744 Fr. Antonio Lopez, OSA, took charge of the Sibalom parish. From 1750 to 1753, Fr. Santiago Rodriquez, OSA served Bugason and Sibalom.

The fifty-fourth mission of the Augustinian Philippine Province gave to Sibalom its first parish priest in the person of Fr. Jose Valis, OSA.

Thenceforth the parish of Sibalom was administered by the following: Fr. Manuel Rodriquez, OSA, 1756; Fr. Jose Balaguer, OSA, 1759; Fr. Alipio Avenia, OSA, 1760; Fr. Jose Ameros, OSA, 1762; Fr. Tomas Ruiz, OSA, 1765; Fr. Jose Ameros, OSA, 1769; Fr. Nicolas A. de la Conception, OSA, 1773; Fr. Jose Abello, OSA, 1791; Fr. Francisco Perez, OSA, 1806.

No Spanish Augustinian was assigned to Sibalom from 1806 to 1831. It was the height of secularization in the Philippines and a native priest of Filipino-Chinese-Spanish descent who came from Ibajay, Aklan, named Hermogenes Magallanes was assigned to Sibalom. His father and mother and his sister came with him to live in Sibalom. Up to 1941 the old censers and candelabrum in the Roman Catholic Church under the old convento bore the initials of H.M.--Fr. Hermogenes Magallanes.

In 1831, Fr. Blas Fernandea, OSA came to take charge of the Sibalom Parish. Next came Fr. Salustiano Montes, OSA, 1831; Fr. Felipe Garcia, OSA, 1845; Fr. Eusebio Deza, OSA, 1854; (Fr. Eusebio Deza was the first Augustinian priest to die and to be buried in Sibalom.) Fr. Amando Hierro, OSA, 1872; Fr. Sabas Fontecha, OSA, 1872; Fr. Lucas Moral, OSA, 1874; Fr. Juan Celayetta, OSA, 1882; Fr. Alipio Azpitarte, OSA, 1884; Fr. Ceferino Orteaga, OSA, 1888; Fr. Castro Bringas, OSA, 1889; Fr. Lorenzo Diaz, OSA, 1898.

Fr. Lorenzo Diaz was an engineer priest who knew the Visayan dialect like a native and became examinador de idioma. As an engineer, he built the beautiful convent in Sibalom which was burned during World War II.

Fr. Lorenzo Diaz was an engineer priest who knew the Visayan dialect like a native and became examinador de idioma. As an engineer, he built the beautiful convent in Sibalom which was burned during World War II.

The Augustinian Fathers did not completely abandon Sibalom after 1898. In 1904 to 1906, Fr. Joaquin Geijo, OSA, came to start the parish again from the debris of the Filipino-Spanish revolution.

From 1908 the Mill Hill Fathers took over the parish of Sibalom and the following were the parish priests: Fr. John Fohler, MHM, 1908; Fr. John Kaufmann, MHM, 1909; Fr. Benedict Pundleider, 1911.

Then the following Augustinian Fathers replaced them: Fr. Juan Fernandez, OSA, 1915; Fr. Juan Vicente Sanchez, OSA, 1916; Fr. Joaquin Geijo, OSA, 1917.

In 1919, another Mill Hill Missionary, Fr. John Key, took over. He was followed by Gregorio Santiagudo in 1921.

From the year 1924 to 1933 there was no resident Roman Catholic parish priest in Sibalom. Fr. John Janssen, MHM, Parish Priest of San Jose, and Fr. Dominic Stoelinga, MHM, Parish Priest of Hamtic, looked after the spiritual needs of the Catholics in Sibalom.

However after a lapse of nine years, the Catholic Parish of Sibalom was revived and a Filipino priest in the person of Rev. Fr. Ignacio Dionela, was appointed in 1933. He was followed by Fr. Federico Velasco, 1941; Fr. Vicente Romaquin, 1946; Fr. Ignacio Dionela, 1949; Fr. Jose Tordesillas, 1957; Msgr. Ernesto Calvo, PC, 1960; Fr. Agustin Somosa, 1961.

The inauguration of the Prelature of San Jose Antique in 1962 gave Sibalom a Mill Hill Missionary. Fr. John Nep Pamer, MHM had been a Parish Priest of Anini-y, Antique and then of Tubungan and Igbaras, Iloilo prior to his assignment in Sibalom. Under his pious, energetic and undaunted Catholicism, the parishioners were made more aware of their share in parish life and responsibilities such that a large, permanent construction for a church was begun as soon as possible. A year later, Rev. Casper Rietbergen, MHM, was assigned as Curate to assist Fr. Pamer in his multifarious duties and responsibilities.

St. Rita

St. Rita died sometime on May 22, 1457 but by the grace of God her body is miraculously preserved and lies incorrupt at the alter of her world renowned Shrine in Cascia, Umbria, Italy.

This marvelous saint-patroness of impossible things and hopeless cases, was born in the village of Roccaporena, In Cascia. Her parents, Anthony Mancini and Amata Ferri was simple peasants.

In childhood, Rita was very sweet of disposition. An attic in their house was converted by her into a sanctuary where she contemplated the passion of our Lord.

At the age of eighteen, she wanted to enter the Convent of the Augustinian Nuns in Cascia. Instead, however, in supreme obedience to the wishes of her parents and to the will of God, she married Paolo Fernando.

The marriage became her Calvary because the husband turned out to be wicked and cruel. But Rita sought refuge in silence, in patience, and in the love of her crucified Savior. Ultimately, the husband was converted and became a changed man.

But the peace in her home was short-lived. The husband was waylaid by assassins and stabbed dead. As she watched her two boys, when she spoke to them of the necessity of forgiveness and of how Christ forgave His executioners and prayed for them she saw that their hearts were brooding over their father's murder and were bent on avenging his death. She asked the Lord to take them if in His Holy and just ways He wishest so to save them from stain of sin. The Lord accepted her sacrifice and the two boys died of sickness despite all the care and attention that only such a loving mother could give.

Then Rita was all alone. Again, she set her heart to become a nun. Soliciting the favor of her heavenly patrons St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine and St. Nicolas of Tolentino, Rita went to see the Abbess of the Augustinian Nuns. The Abbess refused her request for their rule prevented the admission of widows. Undaunted, she prayed on and one night, while she was keeping watch before her crucifix, she was taken by her heavenly patrons to the monastery. The sisters were amazed to find Rita inside the convent, whose huge doors were locked and untouched. Convinced that God had so favored Rita and their monastery, the sisters accepted her with jubilation.

On the 25th year of her life in the convent, something unique in the history of saints happened. As she prayed before a crucifix and gazed at the agonized face of the Savior with the rough crown of thorns on His head, a beam of light went forth from the crown of the forehead of the saint and through the beam, like an arrow, shot a thorn that pierced her forehead bone from which she suffered unspeakably because of pain and its fetid odor for the remaining 15 years of her life.

Then in May 1457 an unusual light filled her room. Jesus and His Holy Mother appeared to her, saying that she was to pass to heaven after three days. It was 3:00 o'clock in the morning of Saturday, May 22, 1457 when Rita saw the dawn of heaven and entered into the joy of her Lord. On that day the bells in Cascia and in the country rang out joyfully without any human hand ringing them. The whole monastery was then filled with the fragrance of a celestial perfume.

The most wondrous distinction of Rita's corpse is that it moves in various ways from time to time. Authorities worthy of faith swear to have seen the saint open her eyes, turn her head toward the people, raise herself almost to the edge of the coffin, and turn her entire body, moving even her hands and feet. These movements were especially observed during the sacred visitation of Bishops and the Superiors of the Order, sometimes as the height of Mass or on the occurrence of some public calamity.

A host of miracles is attributed to St. Rita but her perennial miracle is the heavenly fragrance that emanates from he corpse.

St. Rita was canonized on the Feast of the Ascension in 1900.

Excerpt from Shrines, Incarnating Christ Today. St. Paul Philippines, 2004. Photos from graceandspace.org.

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