The beginning of the presence of a religious Marian Community within the Franciscan Order in the Philippines stretched back from the early 1980’s when three Italian Conventual Friars were sent as missionaries from the Province of Naples, Italy to the Philippines.
They were Fr. Gabriel M. Pelletierri, OFMConv, Fr. Rosario M. Danielo, OFMConv and Fr. Carlo M. Lieci. OFMConv. They came from a Franciscan community which had a privilege of living a Marian Franciscan life after the recent example of St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941). After being received in the Archdiocese of Manila by the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, they were assigned to take care of Sta. Quiteria and St. Francis Parish. After three years of parish experience and in the face of several Filippinos who wish to join them, the small community began construction of their Formation House in Greenfields, Novaliches, Queszon City. It was later designated as “The Immaculata Formation House” which housed about sixty members in its flourishing years comprising of friars, novices, postulants and aspirants. A huge printing press was also established there where the same friars work day and night in the publication of Marian magazines. Two prominent magazines were the “Knights of the Immaculata” and the “Voice of M.I. The former used to run from the press for 20,000 copies while the latter, 10,000 copies. The first was intended for general popular readership while the latter published a more academic and scholarly type of articles geared for religious and the clergy as well as seminarians throughout the Philippine archipelago. Due to increasing number of vocations, two other houses were built: St. Joseph Friary in Tagaytay which became the house for novices and St. Maximilian Friary in Multinational Subdivision in Paranaque, the house of students and clerics.
From Conventual Franciscans to Friars of the Immaculate
All of these achievements took place within ten years time of the missionaries’ presence in the Philippines. But the Immaculate had a bigger plan for this community in the beginning of 1990. Together with their motherhouse in Italy, “Casa Mariana” in Frigento, this community in the Philippines intended to live a separate charism from the Franciscan Conventuals due to general change in the administration of the Order of Franciscan Conventuals. This led to the separation of this community with the ultimate purpose of continuing their Marian-Franciscan life according to their legislation, the “Marian Traccia” (Marian Pathway). The Holy See in the person of the late St. John Paul II, ultimately approved this Marian community in 1990 with its generalate and seat in Benevento, Italy. It was then designated as the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Their distinctive character in the Church is their profession of a fourth vow, namely, the vow of Total Consecration to the Immaculate, otherwise known as the “Marian Vow.” This is their distinctive character: to achieve the highest sanctity after the image of the Immaculata, Mother of the Church; and to make her known and loved by others by the use of every licit means.
The Filippino Pioneers after Separation
In the Phillippines, prior to their canonical approbation, the period of separation from the Franciscan Conventuals was not an easy task— a usual period of transition to any religious community in their time of separation. All the foreign missionaries were sent back to Italy but the task of continuing their charism was given to simply professed friars who spearheaded the foundation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in the Philippines. They were, Fra. Carmelo M. Pulayan, Fra. Martin M. Fonte, Fra. Bonaventure M. Valles, Fra. Alphose M. Salazar and Fra. Paschal M. Gorgonia. They were all, later, ordained to the priesthood. After a long period of trials and ordeal unrecorded in any history, they were eventually established in the Philippines in the Archdiocese of Cebu under the patronage of Cardinal Emeritus, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.
The first Marian Friary was established in Lahug, Cebu City with the Marian title of Marian House “Mother of Sto. Nino”. Its first Father Guardian was Fr. Bernardine M. Pedroso. The friary was erected on January 1, 1992 which housed the candidates under formation. It also started the publication of magazine, the PROMARIA, printing of religious brochures and production of medals and rosaries for distribution. Simultaneous to this was the emergence and establishment of lay group which will later become the members of the “Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix” Movement (MIM).
Due to the growth of vocation and candidates because of their fidelity to their Marian-Franciscan charism after the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a new formation house was built in Tolotolo, Consolacion, Cebu with the Marian title of “Marian House of Our Lady of Consolation.” It was inaugurated in November 11, 1994. Two years later, on May 16, 1996, the novitiate house was established with the first novice master, Fr. Bernardine M. Pedroso.
Constructions of More Houses
In 1995, the “Pro Maria National Center” was organized. It was a central governing body within the community responsible primarily for the printed and media publications of the Institute in the Philippines. It published the “ProMaria” Magazine, a quarterly Marian and Catholic magazine. At its highest peak, the subscribers reach up to 11,000 subscribers locally and worldwide.
Simultaneous with the inauguration of the house in Cebu was the opening of the new community in June of 1993 in the Diocese of Caceres, Bicol Region. The Marian House was dedicated to “Our Lady of Penafrancia, patroness of the Bicol Region. Fr. Sebastian Bejer was appointed as its first Father Guardian. In 1996, a radio station was set up under the title of “radio Caritas Mariae.” Its first director was Fr. Carmelo Pulayan.
This house in Naga City became the house of student-friars who frequented philosophical course in the Diocesan Seminary of the Holy Rosary. Apart from running a non-profit radio station which is sustained by alms and generosity of benefactors, the community supports the growing number of Third Order Franciscans of the Immaculate (TOFI). They also provide spiritual assistance to prisoners and provide spiritual help to mentally handicapped in mental institutions.
In 1998, the friars in Naga started a bigger house in San Felipe, Naga City, around 4 km. away from the city. They moved there on September 20, 1999. The new house was dedicated to “Our Lady Coredemptrix.” Here, they provide, apart from the broadcast of radio station, spiritual assistance to lay faithful in the ministry of confessions, spiritual direction and youth apostolate.
Still in the year 2000, a new community was opened in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon. It was originally intended to be a contemplative house with friars who intend to live a more prayerful and penitential life. But for the past several years, it has been used as a novitiate house where candidates undergoing a more intense spiritual formation live.
The last in the story of development of the Institute in terms of construction was the building of the Church in honor of Our Lady Coredemptrix in Talamban, Cebu City. Located along the hill side in the outskirts of Talamban stands a majestic Shrine in honor of Our Lady where pilgrims are welcomed and find spiritual solace and comfort. It is the dwelling place of a huge statue of “La Pieta” at the center altar patterned according to the image of the apparition of Our Lady of Sorrows in Castelpetroso, Italy.