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St. Alphonsus - Founder of the Redemptorist

The Redemptorist congregation is a Catholic religious order of brothers and priests.  Their total number today is 5,197 (as of December 31, 2011)   and they are at present working in 77 countries all over the world.  Redemptorists are itinerant preachers by charism.    The congregation was founded on November 9, 1732 at Scala, Italy by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. 

 

St. Alphonsus, the founder of the Redemptorists, was born on September 27, 1696, at Marianella near Naples, Italy. He was the eldest in a family of Neapolitan nobility. This afforded him the opportunity to receive a robust education in the humanities, classical and modern languages, painting and music at an early age, so much so that by age sixteen,

he earned a doctorate in both civil and canon law.  Shortly

after, he began his practice in the legal profession.

 

He became a renowned lawyer for a few years. A defeat, however, in a high profile case due to an oversight and alleged bribery led him to abandon the profession altogether. In the midst of days of painful agony after his loss, he heard God’s call during a visit to the hospital for the incurables, something he used to do when he was a lawyer.  The voice from God told him to “Leave the world and give yourself to me”.  From that day on, he completely abandoned the world of law and all that it represents—power, ambition and titles—and crossed over to a life of service and simplicity.  He then became a priest. 

 

As a priest he first lived and worked with the homeless and marginalized young people of Naples.  After some years of hard work he took a much needed rest and retreat in the mountains of Scala outside the city of Naples.  There he encountered the shepherds and goatherds who were much poorer and more abandoned than any of the street children in Naples.  He realized that these poor people had nobody to care for them while the rich in the city had ample spiritual and material care given by the church and local authorities.   Terrence Moran describes the situation of these most abandoned people, called Lazaroni, in terms of spiritual and material abandonment wherein “official church structures were unable to reach them, and official spirituality failed to touch them.”   Moved by compassion, Alphonsus resolved to dedicate his whole life to preaching the gospel to them.   He convinced a few other religious companions to join him in forming a new congregation.  On November 9, 1732 at Scala, the Redemptorist congregation was born.

 

Alphonsus and his new congregation employed the means of the parish mission.  The form of parish mission that heavily influenced Alphonsus was the popular mission in its modern form.   Popular mission arose in response to the tremendous negative effect on the pastoral care of the rural populations brought about by the suppression of the small monasteries (conventini), that is, of religious houses with insufficient personnel, as decreed by Innocent X with his bull Instaurandae regularis disciplinae of October 15, 1652.  To remedy the decline of the practice of religion in the countryside the next pope—Benedict XIV—recommended the increase of popular missions as a valuable instrument of spiritual renewal.   Thus, popular mission was “the most characteristic and important phenomenon of the religious history of the seventeenth century.” 

 

Moran describes the process of the parish mission employed by Alphonsus and companions as consisting of preaching and prayer events “oriented toward the fundamental conversion and catechesis of a population that consisted largely of baptized unbelievers.”  The content of their mission preaching fairly represents the post-Tridentine traditions: “the eternal truths of death, judgment, heaven and hell; the nature of sin and the need for conversion; the love and mercy of God; the intercession of Mary; instruction on how to participate in the sacramental life of the Church.” 

 

However, Alphonsus style of mission was a detour from the conventional form of popular mission.  Alphonsus and companions made some refinements of the existing mission system in order to better reach the poor and the most abandoned—from centre to periphery.  “Alphonsus, in contrast, required his missionaries to go paese per paese, from one small hamlet to the next, and to remain until every person had been reached.” 

 

Within Alphonsus’ lifetime the Congregation expanded beyond the Kingdom of Naples, first in central Italy and then in Poland. During the first decades of the nineteenth century Redemptorist communities were established in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, Belgium and Holland. The Redemptorists enjoyed their largest expansion in the nineteenth century through communities located in Northern Europe—France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.  In 1832, the centennial year of the foundation of the Congregation, six Redemptorist missionaries (three priests and three brothers) travelled to the United States of America and began the first missionary work outside of Europe. Foundations followed in Latin America, Australia and eventually Africa and Asia.

 

 

HISTORY OF THE REDEMPTORISTS IN THE PHILIPPINES

 

An end to colonial domination and home rule that provides for self-determination were some of the signposts in the Philippines, as historical events unfolded from late-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries. With the end of Spanish colonial regime, the numbers of Dominican, Recollect, Augustinian and Franciscan friars decreased. By 1904, there were only 246 friars left; of these only a hundred could be sent back to the parishes as the rest were too old or wanted to be in education work.

 

CONGREGATIONAL GROWTH

 

Three Rector Majors - now known as General Superiors - would play a major role in this drive for adaptation. Frs. Nicholas Mauron, Matthias Raus and Patrick Murray would have a hand in giving birth to and strengthening the Redemptorist communities across the Philippines. From 71 foundations in 1869, the number "rose to 127 by 1887, and had doubled at the time of Fr. Mauron's death in 1893"; after that "the increase continued rapidly." Redemptorists Worldwide communities reached 3,229 in 1901.

 

Fr. Andrew Boylan, the Irish Provincial in the early 1900s, is credited as the one mainly responsible for the coming of the of the Redemptorists to the Philippines.

 

FIRST REDEMPTORIST COMMUNITY

 

 

The members of the first Redemptorist community in the Philippines were Fr. Patrick Leo as superior, Frs. John Creagh, Matthew O'Callaghan, William O'Sullivan and Thomas Cassin and Brothers Casimir and Eunan. They arrived in Opon, Cebu on June 30, 1906.

 

EARLY MISSIONS

 

The first Redemptorist missions were in Compostela, Cebu (14-21 April 1907), Guadalupe and San Francisco, Camotes Islands (October 1907). By the end of 1913 and early 1914, they began conducting the first of the new type of mission in the parish of Jetafe, Bohol. Fr. Cassin spent a week there to do a survey, inform the people and plan for the mission proper.

 

Fr. Patrick M. Lynch took over as the superior of the Opon community. Fr. Lynch was a Redemptorist who preferred being on the go. While serving as superior of Opon, he stil find his way to Manila, Borneo, Hongong, Malaya and even Canton in China!

 

Malate came at the end of a series of events that began with a mission conducted by Fr. Lynch to English-speaking Catholics in the Cathedral in Novemer 1911. Archbishop Harty was so pleased with it that he ask Fr. Lynch to look into having a foundation in Manila. The following year they both agreed to zero in on Malate. However for some reasons, the site for a Redemptorist house and church has shited to a place by the Manila Bay nown as Baclaran - the place of the fishtraps (baclad). By the end of 1931 the house was completed and Fr. Grogan took residence there.

 

BOOM YEARS

 

There were 213 missions from 1914 to 1928 and it expanded in its coverage and scope from Camiguin to Cebu, Leyte to Negros Oriental, from rural to urban areas. In 1925 missions were done in Manila (Culi-Culi, Malibay and Novaliches, Rizal).

 

1. Luzon Missions and Foundation

 

The missions expanded further to Obando, Bulacan where the first complete Tagalog mission was conducted on 8-17 March 1933. Subsequent missions (lasting from three to four days) were conducted in many parishes in Rizal, Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. In 1934 the first mission was conducted in Lipa, at San Juan de Bolbok. From there, the missioners moved towards San Pablo, Taal and Nasugbu. The rest of the year they had missions in Manila and the nearby parishes in Caloocan, Parañaque and Bulacan. Two years later in 1935, they departed for Zambales, Quezon, Pangasinan and Vigan. It was in that year that the Lipa Fathers did a two-week mission in all the parishes of their diocese which followed the earlier parish retreats requested by the bishop.

In mid-1936 the first Lipa Redemptorist community - three priests and a Brother with Fr. Taylor as superior - was set up in Lipa; their first residence was the convent of the Pink Sisters who decided to leave this property in Divino Amor owing to declining numbers.

14 December 1955 , four priests and a Brother, arrived in Legazpi City.

 

2. Visayas Mission and Foundation

 

Missions expanded across Cebu (including Bantayan Island), Bohol, Leyte, and Negros Oriental including Dumaguete City.

On 23 January 1928, the Iloilo foundation was established with Fr. Ray Cleere as first superior.

Fr. Byrne's other priority was to set up a foundation in Cebu City. Construction for the monastery immediately began in 1928 with Byrne supervising the planning and actual work on the new building which would be very much appreciated for its fine lines and spaces suited to the tropics. On 2 August 1929, the monastery was blessed.

The first community of three priests arrived in Tacloban in January 1948.

December 1950, three priests went to Bacolod to set up the foundation led by Fr. John Scanlan as superior.

Another group proceeded to establish another foundation in Dumaguete for the Cebuano-speaking communities of Negros on 13 June 1958.

 

3. Mindanao Mission and Foundation

 

The Redemptorists returned to Camiguin Island and reached Cagayan de Oro in 1924. From 1922 to 1927, they had a total of 32 missions.

The construction of the first Redemptorist plant in Mindanao, the Mount St. Mary's in Davao City began in June 1958; it was ready to welcome the community of four priests and two Brothers on 8 May 1959.

The next logical location for a third foundation in Mindanao was the northeast and Butuan City was the choice for a site. The convent and church there was inaugurated on 15 April 1973.