St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City | Photo by Warren LeMay via Commons/Flickr CC0 1.0
Part IV of an “EDEN America” series
There have been more than a thousand Filipino Catholic priests in the United States — since the turn of the 21st-century. Because of the shortage of clergy members in many parishes, the American Catholic Church had recently closed small parishes for priests and lay ministers.
What saved some of the parishes (that were about to be closed) was the arrival of Catholic immigrants from the Philippines, Latin America, the Caribbean, India (from the Western state of Kerala, where St. Thomas, an original apostle of Jesus Christ, did his missionary work) and even from Nigeria. The US Catholic Church obtained work visas for foreign priests, and many of them became American citizens in due time.
There are parishes of the Philippine Independent Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente or IFI) in Hawaii, California, Illinois, and other cities in the CONUS. The same is valid with the Iglesia ni Cristo (as spearheaded by the Manalo Family) in the US and Canada. Fr. Fred Vergara, a New York-based Filipino American priest, is the highest-ranking Asian prelate in the Episcopal Church of America. He invited me to the inaugural festivity of a new Filipino American Episcopal Community of Las Vegas in 2003.
“On Oct. 9, 2006, I presented a formal proposal about a “Sister Parish” initiative to His Eminence, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (ADLA) in California.”
The Archdiocese of New York started hiring (actually “pirating”) Filipino teachers — beginning in the late 1980s — from Catholic schools in Metro Manila to remedy the shortage of qualified educators in its parochial schools. I thought of a moniker for these Filipino teachers that were tutoring young New Yorkers how to speak English, among other classroom work. I came up with the name of “Tomasite (sic) teachers.” Yes, “Tomasite,” (without the “h”) as some of them were alumni of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila, or they came from Philippine towns named after Santo Tomas. Or their family name was “Tomas,” like the Tomases of Pangasinan and other provinces.
On Oct. 9, 2006, I presented a formal proposal about a “Sister Parish” initiative to His Eminence, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, of California’s Archdiocese of Los Angeles (ADLA). I addressed the letter to the attention of the Most Rev. Bishop Oscar Solis and submitted another original of the letter through the Rev. Msgr. Michael F. Killeen, the pastor emeritus of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Rowland Heights, California. (On my initiative as the 2002 chairman of the Peñafrancia Fiesta of the United Bicolandia-Los Angeles, Monsignor Killeen was made an “Adopted Bicolano.” For he aided several parishes of the Diocese of Albay in the Bicol Region.)
I presented the formal letter to Bishop Solis at the Philippine Consulate General, where on that autumn day in 2006, there was a reception for the visiting Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales. And I provided a copy of my proposal to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) through His Eminence, Cardinal Rosales. To read more details, please click this link.
Unfortunately, the ADLA, the CBCP, Cardinals Mahony, and Rosales did not reply to my letter. Monsignor Killeen said that he was already retired and opined that I should direct it to specific parishes in the diocese — if the archdiocese refused to do the project. By the way, Monsignor Killeen was the pastor of my family’s first parish in Southern California in 1988. He also persuaded my only son, Jose Benigno Lawrenco (JBL), to become an altar server (just as I did become one in my elementary days in what is now Sorsogon City’s Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral).
“This future diocese will be instrumental in educating and training Filipinos (by the tens of thousands) to become priests and nuns. Many of them will also be US Board-certified nurses or other medical professionals at their option.”
Bishop Solis served as an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles until his appointment on Jan. 10, 2017, as the Tenth Bishop of Salt Lake City (Utah). The Cathedral of the Madeleine installed Bishop Solis on Mar. 7, 2017. I will forward to him an advance copy of this column. And inquire if his office may like to consider pushing the “Sister Parish” initiative. And if he wants, I can send him also an advance copy of an essay about how to create A Diocese of the Future. I based some ideas in this essay on a 2016 proposal I sent to the parish council of Bacon town in Sorsogon. I named the proposal A Parish of the Future, which I mentioned in an earlier column.
If the Most Reverend Solis accepts the idea of A Diocese of the Future, then perhaps Filipinos, especially Overseas Filipinos, may become yet “God’s chosen people” of, and for, the 22nd century. Or even earlier, like in 2050. This future diocese will be instrumental in educating and training Filipinos (by the tens of thousands) to become priests and nuns. Many of them will also be US Board-certified nurses or other medical professionals at their option. Through this, the clergy, nuns, and laypersons would help in a pandemic or natural calamities. And not just minister to the people’s souls and their Next Life.