Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 July 2018


The sisters Dionisia and Cecilia Talangpaz y Pamintuan, in their lifetime, faced and overcame tremendous vicissitudes in their journey toward a life serving Christ.

Now, as the Congregation of Augustinian Recollect (AR) Sisters, which they founded, begin its celebration of the tercentenary of this journey, let us, Reader, help the congregation prove that Dionisia and Cecilia are worthy of sainthood.

 I recently participated in the tercentenary launch at St. Rita College, next to the minor Basilica of San Sebastian. It was very rewarding, because I met not only almost the entire congregation of ARs, but also Dr. Luciano PR Santiago, who is the author of “Stars of Peace: the Talangpaz Sisters,” which is essentially a biography of Dionisia and Cecilia. Sister Cleofe, AR, gave me a copy of the book as well as other publications on the congregation of which she is a member.

I want to share what I learned from these publications with you, Reader. I am absolutely convinced that we should not stop until the Talangpaz sisters are declared saints—hopefully the first of many other women to get the honor.

Why should they get that honor?

In the first place, because the sisters Dionisia Mitas and Cecilia Rosa were the first pure Indias, or Malay Filipinas, to have founded a beaterio, which has since expanded to a religious order. There were five other religious communities for women in Manila in the 17th and 18th centuries, but these were founded by ladies with at least some Spanish blood.

An explanatory note: At that time, no “Indios” (why Indios? Because “Filipino,” according to Dr. Santiago, was a term reserved for native-born Spaniards) could become monks or friars or nuns (first and second orders). They could only join the “third order,” which are laypersons, including  beatas (pious women).

So you can see, Reader, the vicissitudes which the Talangpaz sisters faced: They wanted to become nuns, obviously, but this was not open to them.  The most they could aspire to was becoming beatas.

What did being a beata entail? They could, with permission, don a habit (mantelata). They lived like nuns, but were not allowed to take even the simple vows of a nun, except, literally, at the hour of their death. And all because of their race.

And even becoming a beata was difficult for the Talangpaz sisters. For three years (1716-1718), they sought the permission of their Augustinian pastor in Calumpit, where they lived, and they were turned down repeatedly. This, despite the fact that their father had been twice governor of Calumpit, and their brother had followed in his father’s footsteps. The race card was formidable.

But nothing daunted the two women. They then decided, in 1719, to move from Calumpit in Bulacan to Calumpang in Manila (where San Sebastian was), and try their luck with the Augustinian Recollects there. You may think this was easy, Reader. But you are talking of two women in the 18th century, when the age of majority was 25 years old. And you are talking about a trip that, today, would probably take at most an hour by bus, but at the time was a day-long trip by boat through Manila Bay, the Pasig River and, finally, the Estero de San Miguel.

It took them another six years of hard work and prayer before they finally received, in 1725, their investiture as Recollect tertiaries, along with two others who had joined them.

But that was short-lived, because another vicissitude occurred: The Augustinian Recollects defrocked the Talangpaz sisters. Reason? Their beaterio had become too popular, with too many applicants who could not be supported.

Can you imagine, Reader? But the sisters were not crushed. They stuck around and proved their worth. In 1728, not only were they reinvested as tertiaries, they were also provided a larger house by the repentant Augustinians.

They continued their good works and started a school for girls, which is now St. Rita College.

Cecilia died in 1731 and Dionisia in 1732. Well, with the troubles they had to overcome, it is small wonder that they died so early (Dionisia was 41, Cecilia 38).

If you want to pray to them and ask for their intercession, call the AR sisters. Or write me.