– Fr Leonard E Dollentas
In a decree issued on November 7, 2018, Pope Francis has declared Bishop Alfredo Obviar, a Filipino bishop, Venerable. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed the decree on Friday November 9, 2018: “The pope recognized that Obviar, the first bishop of Lucena, lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way.” The cause for Bishop Obviar’s canonization or sainthood was introduced by the Diocese of Lucena, in the Philippines where he was a bishop for many years. After being declared venerable, he is now two steps closer to sainthood.
The next step will be beatification which requires evidence of one miracle. Miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us. The required miracle must take place as a result of a specific petition to the candidate, in this case Bishop Obviar. After this stage and when the pope proclaims him beatified or “blessed,” he can be venerated by the Filipinos or other group of people for whom he holds special importance. A second miracle would be needed for him to be canonized. Should he be canonized soon, he will be joining St Lorenzo Ruiz and St Pedro Calungsod at the altar of Filipino saints.
EARLY LIFE AND PRIESTHOOD
Bishop Alfredo Obviar y Aranda was born on August 29, 1889 in Lipa City, Batangas. He was the only son of Telesoro Obviar and Catalina Aranda. He became an orphan at the early age, and was put under the care of his relatives from his mother’s side. Obviar received his early religious instruction at the College of St. Francis Xavier in Manila run by the Jesuits, where he graduated in 1907. He earned his degree in Bachelor of Arts at Ateneo de Manila, also under the Jesuits in 1914. He then proceeded to the University of Santo Tomas Pontifical Seminary for his theological studies.
He was ordained to the priesthood on March 15, 1919. His pastoral ministry began that same year at Malvar, Batangas. As a parish priest in Malvar, he demonstrated a remarkable divine gift and disposition for organizing catechists, as well as for the teaching of the catechism most especially to the faithful in the rural areas of his parish.
While serving in Malvar, he served as well as vicar of the cathedral parish in Lipa from 1927 to 1944. In both parishes, he established Catechetical Centers situated both in the urban and rural areas. He served also as the vicar General for the Diocese of Lipa, and was entrusted with the spiritual care of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Lipa.
THE LIPA “MIRACLE”
Lipa is a city situated 84 kilometer south of Manila. The city is the site of one of the most famous Marian apparition in the Philippines, that was said to have occurred there between 1948 and 1950. On Sept. 12, 1948, the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared before Carmelite postulant Teresita Castillo, and reportedly said that she was “Mary Mediatrix of All Grace.” Besides the alleged apparition of our Lady, there were also claims of miraculous showers of roses by the nuns, some of which bore religious images and witnessed by thousands of people. A special commission of bishops, representing the Philippine Catholic hierarchy at that time, dismissed this mystical occurrence in 1951. The commission of bishops ruled that “the evidence and testimonies exclude any supernatural interventions” (April 11, 1951 Declaration of the six Philippine (Arch)bishops commission re: 1948 supposed Marian apparitions in Lipa). The ruling was sealed with non-approval conclusions on the alleged apparition, and with such finality, the result was submitted to Rome. At the time of the alleged apparition in the monastery, Bishop Obviar was the chaplain and confessor of the nuns in the monastery. It has not yet been ascertained what Bishop Obviar’s role in the apparition incident was. He, and the Bishop of Lipa, Bishop Alfredo Versoza, followed the panel’s decision with utmost secrecy and prudence, the two bishops remaining silent about the alleged incidents. All materials related to the apparitions were ordered to be destroyed. A number of nuns in the monastery were consequently transferred and distributed to different Carmelite monasteries in the Philippines. The postulant Teresita Castillo left the convent. Bishop Versoza tendered an early resignation as Bishop of Lipa, and Bishop Obviar received from the Holy See a new assignment as the Apostolic Administrator of the newly created Diocese of Lucena. He remained in this position from March 15, 1951 to July 19, 1969, until he was named as its first Diocesan Bishop. He assiduously continued his pastoral ministry with humility and dedication in the Diocese of Lucena. He showed his deep veneration and obedience to the Church, by keeping to himself what has transpired in the Monastery of Lipa. He devoted his concern to the new Diocese entrusted under his pastoral care. He started in Lucena with only 30 priests. As a visionary for the missions of the church, he saw a need for priests’ collaborators to evangelize the faithful as catechists. Thus, he exerted much effort to recruit, train and send catechists especially to far-flung areas. It is from his zeal and passion for the salvation of souls through catechesis that he founded on August 12, 1958 the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (MCST Sisters), in San Narciso in Quezon. The MCST Sisters faithfully keep alive the zeal and diligence of Bishop Obviar in carrying out the task of Evangelization by teaching catechism on the youth and adults, especially the less privileged. The MCST congregation is now an apostolic religious institute with pontifical rights. Its Mother House is in Tayabas Quezon, with mission houses in different dioceses in the Philippines and a number of missionaries sent abroad.
HIS PRIESTLY LIFE AND SPIRITUALITY
He worked tirelessly for the training of diocesan priests in the Diocese of Lucena. He was instrumental for the establishment of Mount Carmel Seminary and later St Alphonsus School of Theology in the Diocese. With his example and determinations, the number of priests increased to more than one hundred between 1951 and 1975. Being a man of prayer himself, he emphasized more strongly among his priests the keeping of the Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament or at least an hour of prayer. His solitude was as persuasive as his preaching. He kept himself abreast with the life and faith of his faithful in his diocese with his regular pastoral visitations. He organized diocesan conventions, diocesan congress on different areas of the apostolate in the diocese. Among his pastoral activities, he would always highlight the annual catechetical convention in his diocese.
SICKNESS AND DEATH
After laboring so much for the church and dedicating all his life for the formation of priests and catechists, he became frail and sickly. This is due to the fact he was also advance in age. He considered his retirement and he withdraw from the administrative works of the diocese to offer the illness he endured for the Church and for his beloved catechists. His Sisters, the Missionary Catechists of the St. Therese of the Child Jesus, took care of him during the last three years of his life.
St Therese of the Child Jesus welcomed him peacefully in heaven on October 1, 1978. He was 89 when he died. His remains were buried in the Compound of the MCST in Tayabas, in Quezon Province, Philippines.
Today, a number of Filipino bishops and clergy who knew him attest that Bishop Obviar was a holy man, who suffered in silence and whose obedience to the Church remained truthful and exemplary. A good number of the faithful in Lipa and Lucena, who have reminiscence of the holy man, can still recall his love and dedication to his flock in serving them.