GAMU, Isabela, Jan. 13, 2016— It’s been 25 years since Poor Clare Sister Mary Louise Gretchen and five others arrived here with a dream— to establish a community centered on the simple, yet deeply meaningful, act of prayer.
On Jan. 9, the sisters from Monastery of Our Lady of the Eucharist in Guibang village celebrated heir 25th jubilee, joined by some clergy, other religious, benefactors, and friends.
The celebration was highlighted with a Mass presided over by Bishop Prudencio Andaya of the Vicariate Apostolic of Tabuk, along with Ilagan Bishop Joseph Nacua and other priests.
It was a culmination of a journey that began when the nuns, then part of a monastery in Cabuyao, Laguna, first arrived in the area upon the invitation of the late Bishop Miguel Purugganan.
“We were unknown to anyone – typical strangers in a new place,” Gretchen recalled when they first arrived in Gamu before dawn of Jan. 9, 1991 after a more than eight-hour trip on a bus from Manila.
She said they were welcomed by Msgr. Marino Gatan of the Shrine of Our Lady of Visitation together with his altar boys. The priest eventually became their chaplain for many years.
On the same day, they met Purugganan who invited the Poor Clares to live in the Diocese of Ilagan, and presided over a Mass in the prayer room of their temporary residence while the the construction of their contemplative house was ongoing.
With an air of nostalgia, the nuns recalled that their early days were filled with “challenges, fun, and excitement.”
As a community, they worked together in clearing the land given to them by the diocese, trimmed trees, removed the grass and prepared the soil for their vegetable garden, and did their household chores too.
“With our bare hands and frail bodies, we earned our bread through the vegetable garden and by making small rosaries that we were able to sell. We were entirely dependent on alms sent to us by God through generous people,” shared Gretchen.
Aside from Gretchen, the other pioneering nuns include Sisters Mary Trinitas, Mary Immaculata, Mary Christian, Mary Dominique, and May Lorette.
According to them, the early years of their contemplative life in Guibang tested their dedication and determination to live their vowed life as Poor Clare nuns.
Relying on Divine Providence while faithfully fulfilling their contemplative mission, the sisters did not runout of support from generous people who saw the beauty and relevance of their contemplative presence in the diocese, they shared.
In the course of time, the then makeshift monastery and chapel transformed into a “place of silence, solitude, and peace in noisy world— a protected sanctuary for spiritual renewal and reflection.”
The sisters also grew in number.
As the sisters flourished in their contemplative life in service to the local church in the last 25 years, they too responded to the need to send sisters to other places either to help in monasteries locally or abroad or in establishing new monasteries.
As the monastery received new vocations to the contemplative life of St. Clare of Assisi, the Poor Clare community has also been generous in sending missionaries to places where they may be needed.
In 1995, the monastery was instrumental in sending nuns to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Sisters Immaculata and Lorette volunteered to go and stayed there for seven years. They are now back in Guibang again.
Another call to serve as contemplatives came when Bishop Andaya visited them in August 2014 and asked for their contemplative presence in his Vicariate.
Accepting the invitation, the community will be sending five solemn professed sisters as pioneers in the Tabuk Foundation and are now in the final stage of their preparation for the new mission. (Fr. Alvin M. Paras, OFM / CBCP News)