As far back as 1931 --- 76 years ago – a Jesuit priest, Fr. Pedro Vidal, helped in working for the approbation of the revised Constitution of the Religious of the Virgin Mary. A pleasant discovery sprouted as he perceived the holiness of Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo manifested in the lives of the early beatas. Their zeal and other virtues surfaced as they worked with the Jesuit missionaries in Mindanao. Impelled with this impression he suggested to the leaders of the Congregation to promote the beatification of their holy foundress, Mother Ignacia.
The Cause at its Inception
The RVM Superior General, Rev. M. Venancia Ceballos, wholeheartedly accepted the idea of promoting her to exhort the general membership to pray and make sacrifices for this intention. All the succeeding Superiors General followed suit but their limited knowledge in proceeding with the task did not yield much fruit.
Retrieval of Mother Ignacia’s Remains
After a lapse of twenty-five years Rev. M. Ma. Catalina Dychitan became the Superior General in 1956. A definitive step was undertaken to retrieve the mortal remains of Mother Ignacia. Excavation at the Pamantasan Ng Maynila, the site of the former House of the Jesuits, where Mother Ignacia was believed to have been buried started on 30 August 1957. Positive result was nil after seven months of digging so the work was stopped.
Resumption of Excavation
In 1959 two Sisters were designated to do research in Madrid where they obtained copies of the plan of St. Ignatius Church. This triggered off the resumption of the excavation work but it stopped again on seeing the activity yielding no fruit. A permit, however, was secured from the Superintendent of City Schools on 23 April 1962 allowing the Congregation to go on with the diggings. This dragged on for about five years when in 1967 the government prohibited further excavation.
Elevation of the Cause to Rome
In 1965 prior to the prohibition for further excavation, the Superior General, Rev. M. Ma. Ignacia Magdalena and her Council with the Local Superiors of the communities in Manila suburbs, filed a petition to the Conference of Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP) through H.E. Rufino Cardinal Santos, for the elevation of the Cause to Rome. The Church in the Philippines was then celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of the country’s Christianization. Cardinal Santos acted on the petition after three years by appointing Rev. Fr. Melencio de Vera as Promotor Fidei on 21 March 1968.
Creation of a Diocesan Historical Commission
Following the appointment of Fr. De Vera, was the creation of the Diocesan Historical Commission in 1970 consisting of Rev. Fr. Emilio Azarraga, SJ, Rev. Fr. Isacio Rodriguez, OSA and Rev. Fr. Juan Ledesma, SJ. They made researches and study on the case with Rev. Fr. John Schumacher, SJ assisting Fr. Azarraga. With the changes of assignments of the former appointees, Cardinal Santos had to appoint a new set of members in 1971 with Fr. Schumacher and Dr. Marcelino Foronda as Commission members.
The Historical Commission in Action
In 1971 Fr. Schumacher left for Rome to make research in the Jesuit archives. The commission came up with a report in 1972 which was submitted to Rome. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints had the following evaluation of the report: “… basic document was lacking to prove that Mother Ignacia lived and practiced the theological and moral virtues to a heroic degree.” The letter was signed by Fr. Melchor Pobladora, OFM Cap. Despite the saddening effect of the unfavorable decision, the Superior General, Rev. M. Ma. Josefina C. Yamzon, remained hopeful. She circularized to the general membership entreating the Sisters to pray more fervently for the Cause.
The Change of Guards
On 19 March 1974 Archbishop Jaime L. Sin succeeded Cardinal Santos. Archbishop Sin showed great interest in the promotion of the Cause. He appointed Bishop Juan Velasco to head the Historical Commission with Fr. Schumacher and Sr. Ma. Rita Ferraris, RVM as members on 26 February 1976. In a month’s time Archbishop Sin went to Rome and pleaded with Pope John Paul II for the Cause. This was followed up by the revised report of the group of Bishop Velasco. Response to this revised report was: “the documentation was most inadequate to merit the attention of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints.” Signatory to this was the Relatore General, Mons. Antonio Frutaz.
Cardinal Sin’s Dauntless Effort
Undaunted and persistent Cardinal Sin did not stop looking for means to promote the Cause. He made contacts with the postulators of various Congregations of men to interest them on the Cause. Finally he pleaded with the Holy Father, then with Cardinal Palazzini, Head of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Cardinal Palazzini assured Cardinal Sin that he would give directions or instructions to whoever would be designated as Postulator for Mother Ignacia’s Cause.
On the NIHIL OBSTAT
To pursue the work on the Cause of Mother Ignacia’s beatification, a go signal or a NIHIL OBSTAT had to be secured from Rome which was granted on 20 October 1986. Without any delay Cardinal Sin created an Archdiocesan Tribunal in November 1986. Those appointed were Msgr. Josefino Ramirez as Chairperson; Msgr. Higino Velarde, Promoter of Justice; Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ, Theologian; Fr. Pedro de Achutegui, SJ, Theologian-Historian; Sr. Ma. Isabelita Riego de Dios, RVM, the RVM Congregation’s representative.
A series of meetings took place on February 2, 14 & 15, 1987 using the documents collected by the Historical Commission of the Congregation. In a month’s time the Tribunal presented the POSITIO to Cardinal Sin on 2 March 1987. The group’s statement accompanied the POSITIO, thus: “One reason in favor of the beatification of Mother Ignacia is that in the first few hundred years of the Church’s life here in the Philippines, there was in the person of this woman a shining example of a life of profound Christian holiness. What could be a better proof of the fruitfulness of the Christian religion on the Filipino faithful, not too long after the coming of the faith to the Philippine shores.“ Cardinal Sin himself brought the Positio to Rome.
On 22 May 1987 Rev. Fr. Innocenzo Venchi, OP was appointed Diocesan Postulator for Mother Ignacia’s Cause. His appointment spurred on Cardinal Sin to designate a Panel of Investigators on 18 June 1987 to conduct an Archdiocesan Inquisition on the case. The appointees were Msgr. Felipe Ocol, JCD, Judge Delegate; Msgr. Benedicto S. Aquino, Promoter of Justice; Msgr. Socrates B. Villegas, First Notary; Sr. Ma. Erlinda Cabilin, RVM, Assist. Notary. With an alacrity that impels committed people to accomplish a given task, the Inquisition set to work from 27 July to 15 August 1987. As a result the Inquisition came up with a TRANSUMPTA which the Panel members signed at the official closing of their investigation on 15 August 1987. These proceedings or ACTAS were sealed and were brought to Rome and were submitted by Fr. Venchi to the Secretary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 10 November 1987. The document was in the files of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to be acted upon for the Decree of Validity.
The Decree of Validity
Moving up from this office as diocesan postulator, Fr. Venchi was appointed General Postulator on 22 September 1991 about four years after the submission of the TRANSUMPTA. Nothing could quell Cardinal Sin’s enthusiasm on Mother Ignacia’s Cause that in anticipation of the Decree of Validity he called a meeting on 12 November 1991. Present at the meeting were Msgr. Higino Velarde, Msgr. Geronimo Mendoza, three RVM Sisters: Sr. Ma. Rita Ferraris, M. Ma. Assumpta David, and Sr. M. Isabelita Riego de Dios. Happily the Decree of Validity of the Diocesan Process of the Servant of God, was issued on 20 December 1991 duly signed by Msgr.Guisepe D’Ascola of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He also informed Cardinal Sin on the forthcoming appointment of Rev. Fr. Ambroze Eszer, OP as the Relatore General for Mother Ignacia’s Cause. The appointment was on 11 January 1992.
The Beginnings and Completion of the POSITIO
About the early part of 1992 the RVM Congregation commissioned Sr. Ma. Rita to work on the POSITIO. She had to stay in Rome to be in close coordination and collaboration with Fr. Venchi and Fr. Eszer. With her characteristic assiduity, Sr. Ma. Rita completed the POSITIO and submitted it to the press for printing in September 1993.
The Utanes and Melencion Cures
As the writing of the POSITIO was in progress the cures of Mrs. Victoria Utanes and Mrs. Merle Melencion were reported to Rome. Upon receiving instruction in 1994 for the investigation of the two cases Cardinal Sin created a Tribunal that was sworn into office on 13 July 1995. Members of the Tribunal were Fr. Honorato Castigador, OP who was appointed by Fr. Venchi to be his Vice Postulator; Fr. Geronimo Reyes, Judge; Fr. Alex Amandy, Promoter of Justice; Msgr. Socrates Villegas, Notary; Dr. Gregorio Moral, Head of Medical Panel; Dr. Ramon Sin and Dr. Homer Gonzales, Medical Panel Members; Dr. Socorro Martinez, Neurologist; Sr. Ma. Magdalena Leocadio, RVM, Secretary. Separate hearings were conducted: the Utanes case on 22 March 1996 and the Melencion case on 8 April 1996. Documentations on the results of the hearings were hand-carried by Cardinal Sin when he went to Rome in the same month of April 1996.
Need for Theological Assistance
With the General Postulator’s bulk of other concerns, a standstill in the beatification work ensued. Fr. Venchi saw a need for a Theological Assistant, specifically a Filipino, who could help in investigating the POSITIO submitted by Sr. Ma. Rita Ferraris, RVM in 1993 and come up with a theological dimension of the document showing the holiness of Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo. Hence the appointment of Rev. Fr. Enrico Emmanuel A. Ayo as Theological Assistant on 20 March 1997. Fr. Ayo referred to Sr. Rita’s book vis a vis the data he had gathered from his own researches and study. In a year and eight month’s time, Fr. Ayo completed his assigned task. He presented his finished product to Fr. Venchi in November 1998. In March 1999 Fr. Venchi asked Fr. Ayo for additional data to be included in what he submitted to him the previous year. The process of checking and rechecking took much of the time in 1999 and the first half of the year 2000. With a sigh of relief, the POSITIO was ready for printing in July 2000 with the inclusion of Fr. Eszer’s presentation as Relatore General.
The Historical Commission’s Congress
As soon as copies of the POSITIO were released from the press they were submitted to the Historical Commission that was convened on 16 January 2001 to discuss its merits. The entire RVM Congregation were all set in the posture of prayer and sacrifice to draw down God’s compassionate mercy for the success of the Commission’s discussions and deliberations. Joining the RVM Sisters were lay people of different groups who had their share in promoting Mother Ignacia’s Cause. Membership of these different groups came from the Mother Ignacia Movement (MIM). Cardinal Sin’s brainchild, the Mother Ignacial Club composed largely of the youth in the RVM Schools, the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Beaterio, the Friends of Mother Ignacia group, the Mother Ignacia Lay Community, and other lay people belonging to unorganized groups but were recipients of favors and graces received through the intercession of Mother Ignacia especially those who had been healed of physical and spiritual ailments or other maladies.
Approval of the POSITIO
Majority of the Commission members stamped their approval on the historical POSITIO in 2001. Proceedings of their discussions and approval became part of the document which had to pass on to the Theological Commission for further scrutiny.
More Facts on the UTANES Case
& As mentioned earlier the case of Mrs. Victoria Utanes was investigated in 1996 but other developments emerged. Rome suggested for another hearing on the UTANES case to add more weight to the documents previously submitted. So Cardinal Sin designated Most Rev. Socrates B. Villegas as Episcopal Delegate to head the Panel of Investigators for conducting the hearing on the Utanes case. With him as members were Msgr. Geronimo Reyes, Fr. Samson Silloriquez, OAR, Fr. Honorato Castigador, OP, Fr. Alex Amandy and Sr. Ma. Consuelo Alvino, RVM. A Medical Panel was likewise present composed of Dr. Ramon L. Sin, Pathologist; Dr. Joselynna Quimpo, Endocrinologist; Dr. Tony Ignacio, Pathologist. The hearing was held on 23 July 2003. Invited to be witnesses in the interview by the panelists were those who knew Mrs. Utanes personally and the cure of her ailment. Results of the hearing were forwarded to Rome.
The Congress of Theologians in Action
From the time of the Historical Commission’s approval of the POSITIO in 2001, it is being acted upon by the Theological Commission in Rome this year 2007. Official information reached the Office of the RVM Superior General that the Congress of Theologians in Rome would have its meeting on 23 February 2007 where the POSITIO on Mother Ignacia would be discussed and deliberated upon.
The Theological Commission’s Decision
As scheduled the Congress of Theologians composed of nine members convened on 23 February 2007 in Rome to discuss and deliberate on the POSITIO that presented, among other topics, the life of Mother Ignacia depicting her holiness in living out a virtuous life to a heroic degree. In an unofficial communication to the RVM Superior General, the result of the meeting was relayed to her with information that out of the nine members of the panel eight theologians voted positively. This development was a cause of rejoicing for the members of Mother Ignacia’s foundation, moving them to a joyful thanksgiving to the Lord for such a marvelous gift of love from Him. What can be more significant than this wonderful grace bestowed on the RVM Congregation! By some stroke of Divine Providence it occurs within this centennial year celebration of the issuance of the Decree of Praise granted by His Holiness Pope Pius X on 17 March 1907. This decree made Mother Ignacia’s Foundation the first Filipino Congregation of Women to enjoy Pontifical Rights.
How marvelous is God’s love to shower His bountiful graces on the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary. May He be praised, honored and loved by the whole of His creation. Alleluia!