As we celebrate the month of November, in anticipation of the 500th Year of Christianity in the Philippines, we feature Filipino Holy Men and Women who are on the process of sainthood for us to learn more about their lives and to inspire others to live in holiness even in this modern era of technology, that still, God should be at the very center of our lives.
Today, we feature Venerable Ignacia del Espiritu Santo.
Venerable Ignacia del Espíritu Santo, also known as Mother Ignacia (1663 – 1748) was a known for her acts of piety and religious poverty, founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, the first native Filipino female congregation with approved pontifical status in what is now the Republic of the Philippines.
The birthdate of Mother Ignacia del Espíritu Santo is piously attributed on February 1, 1663, based on the cultural customs of the Spanish Era. Only her baptismal record is preserved, which occurred on March 4, 1663. Ignacia was christened in the Church of the Holy Kings in the fifth Parián de Chinos by Fray Padre Alberto Collares, O.P. Ignacia was the eldest and sole surviving child of María Jerónima, a Filipina, and Jusepe Iuco, a Christian Chinese migrant from Amoy, China.
HER EARLY SIGNS OF SANCTITY
Expected by her parents to marry at 21 years old, Ignacia sought religious counsel from Father Pablo Clain, a Jesuit priest from Bohemia in Czech Kingdom. The priest gave her the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, from which Ignacia drew her religious devotion and piety. After this period of solitude and prayer, Ignacia finally decided to pursue her religious calling, to “remain in the service of the Divine Majesty” and “live by the sweat of her brow.” According to Father Murillo Velarde, her eyewitness biographer, Ignacia left her parents’ home with only a needle and a pair of scissors.
Ignacia felt strongly against the Spanish prohibition that native Filipinos could not become religious nuns or priests at the time. Mother Jerónima de la Asunción was the first Spanish religious sister who came to the Philippines to establish a convent but due to the Spanish prohibition and racial attitudes against native Filipinos at the time, they were prohibited from receiving Holy Orders and joining religious congregations. In hopes of changing this racially structured ecclesiastical limitation, Ignacia began to live alone in a vacant house at the back of the Colegio Jesuita de Manila, the headquarters of Jesuits in Manila. She devoted a life of public prayer and labor which attracted other Filipino laywomen to monasticism at a time when Filipinos were barred from pursuing the religious life.
Ignacia accepted these women into her company, and though they were not officially recognised as a religious institute at the time, together they became known as the Beatas de la Virgen María (English: “Religious of the Virgin Mary”) living under the Beatería de la Compañía de Jesús (English: Convent of the Society of Jesus”). They frequently received the sacraments at the old San Ignacio Church, performed many acts of public devotion there and went to the Jesuit priests for spiritual direction and confession.
Popular folk tales ascribed the penitential form of spirituality and mortification of the flesh which sustained the other women in hardship, especially during times of extreme poverty, when they had to beg for rice and salt and scour Manila’s streets for firewood. The laywomen continued to support themselves through manual labor and requesting alms from other laypeople. Eventually, the growing number of laywomen called for a more stable lifestyle and a set of rules called Religious Constitution which governed their daily schedule. The association only admitted young girls and boarders who were taught catechism and given manual work.
In 1726, Ignacia wrote the history of her religious order and finalized constitutions of the Congregation and submitted to the Archdiocesan Chancery Office of Manila for ecclesiastical approbation, which the Fiscal Provisor of Manila formally granted in 1732. Ignacia decided to resign as mother superior of the order and lived as an ordinary member until her death on September 10, 1748.
After her death in 1748, the Archbishop of Manila, Reverend Pedro de la Santísima Trinidad Martínez de Arizala, O.F.M., paid homage to the growing religious group his archdiocese in his writings. He wrote:
“ ….They live in community with great edification to the whole city and contributing to the common good. They are clothed in blackcotton tunic and mantle. They attend daily mass at the Jesuit church where they also frequent the sacraments…As they do not observe cloister, as they support themselves partly through the work of their hands and partly by charity of pious people…. ”
In May 1768, the Royal Decree of King Charles III of Spain on the Suppression of the Jesuits reached Manila. It was later cemented with the approval of Pope Clement XIV which caused emotional and religious suffering for Ignacia’s order as the Jesuit priests were expelled from the Philippines and deported back to Spain and Italy.
In 1732, the Archbishop of Manila approved the Rules then in use among the other religious women. Ignacia had the consolation of seeing the steady growth of her small band of members. Mother Ignacia del Espíritu Santo died on September 10, 1748 at the age of eighty-five. She died on her knees after receiving Holy Communion at the altar rail of the old Jesuit Church of San Ignacio in Intramuros.
On July 31, 1906, the American Archbishop of Manila, Jeremiah James Harty, assisted the religious sisters in the canonical erection of Mother Ignacia’s order, which was previously postponed in filing of 1732 due to incorrect process of petitioning to Rome. On 17 March 1907, Pope Pius X promulgated the Decretum Laudis in favor of the congregation’s Rules and Constitutions. The Decree of Approbation was granted by Pope Pius XI on 24 March 1931 which elevated the Congregation to Pontifical status. On 12 January 1948 (the 200th anniversary of the death of Mother del Espíritu Santo), Pope Pius XII issued the Decree of Definitive Papal Approbation of the Constitutions.
During the harrowing years of World War 2, the San Ignacio Church was destroyed and the Beaterio was also heavily damaged, with it, the mortal remains of their Foundress that was interred in the Beaterio. After the War. the Motherhouse was later moved to Quezon City that is still can be seen upto the present.
HER CAUSE FOR SAINTHOOOD
Centuries after her death, numerous favors were granted through her intercession that the cause for her Beatification and Canonization opened soon after. In a papal decree dated 6 July 2007, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the findings of the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and declared that:
“ …the Servant of God, Ignacia, foundress of the Religious of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is found to possess to a heroic degree the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity toward God and neighbor, as well as the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.”
On February 1, 2008, Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales presided over the promulgation which officially accorded Ignacia the title “Venerable” at the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Binondo, Manila.