History of the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary
FROM BEATERIO TO CONGREGATION
The key words to the story of Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo are highlighted in her biography written by the Jesuit Historian, Pedro Murillo Velarde, who begins his narrative on the history of the foundation with the account of the young woman who initiated the institution that became known as the Beaterio de la Compañia de Jesus.
Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo
Doncella de veinte y un anos (A young woman of 21 years of age)
Mestiza de Binondoc (Chinese-Yndia mestiza from the Chinatown of Binondo)
Determino entrar po Beata (aspired to live a life dedicated to God as a beata)
Queriendo prevenirse con una confesion general (resolved to prepare herself with a general confession)
Fue a confesarse a nuestro Colegio con el P. Pablo Clain (approached Fr. Paul Klein at the Jesuit College in Intramuros)
Que, para examinara mejor, le dixo fuese a la casa de la Madre de la Congregacion. (who counseled her to withdraw into solitude for better discernment)
In our tradition, we have accepted this as a counsel to enter into a retreat: a discernment for the choice of a state of life. We are all familiar with the succeeding events:
Alli le inspiro Dios, que quedase a servir a su Majestad (God’s initiative: the inspiration to remain in the service of His Majesty)
Se resolvio a ganar su vida con el sudor de su rostro. (her response) poverty by choice/poverty by labor, in solidarity with the poor.
What part of the retreat did Mother Foundress receive the inspiration; when did she formulate her response?
When Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo responded to the inspiration of God to “remain in the service of His Majesty,” maybe her dreams were not “beyond imagining.”
She was a simple and lowly ‘yndia’ seeking expression of her aspiration to dedicate her whole being to God. She would have been content to follow the leadership of others, perhaps in the community of Dominican tertiaries in the home of Doña Antonia Esguerra, and strive for perfection in the paths laid out by her Spanish betters. But the Lord had other plans for her. Disposing herself to God’s will brought her to the direction of the Jesuit Paul Klein and the instrumentality of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and the resolve to “live by the sweat of her brow” as a response to the Divine invitation. This was in 1684 when Ignacia was 21 years old, the only surviving child of Jusepe Iucuo, a baptized Chinese from Amoy, and Maria Jeronima, a native ‘yndia’.
The God-inspired option quickly resonated with others of her race on a similar quest. And “as far back as 1685 several native women” joined her mission to serve God: the Beaterio was born. By dint of trial by experience, and the spiritual direction of the Jesuit missionaries, a community was formed behind the Jesuit institutions in Intramuros. Gradually its government took shape: a group of yndias, governed by themselves. After 41 years they developed the basic structure of governance, a regulated way of life of asceticism and apostolic service, edifying Manila society with the way of life they lived. With only private vows pronounced before the assembled community, these women lived the life of chastity, poverty and obedience, engaged in promoting the Spiritual Exercises among the women in the colony, and educating young girls in the tenets of the Christian faith and the rudiments of literacy as well as in feminine household skills.
In 1726 the Beaterio de la Compañia was stable enough to apply for official recognition from Church authorities. In 1732 it obtained a certification from the archdiocesan administrator: “The country can be compared to an arid desert filled with thorns, transformed into a beautiful garden of flowering virginity and other Christian virtues.” The Rules were approved with the injunction that “they be immediately observed.”
The sitting archbishop in 1748, Pedro de la Santisima Trinidad Martinez de Arizala, went further. After sending a visitator to ascertain the edifying and useful way of life in the Beaterio, he solicited from Ferdinand VI of Spain the Royal Protection. Due process took years, and the benefit desired was obtained on November 25, 1755. But the conditions imposed with the Royal Protection were harsh to the dreams of Mother Ignacia, as the King insisted on his royal prerogatives to keep the institution secular rather than religious. He demanded that all provisions in the Constitutions that pertained to the observance of the evangelical counsels had to be purged, and the secular head of the colony, not the archbishop, was made responsible for the Institution. To keep the Beaterio in existence, everyone complied, on paper, but not in practice and spirit. The evangelical counsels continued to be pronounced in private, and religious life and formation was observed in the institution. This became the procedure followed for the rest of the Spanish colonial period. Meanwhile the Beaterio’s services as a retreat house and an educational institution flourished in the colony. From 1875 the Beaterio founded mission communities in the Jesuit parishes in Mindanao.
The Filipino revolution in 1896, followed by the intervention of the forces of the United States of America resulted in the colony’s changing colonial masters. This change brought about the end of the Spanish Patronato system, and the separation of Church and State. For the Beaterio de la Compañia this meant a liberation from the shackles of government control over the institution’s life. With the guidance of the Jesuit missionaries, the superiors of the Beaterio of Manila as well as the mission beaterios took steps to gain status in the Church as a religious community after more than two centuries and a half of government-imposed constraints. The Beaterio emerged from its “catacomb existence” to begin to become an institute of consecrated life in the Church.
Presuming that the archdiocesan approval in 1732 was the first step already hurdled, application to Rome for recognition was initiated, only to find out that it had not constituted the required ‘canonical erection.’ Rome spelled out the correct procedure, and after fulfilling the requirements between 1903-1906, Archbishop Jeremias J. Harty, newly installed archbishop of Manila, instituted the canonical erection on July 31, 1906. The first prerequisite satisfied by this, the Holy See was quick to respond, and on March 17, 1907, issued the Decretum Laudis, the Decree of Praise, thereby making the Beaterio founded by Mother Ignacia, a religious Congregation of Pontifical rights, the first institute of women to gain this status in the Philippines. Thus the Beaterio de la Compañia that was born of the initiative of God in the humble and courageous ‘yndia’, Ignacia del Espiritu Santo had become the first indigenous foundation in the Philippines to become a religious Congregation. In the span of more than three centuries the dreams of Mother Ignacia were transmitted faithfully by hundreds of women who continued to live her legacy of humble service to the Divine Majesty.