Mission in CaliforniaChronologically, Sacramento, California, was the first overseas mission child of the Religious of the Virgin Mary. It addressed the needs of the Filipino workers in California. A year from now this mission will complete fifty years of service to the People of God. Today we are launching the beginning of this golden jubilee celebration, under the theme: Footprints of Gold.
This celebration traces not only the RVM presence in the Golden State of California, but includes the history of what has now become, fifty years later, the District of the United States of America, Canada and American Samoa. Those are fifty years of evolving and expanding ministry across the continent and the Pacific Ocean, of new ventures in the light of emerging realities in the Service of the Divine Majesty.
Shortly after World War II, the bishop of the diocese of Sacramento, the Most Rev. Joseph T. McGucken, sent a letter to the RVM Superior General, the Rev. M. Ma. Andrea Montejo. It bore the signatures of Filipinos in Sacramento, California, headed by Mrs. Anita Chapin. Mrs. Chapin, a Filipina, had migrated to the United States before the outbreak of World War II. She had noticed that the Filipinos in Sacramento had no religious leader, and were easy prey to the proselytizing of Protestant preachers. She approached Bishop McGucken about the situation, and he agreed to take steps to bring Filipino Sisters to the diocese.
Mission in CaliforniaIt was in 1958 when the Congregation decided to accept the invitation. The members of the first community were chosen, and the process of obtaining their visas went into motion. In the send-off ceremony their mandate was read to them:
In the name of the Divine Master who said to His apostles: ’You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, that you may go forth and bear fruit, and your fruit shall remain,’ and who gave them the command: ’going forth into all the world, preach the Gospel to all men,’ I send you to Sacramento, California, United States of America, to work among our countrymen, while at the same time, earnestly beseeching the Divine Goodness to watch over you, and grant to your labors a most fruitful harvest. In the name of the Lord, go in peace!
The send-off ceremony was a little premature because it took more than one year before the visas were granted. However, in April, 1959, when Rev. M. Ma. Catalina Dychitan resigned as superior general due to ill health, she went to the United States accompanied by M. Ma. Rosario Tabora. Presenting themselves to Bishop McGucken in Sacramento, they were immediately recruited to begin the work for which the RVM had been invited. They began by taking a census of the Filipinos, and organized the Catholic Filipino Association. Assisting them from the diocese were Msgr. Raymond Renwald and Rev. Fr. Sidney Hall. In the Constitutions of this association, Bishop McGucken specified: “Regular membership is open to all,…for non-Catholics, use the word ‘associate member.’ Voting is for all regular members.”
Mission in SamoaMany people, religious and lay, made efforts to welcome the first two RVM Sisters in Sacramento, collecting furnishings for the household, and volunteering services that they needed, like driving them to take the census. Sr. Rosario, hailing from Agoo, La Union, found among the immigrants, graduates of her grandfather’s school. Thus many doors were opened easily to the Sisters. At the start the Sisters found hospitality with the Franciscan community at Grace Day Home.
They enjoyed, as well, the hospitality of the Cenacle Sisters. Finally, on June 6, 1959, they transferred to the house on 3rd and O Streets, and the first Mass was offered there by Msgr. Renwald on October 15. Eventually, through the efforts of the CFA leadership. The site at 1123 W Street was acquired, and became the home of the Sisters as well as the meeting place of the organization.
The first Filipino Family Fraternity (FFF), as the association finally got its name, held its first meeting on February 7, 1960, in which the mission of the association was stated: “We are gathered together to grow in love for God and our fellow men. We should look forward to apostolic work together.”
Mission in SamoaThe Sisters decided to introduce to the new organization, the celebration of the May Festival as practiced in the mother country. This became the opportunity to awaken their traditional devotion to the Blessed Mother, and an occasion for strengthening the bonds of fellowship. The first festival took place on May 27, 1960, and included a procession with the Reyna Elena, and concluded with the coronation of the Virgin in the church. It also occasioned the installation of the first officers of the organization.
The ministry of the Sisters in Sacramento was varied as the community responded to needs of Filipino Catholics as well as other workers, including the Hispanics. In time some of the Sisters taught at some parochial schools; they visited homes, hospitals, convalescent centers. They arranged for the enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the homes, initiated devotions of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on Wednesdays.
Mission in CanadaThey assisted the dying, taught catechism in the parish, and to adults and children at the convent. They assisted at marriage validations, preparation for adult baptisms and confirmation, organized charismatic prayer groups and recollections among both the youth and the adults.
From the Sacramento apostolate grew the extension social apostolate in Stockton, California, until 1966 when a separate community was established there. This was closed in 1973.
In the year 2000 the house the RVM had occupied in Sacramento for the past decades was returned to the Bishop, and the community transferred residence to St. Charles Borromeo Convent which was vacated by the religious community who used to administer the school.
Mission in CanadaThe RVM Sisters first continued to teach at St. Ann Parish School, and at All Hallows School, while another, who took care of the apostolate for the Filipino community also worked at St. Charles’ religious education program. In 2004 the Congregation authorized the purchase of a piece of property in Elverta.
The house was renovated, and the community transferred residence there. Three Sisters continued working at All Hallows School. With the with change of parish administration at All Hallows, the Sisters were invited to work at St. Joseph Parish School, one as assistant principal, the other two as classroom teachers. This was made possible with the withdrawal of the Sisters from St. Anthony School in Honolulu, after 37 years of continued and fruitful ministry.