Deep in the heart of Barangay Bagbag, in Novaliches is the Our Lady of the Angels Seminary (OLAS). Following the long, winding and narrow Seminary Road, west of the Quirino Highway, the OLAS is a welcome respite from the near claustrophobic houses in the area. With its open gardens and spacious halls, the OLAS is a home away from home for the young seminarians, vying to serve their communities as future Franciscan priests.
Founded in 1962 by the Franciscan friars of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), the OLAS opened in 1963 as the Our Lady of the Angels Franciscan Seminary. The OLAS is the first major seminary of the OFM, and it was named after the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels (Santa Maria degli Angeli) in Assisi, Italy. The basilica is the site where St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) began his mission to found the Franciscan Order, in a small abandoned chapel that was given to him by the local Benedictines. Hence it would be obvious to name the first Philippine Franciscan seminary, after the birthplace of the OFM.
The foundation of the OLAS fulfilled the spiritual needs of the residents of southwest Novaliches, who found the Parish of Our Lady of Mercy getting too crowded. As the OLAS chapel would become the spiritual center of the area, the OFM priests’ influence would give birth to the Banal na Sakramento Parish (Holy Sacrament Parish, establish in 1981), the San Bartolome Parish (established in 1985), the Resurrection of Our Lord Parish (established in 1978), the Parish of San Jose: Ang Tagapagtanggol (1997), the Christ: King Of The Universe Parish (established in 2004), and the San Antonio de Padua Parish (2011).
All throughout the seminary there are many artworks that celebrate St. Francis, who was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone. From sculptures to paintings, these artworks are reminders of the piety and sacrifice of St. Francis; who is the patron saint of animals, the environment, merchants, and the Philippine cities of Naga and Cebu.
In the middle of the seminary gardens, there is a statue of St. Francis, which commemorates his forty-day fast, in Mount La Verna, in 1224. During that period, St. Francis was imitating the act of Jesus Christ’s fasting in the desert, before the start of His ministry. In St. Francis’ meditations, he was visited by an angel, and received the stigmata or wounds of Christ, marking the first recorded stigmatic phenomenon in Christian history. In fact, the symbol of the Franciscan order is the crossed hands of Jesus Christ and St. Francis, featuring their stigmata.
Aside from images of St. Francis and other Franciscans, there are also images of the Blessed Virgin Mary; which symbolize St. Francis’ devotion of her as his mother and queen. This may be attributed to his use of the Santa Maria degli Angeli Chapel as his early base of operations, and his vision of Jesus Christ pointing towards a ladder leading up to the Blessed Virgin.
Outside the main building of the OLAS is another symbol of Franciscan sacrifice for their faith, with a statue of San Felipe de Jesús (1572-1597). San Felipe was one of the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki executed in Japan, on the 5th of February 1597. The Catholic missionaries and their lay converts were executed by crucifixion, by the orders of the Chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), who distrusted the missionaries as a tool of European colonization. The other Nagasaki martyrs were Franciscan priests San Martin Asuncion, San Pedro Bautista, San Francisco Blanco, San Francisco San Miguel and San Gonsalvo Garcia. The rest were 17 Japanese Franciscan laymen and three Japanese Jesuit brothers, who were all beatified in 1627 and canonized in 1862.
During the early decades of the OLAS, the courses offered were related to the seminarian’s needs to become a priest, with such courses as Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Theology, Behavioral Sciences, Sociology and Comparative Religion; as well as Masteral courses in Pastoral Ministry and in Theology. However, the OLAS influence in the local communities had residents clamor for faith based education for younger students. And in 2010, the St. Francis School–Quezon City opened with programs for Nursery and Kinder within the compound of the Our Lady of the Angels Seminary. The following years saw the opening more elementary grades and a high school, as the OLAS continued it mandate to serve the community.
Life in the seminary may be a bit Spartan at times for the young seminaries, as they are tasked to keep the whole compound clean, including the latrines. However, they are also given some liberties to enjoy their stay with sports and even playing music. At the Arthur J. Schmitt Hall, there is a romp and TV room, with a table tennis set. The edifice was named after the American engineer and inventor, Arthur J. Schmitt (1893-1971), whose foundation donated money to build the facility.
Constructed in the year 2000, the Rieti House is named after the Rieti Valley in Italy, and is the home for sick and retired Franciscan priests. St. Francis regularly stayed in the Rieti Valley, where he erected four shrines at each of the corners of the valley: the Santuario of Greccio, the Santuario La Foresta (Sanctuary of the Forest), the Convent of Poggio Bustone and the Santuario Fonte Colombo. Now a days, pilgrims and tourism follow a path that takes them to all four shrines called the Cammino di Francesco (St. Francis Walk).
On the wall of the OLAS Administration Building, there is another reminder of Franciscan dedication to the people. It is a small plaque, with 5 live bullets from a Caliber 5.56 mm M-16 assault rifle, with the statement “5 Lives Saved” etched on the plaque. This was taken from the presidential palace of Malacañang, on February 25, 1986, at the height of the EDSA People Power Revolution against Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. This is a reminder when the priests and seminarians of the OLAS rushed to the streets of Metro Manila to stand between the government tanks that were advancing towards Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, where rebels supporting the opposition forces were holed up.
The latest edifice constructed in the OLAS compound is the Our Lady of the Angels Porziuncula Chapel, with was blessed in 2014. Named after the original abandoned chapel that was rebuilt by St. Francis, which is still found inside the Basilica of the Santa Maria degli Angeli, in Italy; the new chapel was built to accommodate the growing number of church goers.
The residents of the Our Lady of Angels Seminary may not live the life of extreme poverty and sacrifice that St. Francis had lived, but they stay true to his teachings by serving the community of Novaliches and the Philippines, as they strive to share the spirit of charity and knowledge in their school and actions. The next article is an overview of the paintings found throughout the OLAS compound, and their symbolisms based on the life of St, Francis of Assisi.
Thank you, Fr. Irineo Tactac OFM and Fr. Jhoan Pader OFM, four your support in my documentation of the OLAS