At the end of the northwest hallway of the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish, in Quezon City, the Parish Pastoral Center stands as the simplest building in the parish compound. The center has several large multi-purpose rooms, which are used by the church community, especially its pastoral groups, such as the Ministry of Youth Affairs.
However, despite the simple exterior, the center is a wealth of paintings, all about the life of the Italian Augustinian visionary Saint Nicolás de Tolentino OSA (1246-1305). All the artworks were painted by Roget Bactong, in 2008; and in this piece, Mr. Bactong presents St. Nicolas’ Augustinian devotion by holding a book which states:
He observado los preceptos de mi Padre Augustin
I have observed the precepts of my Father Augustine
The next set of works are a series of small paintings that are all located at the top of the hallway walls, with different scenes of St. Nicholas’ life. The first work shows “San Nicolás de Tolentino’s Parents Pray to St. Nicolas of Myra”, where they go on a pilgrimage from Italy to the saint’s shrine in Turkey. There they beseech the saint to intercede, so that they would finally have a child.
When “San Nicolás de Tolentino is Born in 1245”, his parents named him after the saint, whose intercession for their receiving their first born. Upon his birth, Nicolas’ parents, Compagnonus de Guarutti and Amata de Guidian, swore that their son would live a life in service to God.
During the 1256 grand union of Augustinians near Nicholas’ home town of Sant’ Angelo, the young boy was greatly inspired by the humility of the Hermits of Brettino, as well by the preaching of Fr. Reginaldo da Monterubbiano OSA. Stirred, Nicholas vowed to enter the service, and he was allowed to become an Augustinian novice, in 1261, at the monastery in Tolentino. Working with fellow student, Blessed Angelus de Scarpetti (died 1306). Nicholas lives a life of deep devotion to communal and private prayer. At age 25, “San Nicolás de Tolentino is Ordained a Priest in 1271”, and gives his first mass with such fervor that he becomes renowned for his very engaging and uplifting sermons. Nicholas’ skill with words soon came to test, when he was asked to mediate between the warring families of the Guelphs of the Republic of Florence and Ghibellines of the Republic of Siena, who were battling for control over the power to influence the papacy and the rest of Italy.
In the painting “San Nicolás cares for the poor of Recanati, in Macerata”, the saint becomes well known for his charity to the poor. Even as a novice, Nicholas would serve the underprivileged outside the doors of his monastery, even to the point of using up the supplies of the monastery. Nicholas’ kindness, that he is sent by his superiors to the other monasteries in Italy, such as the Sant’Agostino Recanati in Macerata, the Hermitage and Monastery di San Salvatore in Tuscany, and the Sant’ Agostino in San Gimignano, to be a model of generosity and kindness.
Nicholas was known to subject himself to long sessions of intense prayer and acts of penance, that would alarm his superiors for his health. He once said to his superiors: “How can I be said to fast, while every morning at the altar I receive my God? “ During one of these deep times of prayer, “San Nicolás de Tolentino has a Vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary & St. Augustine”. Some versions of this story tell that St. Monica (St. Augustine’s mother) was part of the vision, or it would just be the Blessed Virgin hold the Child Jesus, whereas another version relates that it was Jesus who appeared to St. Nicolas.
During the time of this apparition, Nicholas was very ill, due to his strict vegetarian diet, work and fasting. Mana appears as “Sacred Bread with Inscribed Crosses fall from the Heavens”, and the Blessed Virgin Mary instructs Nicholas to dip the bread in water and eat it. Immediately after eating the bread, Nicholas illness disappeared, and he was invigorated.
Now rejuvenated, he starts baking, and “San Nicolás de Tolentino distributes the Marian Bread to the People”. Soon people throughout the land claimed to be healed on various ailments, just by eating the bread. Nicolas begins to perform other miracles, including resurrecting over a hundred children, including bringing back to life a group of children, who had been pulled out of the river after being under water for several days.
During another one of his long prayerful fasts, “San Nicolás de Tolentino has a Vision of Purgatory”, in which a deceased friar he knew appeared to him, and told Nicolas of the souls in Purgatory, including the friar’s. The friar asks for Nicolas intercession to be freed of Purgatory through the Eucharist, and Nicolas did oblige by giving masses dedicated to the souls for seven days. A few days later, the friar once again appears to Nicholas, and thanks him that he and many other souls have been allowed into Heaven. Because of this, St. Nicolas is the patron saint of the souls in Purgatory.
Aside from the nine small paintings, there are three more large paintings in the Pastoral Center that depict other aspects of St. Nicolas de Tolentino’s life and veneration. In the main multi-purpose hall, there is the large work of “St. Nicolas’ Vision of Angels telling him to go to Tolentino”. Here, Nicholas has been administering to the poor in the different monasteries throughout Italy, when a vision of angels appeared to him. The angels instruct Nicholas to return to the town of Tolentino, where he would remain there for the last thirty years of his life. In Tolentino, Nicolas would be successful in his mediation between the warring Guelf and the Ghibelline families.
In the Pastoral Center lobby, there is the painting of “San Nicolás de Tolentino offers the Miraculous Bread to the Filipino People”. This work speaks of the popularity of the Augustinian custom of blessing and distributing Saint Nicholas Bread, which in turn became the biscuit called Panecillos de San Nicolas or Sanicolas, in the Philippines.
In the stairwell to the second floor of the Pastoral Center, there is a larger painting of “St. Nicolas de Tolentino Prays for the Souls in Purgatory“. Here St. Nicolas is portrayed saying mass for the souls in Purgatory, while the angels bring them up to heaven one-by-one. Aside from being the patron saint for the souls in purgatory, St. Nicolas is also the patron saint for mariners, epidemic disease, protection against fires; as well as the municipality of Lambunao in the province of Iloilo, the city of Tandag in the province of Surigao del Sur, Surigao City in the province of Surigao del Norte, Parañaque City in Metro Manila, Barangays Buli and Cupang in Muntinlupa City of Metro Manila, the city of San Nicolas in the province of Ilocos Norte, the municipality of Baton in the province of Romblon, the city of Capas in the province of Tarlac, and the city of Cabantuan in the province of Nueva Ecija.
It is sad that I could not find any information about Mr. Roget Bactong, and have the chance to interview him regarding these paintings. However, the OAR and the parishioners of the Parokya ng San Nicolas de Tolentino are still thankful that he was able to share his talents, and bring to life the story of their patron saint.