Straddling between the impoverished communities of Barangay Pansol and the gated residential subdivision of the wealthy in La Vista Homes, the Santa Maria della Strada Parish is a beacon of peace and community to all the people residing near the northern strip of Katipunan Avenue, in Quezon City. Before its construction, there was no house of worship along the Katipunan Avenue, with the exception of the Aglipayan Church’s Parish of the Holy Cross (established in 1961). Residents of the area would have to hear mass at either the Monasterio de Santa Clara on Aurora Boulevard (established 1950), the Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice in the University of the Philippines (established in 1955), or the occasional masses held at the various chapels of the Ateneo de Manila University.
With the aid of the Jesuits from the Ateneo de Manila, the residents of La Vista and Xavierville subdivisions petitioned for their own parish, and in 1981 the Santa Maria della Strada Parish was established, and the in 1983 the new church was completed. The church as named after Our Lady of the Way (Maria della Strada), the patroness of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Iñigo López de Loyola, 1491-1556) and the Society of Jesus / Jesuits.
The church was designed by Arch. Marcos de Guzman, Sr. (1923-2010), who masterfully combined the management of natural light and air flow of tropical architecture, the clean and simple geometry of modern design, and the textures and colors of indigenous wood and stone to create the masterpiece of contemporary church architecture. The church structure is octagonal is shape, with its entrance and altar facing northwest, as to capture the last rays of the setting sun.
A prominent feature of the Santa Maria della Strada Parish is its Campanile, which is made of welded steel and painted green to resemble the patina of bronze. The Art Deco styles bell tower is a 12 bell-carillon, probably inspired by Juan Nakpil’s Bajo las Campañas, at the nearby University of the Philippines (UP).
One of the gems in the Sta. Maria della Strada Parish is the altar table and dove above the crucifix, which were sculpted by Solomon Saprid. The altar table is a marble top, mounted on four bronze pedestals of wheat. The wheat represents the Eucharist, as well as the harvest of souls on judgment day. The four pedestals may also represent the four evangelists: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John. The wooden figure of the Crucified Christ was carved by an unknown artist, from the Cordillera region.
Solomon Arevalo Saprid (1917-2003) is an expressionist sculptor, who is known for his brutalist welded brass pieces of twisted bodies. Hailing from the province of Cavite, Saprid would first take his formal studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) School of Fine Art, before continuing at the University of Ohio, with a master’s degree in education. Saprid would return to the Philipines, working as a scientific and textbook illustrator, while painting on the side. He was later encouraged by Vicente Manansala of experiment in sculpture, and Saprid would go on to garner critical praise and win awards over the years, such as his top prized piece the “Sad Christ” during the 1967 Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) competition. At the age of 52, Saprid would hold his first solo exhibition, and would sporadically have solo and group exhibitions. Saprid is best known for his continuing series on the tikbalang, a mischievous half-man-half-horse mythological creature.
One of the newest additions to the Sta. Maria della Strada Parish Church is the Baptistery, which was constructed at the northeast portion of the church, in 2001. It is a simple room with the piscina (baptismal font) at the center, and a painting of Saint John baptizing Jesus at the River Jordan (Matthew 3:13–17), by an unidentified artist. The painting was donated by one of the parishioners.
Other new constructions in the church are the Adoration Chapel and the Multi-purpose Chapel, which are located at the eastern and south eastern portion of the church. The southern direction of the Multi-purpose Chapel may connect with the biblical belief that the south represents the wilderness, in which the Israelites roamed from their exodus from Egypt, and this whole area of the church is facing the thickly treed park of the La Vista subdivision. The Adoration Chapel is a funny example how a new parish priest goes against the original aesthetics of the church, with its Baroque inspired altar and monstrance for the Eucharist, which sticks out from the simplicity of the church’s modernist design.
Around the church grounds, there are also new structures added in the compound, such as the Fr. Pat H. Lim Landas Center (landas means fate), which was named after Fr. Patricio “Pat” Hidalgo Lim, who served as the first parish priest, from 1981 until his untimely death in 2001. Opened in 2006, the Landas has several multi-purpose halls, which are used for wakes, seminars, and even wedding receptions. At the entrance of the Landas Center is a portrait of Fr. Lim, which was painted by an unidentified parishioner, in 2002.
Along with the construction of Landas Center is the Lingkod Center (lingkod means service), which houses the Library, Pastoral Office and even the Sta. Maria della Strada Livelihood Cooperative, for the impoverished parishioners of Barangay Pansol. Both the Landas and the Lingkod Center are located at the northeastern end of the Sta. Maria della Strada compound.
The Sta. Maria della Strada compound is surrounded by a verdant and well maintained garden, so that visitor may find small pockets of solitude to contemplate. One of these meditation areas is the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is located near the Lingkod Center.
On the eastern end of the Sta. Maria della Strada Parish garden is Monument to the Unborn Child, which was installed by the local Knights of Columbus (KC) chapter. The sculpture is part of the KC’s nationwide campaign against abortion, and each local chapter has installed their own version of this sculptural message, in almost every parish in the Philippines.
Finally, there is the Cinerarium in the southwestern portion of the Sta. Maria della Strada compound. The Cinerarium is an ossuary, in which parishioner can inter the ashes of their departed loved ones. This was opened during the early 2000s, to fulfill the needs of the community to address the far distances and expenses of having loved ones buried in a cemetery.
The parish council and other church based groups of the Sta. Maria della Strada Parish have always been active in community activities; hence the church compound has to expand its infrastructure to accommodate their events. Even the basement of the church has multi-purpose halls, in which the nearby communities and the schools of Kostka School, Ateneo de Manila University, Miriam College, and the Multiple Intelligence International School actively engage in. One example of such community activities was during the 2017 Lenten Holy Week, where the youth got together to create 14 conceptual art installations throughout the church compound, with each installation representing a station of the Passion and Death of Jesus, as part of the rite of Via Crusis or the Stations of the Cross.
Whether entering through the western gate from Katipunan Avenue, or through the green paths from Ibanag Street of the La Vista subdivision, visitors are already removed from the hubbub of city life, as they are greeted by the lush gardens and beautiful art and design within the Sta. Maria della Strada Parish compound.
This experience of serenity at the Sta. Maria della Strada Parish is much in line with the devotion to the Madonna Della Strada, as the icon was originally placed on the pilgrimage route in Rome. This image of the Blessed Virgin Mary was believed to guide and protect the traveler on their way in life and through the pilgrimage. This belief continues in the Sta. Maria della Strada Parish, where the faithful pray to the Blessed Virgin for counsel and security in their own lives, as they take that welcome respite within the church.
The Sta. Maria della Strada Parish has played an important role in my family’s life for decades. From the weddings of cousins and friends, the baptism of nephews, nieces and godchildren, the paying of last respects to departed friends and family, and finally our daughter’s Confirmation rites in 2015. There will be always a reason to return to this church, and enjoy the tranquility within its walls.