Two blood sisters, Mother Dionisia Mitas Talangpaz de Santa Maria (1691-1732) and Mother Cecilia Rosa Talangpaz de Jesus 91693-1731), of Calumpit, Bulacan, founded the second enduring beaterio for native women in 1719. Their surname, "talangpaz," means "rock, or boulder" and it evokes the religious house they buil on rock. Now called the Congregation of the Augustinian Recollect Sisters, it is the oldest beaterio or noncontemplative religious community for women in the worldwide Augustinian Recollect Order. It is also the third continuing congregation founded for native women in Asia after the Amantes de la Croix, founded in Vietnam in 1670, and the Beaterio de la Compania de Jesus, now Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, founded in Manila in 1684.
THE NOBLE AND PRIESTLY LINEAGE
The Talangpaz sisters belonged to the ancient Philippine nobility on both sides whose rare genealogy can still be traced to the pre-Hispanic period. As explained earlier, the matriarchs of this venerable clan may well have been catalonan who officiated at spiritual rites held on a hallowed rock, the meaning of "Talangpaz." This is one precious instance to show the possible direct evolution of a particular clan of priestesses into beatas and then into a congregation of nuns. The two sisters were destined to continue to carry the nacient surname into the pages of Philippine religious history. The sisters' maternal great-granduncle, hermano Phelipe Sonsong (1611-1684), of Macabebe, Pampanga, was a Jesuit brother who was martyred in the Marianas. A deep devotee of Our lady of Carmel, he also presaged the special Marian devotion of the sisters. Their maternal grandfather, Don Augustin Pamintuan, figured prominently in the Pampango Revolt of 1660.
FROM REJECTED STONE TO CORNERSTONE
The brave sisters Talangpaz left their comfortable home in Calumpit, Bulacan in 1719 in pursuit of their spiritual calling after their Augustinian pastor repeatedly turned down their request for permission to wear the habit of mantelata. Having heard that the Recollects were more amenable to admitting Filipino women to their Third Order, the proceeded to the Shrine of Our Lady of Carmel in San Sebastian de Calumpang in Manila, which had been administered by the Recollects since 1621. They rented a nipa hut in Bilibid Viejo behind the church apse and soon two other native beatas joined them. They also found a symphatitic confessor, Fray Juan de Santo Tomas de Aquino, OAR. After six patient years, their life of prayer, penance, and needlework brought the self-effacing sisters to the notice of the Recollect friars as well as the other residents of Calumpang. The revealed to the priests their desire to don the habit of mantelata, whereupon their request was forwarded to the provincial who approved it on the strenght of the recommendations of their confessor and the other friars. The rites of investiture were held on 16 July 1725, the feast of Our Lady of Carmel which was also the thirty-second birthday of Mother Cecilia Rosa. After the ceremony, the prior of San Sebastian, Fray Diego de San Jose, OAR, presented them with a small house of nipa and bamboo at the convent's other end of the garden. Although in the beginning there were no indications of any plans to form a religious community, the sisters became interested in this project because other native women became attracted to their luminous house in the convent garden. soon, two Indias of noble birth like them also begged for and obtained the habits of terciarias from the Recollects and joined them in their residence. A few months later, two more followed suit until they constituted a community of six beatas. At This point, the Beaterio de San Sebastian de Calumpang was formed.
The fame of the second native beaterio continued to spread far and wide until, unexpectedly, it drew the attention of more aspirants than it could manage. As in any religious institution, the applicants were generally of two kinds: those who were genuinely disposed to a common life of prayer and work and those who seemed to be searching for a currently prestigious way of life or running away from the harsh realities of the outside world. The problem was it was not easy to tell who was who among those ho knocked at the gates of the beaterio. The burden of screening them and supporting the growing but poor institution fell to the recollects who were then hard-pressed because their southern missions were being continually ravaged by the "Moros." Some of the aspirants tried to use the influence of important personages to gain admission to the beaterio while others refused or were unable to give a dowry or any form of material contribution to the community as required by the rules of the Tertiary order. The state of affairs polarized the recollects into two groups whom we may call the "pros" and the "contras." The pros were of the opinion that they should receive as many deserving applicants as possible with or without a dowry and trust in Divine Providence for the sustenance of the beaterio. The contras, on the other hand, ever mindful of their onerous obligations at present and in the future, recommended banning further admission to the community. The temperamental prior, however, exasperated by the unexpected crisis, resolved the issue impulsively by demanding back the habits he had bestowed on the Talangpaz sisters and their four companions, ordering them to vacate the house in the convent garden immediately and, despite the beata's tearful entreaties, demolishing the house with his own hands with the same zeal as he had it built earlier. The forlorn sisters rented back their old nipa hut near the church and resumed their religious life even as they mourned the loss of their treasured habit of mantelatas. Many of the Recollects, including the contras, commiserated with them but most especially their confessor, fray Juan, who gave them the strong support they needed in their desolation. "Father, they intimated to fray Juan, it is clear that God and the Most Holy Virgin have deigned to test us and purify our souls in the crucible of sorrows. But we are so determined in our endeavor that we find more courage to suffer each day. We are like mustard seeds, which have been pressed and nearly crushed. From these shall emerge a sapling which, as the father prior will surely witness, shall grow into a big tree under whose shade the birds will build their nests and sing their canticles to God." The quotations here come from an eyewitness account of their lives by Fray Benito Gomez de San Pablo, OAR.
Strong in hope and gifted with sibyllic vision like earlier Filipino priestesses and beatas, the sisters also sought out the prior himself to assure him with these predictive words: " Fray Diego, please bear with us. Now you spurn us and send us away, but you can be certain that later, you will be pleased to receive us back and grant us the holy habit again, and not only the two of us but others as well whom Our Lady of Carmel will call to give us company. We have great hopes that she will grant us this favor to our deep joy and that of the Recollect fathers, too. But for now, we have to be patient and suffer till Our Lord and his Most Holy Mother will have mercy on us.
THE HOUSE BUILT ON ROCK
Haunted by these words and observing his brethren's growing symphaty toward the two sisters, the irascible prior went through a remarkable metamorphosis. from being their ruthless antagonist, he became their staunch supporter. Soon he sent word to them to come to the convent where he did receive them with great warmth and respect promising to help them from now on with their interrupted plans for a beaterio. Using his resources and those of the convent and the other friars together with the contributions of lay benefactors, the prior ordered the construction of a new and bigger house made of wood for the sisters and their future companions. It was located on the same site on the church hill as their first house. He had it enclosed with a fence of brick and stone for their greater security and solitude. As soon as the building was finished, he had the sisters called to transfer again tot he sanctified site under the auspices of the Recollects. The latter assured them of support in exchange for their taking charge of the cleaning and washing of the sacred vestments and linen in the shrine of Our Lady, a task they were only too happy to accept. This heart warming turn of events occurred in 1728. Fray Andres de San Fulgencio, OAR, the new prior of San Sebastian Convent compiled the rules and regulations of the beaterio, entitled "Formula y Metodo de Gobierno para Nuestras Beatas Agustinas de San Sebastian". These were based on the rules of the Third Order with a collection of prayers and meditations for seven canonical hours. the first superior of the beaterio was Mother Dionisia de Santa Maria, the elder of the two founders. Their spiritual quest fulfilled, Mother Cecilia Rosa de Jesus and Dionisia de Santa Maria died one after the other in 1731 and 1732, respectively, shortly after professing their simple vows. "Of these two sisters," their biographer Fray Benito concluded, "it can be affirmed that the Queen of Carmel had called them to nourish them in a special manner with the sweetest nectar of her compassion. Their faultless and fervent lives, which we have witnessed, up to the time they died, move us to believe so."
Quite prophetic were the words of Fray Benito de San Pablo, OAR who spoke of them: Living under God's watercourse, these striving Beatas may increase in number in God's due time and cheerfully hover over the branches of the Biblical mustard.
From the Beaterio de San Sebastian de Calumpang started the growth of the Congregation. The foundation which the Sisters had laid on solid rock continued to flourish and develop even after they were called to their eternal reward-Mother Cecelia Rosa on the 31st of July 1731 and Sor Dionisia on 12th of October 1732.
The Congregation of the Augustinian Recollect Sisters, which originated in 1719, is he fruit of the missionary zeal of the Augustinian Recollect Fathers in the Philippines. It was canonically established as a Religious Congregation on August 19, 1929 and was declared of juridical autonomy by Pope Paul VI on November 20, 1970.
The cause for their beatification was introduced in Rome through the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1999.
Prayer for the glorification of the Servants of God,
Mother Dionisia and Cecilia Rosa Talangpaz.
Merciful God, you have called your servants Dionisia and Cecilia Talangpaz to manifest your grace of humility and fortitude in serving your Church, under the mantle of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Grant this favor (mention your intention) united with the loving supplications of these courageous Talangpaz Sisters whose glory and joy in your kingdom we ask you to reveal in their beatification through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen
(One Our Father, One hail Mary an One Glory