History of the Philippines District
It was through the initiative of the New Zealand Province that the presence of the Marist Fathers in the Philippines was made possible. On November 24, 1981, the first group of Marists arrived in Manila, Philippines. The group was composed of Kevin Stewart (New Zealand), Kevin Mowbray (New Zealand), Brian Keenan (Ireland) and Nisi Oto’ Ota (Tonga). Because of a strong storm in Manila at that time, the group decided to stay there and for a little while enrolled themselves into Tagalog classes.
After learning the Filipino language in Manila, the group then went to the southern part of the Philippines in August 1982 and situated themselves in Cotabato City (8 hours away from Davao), staying in one of the Marist Brothers houses. After settling in, in 1984, the group organized a mission in the remote areas of Kalamansig and Lebak Sultan Kudarat, which are located in the southern-most part of Mindanao, 12 hours away from Cotabato using lantsa (an engine powered small boat). Kevin Stewart was assigned in Kalamansig and Brian Keenan and Michael Ryan were at Lebak. The group stayed there for 8 years.
In that same year (June 1984), the Fathers were invited to take over the Parish in Kabacan, North Cotabato (3 hours away from Cotabato by bus) where Kevin Mowbray became the parish priest. Also that year, Larry Sabud took his first profession in Cotabato City and became the first Filipino Marist. After having so much experience in mission in the rural areas, the Marists decided to form again another mission, this time to Diwalwal. This is up in the mountains and was a well known gold mining site. To get there you had to travel four hours by bus from Davao City and then for an hour on a motorbike.
The number of Marists increased in this year when Larry Duffy (Ireland), Michael Ryan (England), Pat Devlin (New Zealand) and Philip Callaghan (Australia) were assigned to the Philippines for mission. In 1985 Michael Donnelly (New Zealand) and Rob Devlin (New Zealand) also arrived in the Philippines to add more to the number of Marist Fathers in Mindanao. In May 1985 the Marists rented a House near the Notre Dame University in the City, and in 1986, Fred Kado (Fiji) arrived here in the Philippines.
In 1989, Larry Sabud (first Filipino Marist) was professed in Fiji. After several years of working in areas in the southern-most part of Mindanao, in January 1991, the Marist Fathers took the initiative of founding another community, in Davao City. This group was composed of Pat Devlin, Larry Sabud and Rob Devlin who rented a house in Bajada.
In 1992, another milestone took place in the district – the founding of Balay Pasilungan (a street children institution), which came about through the initiative of Rob Devlin (New Zealand) who also had the role of executive officer of the institution. At the same time, the Marists were invited to minister in a chaplaincy program in Davao – Pat Devlin became the first Chaplain of the University of Mindanao. The University was the centre of tertiary education in Davao at that time and it catered for thousands of students in different courses. In the same year, there was a growing interest in vocation to the Marists with several young men coming on board. Because of this growth, the Marists appointed Mars Lavarez as the first lay Marist to become the Vocation Promoter.
As the years passed by, the number of Marist missionaries here in the Philippines grew. Gavin Foster (New Zealand) and Pat Muckian (Ireland) were welcomed here as part of the district, the number of seminarians had grown in number, and in the early 90′s, a total of 27 seminarians joined the junior program.
Being true to its mission, to spread the love of Jesus in Mary’s way to the abandoned, neglected and the poorest in the community, the Marists once again formed another mission area in 1997 – this was in Kalabugao, Bukidnon, five hours by bus from Davao City and three hours on a motorbike. It is inhabited by Lumads (native people) with only a small number of Catholics. In that same year, the Marists formed another community in Dumalag, at the heart of Davao city. This time, they were living in a squatter’s area near the seashore, which is the same location of the Marist Novitiate today. The community at that time was composed of Joe McLaughlin (U.S.A.) and Pat Muckian (Ireland).
In 2000, the Marist Sisters arrived in the Philippines through the invitation of the Marist Fathers and in 2004 the Marist Fathers began to spread through Asia with a community starting in Burma (Myanmar). This team was composed of Joel Aliligay (Philippines), John Larsen (New Zealand) and Ronald Lida (Filipino Lay Marist). However, because of some conflicts there, the group left Burma and settled themselves in Ranong, Thailand. The Marists there cater to the Burmese refugees, AIDS victims and many more. Also in 2004, another community was formed in Digos City (1 hour by bus from Davao City). There they still serve the 10,000 students of the public high school.
In 2006, a group composed of Aliki Langi (Tonga), Fernando “Anggong” Ingente and Cyr Landre Avalegbe (Africa) took over a Parish in Timanan, Maguindanao. This place is a mountanous area three hours from Cotabato City. Half of the population of Timanan are Tiduray (tribal group), 25% are Muslims and the other 25% are Christians (not all catholics).
This year, 2009, history is being made here in the Philippines throughout the whole society, because the First English Language International Novitiate is being held here, in the same place that was setup in Dumalag 12 years ago, although now substantially renovated.
At this time there are 14 Marist Fathers here in the Philippines who are involved in many different ministries, including Davao City Jail, Rehabilitation Centres for Drug Dependents, Young Offenders and abused women and children.