An OFWs Tale


Mother Marie Louise De Meester, ICM missionary, Foundress of St Augustine School

The title of OFW – an acronym for Overseas Foreign Worker, applies to the European Catholic missionaries who long ago braved the uncharted seas to reach far corners of a largely unknown world. Their mission to evangelize, or to share and spread the good news of the Gospel, served as their driving force and purpose. Reverend Mother Marie Louise De Meester, Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Immaculati Cordis Mariae – ICM Congregation) – Foundress qualifies as an OFW.

Mother Marie Louise De Meester founded the Religious – Missionary Sisters of the Immaculati Cordis Mariae or the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM), which was formerly known as the Missionary Canonesses of St. Augustine, in Mulagumoodu, India in 1897.

Born on April 8, 1857 in Roeselare, Belgium, Mother Marie Louise de Meester studied to become a teacher. A competent and kind teacher, her students admired and respected her. Later, she decided to leave the school where she taught to serve the poor.

On May 4, 1881, she joined the Canonesses-Regular of St. Augustine in Ypres (now known by its Flemish name of Ieper), Belgium in the medieval abbey of Notre Dame de la Nouvelle Plante to fulfill her missionary dreams.

After establishing missions in India, Philippines, China, the United States, Belgian Congo and other parts of the world, Mother Marie Louise returned to Belgium in 1923 and on October 10, 1928 died peacefully in Heverlee at the age of 71.

In 1963, the Congregation associated itself with the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae (CICM) for mutual help in spiritual matters as well as in missionary activities. (Re: Wikipedia)

CICM Missionaries (OFWs) Come to Tagudin

The Municipality of Tagudin, a small seaport town along the Ilocos Sur coast just north of La Union Province, which was then part of the sub-province of Lepanto-Amburayan of the Mountain Province, became an important center for the CICM missionary ministry. The town of Tagudin remained part of the Mountain Province territory until 1920 when Amburayan became part of the province of Ilocos Sur.

Created in 1586, Tagudin Mission saw its first Augustinian Missionary, Fr. Matias Manrique, OSA, who was officially appointed in 1590. However, the parish of Tagudin had no permanent parish priest until May 1809. After the departure of the last Augustinian friar in January 1898, diocesan priests, Frs. Norberto Tamayo, Raymundo Quilop, Cosme Abaya and Quintin Donato took care of the Parish. They succeeded each other until the arrival of Fr. Carlu. This uninterrupted ministry of good and loyal priests may account for the fact that Tagudin has always remained a devout Catholic community.

Farola Beach Landing

Re-enactment of the June 21, 1910 CICM Sisters landing on Farola Beach taken during the SAS centennial. Standing leftmost is Engr Apolonio Villanueva III, great-grandson of then Mayor of Tagudin, Don Apolonio A Villanueva who headed the official party to welcome the newly arrived CICM Sisters. To the left of Engr Apolonio Villanueva III is the current Mayor of Tagudin, the Honorable Jun Verzosa

The Founding of the St. Augustine’s School Chronology

  • June 21, 1910 – Excerpts from, “And Mission Goes on After 1910” by Sr. Asuncion Martinez, ICM.

“On June 21, 1910, the obscure little town of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur came to life and – to a person – became energized into a highly festive mood. Something most unusual was going to happen. The mayor of the town, Don Apolonio A Villanueva made final arrangements with the Parish Priest, Fr. Florimund Carlu, for the arrival of four Belgian Missionaries of the Missionary Canonesses of Saint Augustine: Mother Marie Louise de Meester, foundress of the congregation, Mother Vincent, Mother Charles, and Mother Lutgarde. They were to arrive by steamboat scheduled for a 2 pm landing at Farola Beach. Arrayed in colorful attire and exuberant in festal rejoicing, Tagudinians lined the shore to welcome the new arrivals, led by Mayor Don Apolonio A. Villanueva and accompanied by the town officials. The welcome extended to the town plaza, followed by a solemn Te Deum in the church, and a formal reception by town officials in the “convento” (sister’s convent). The very next day after their landing and arrival, the missionary sisters opened the health clinic.”

  • July 4, 1910 – just two weeks after their arrival, these missionary sisters started the St. Augustine’s School in the basement floor of their big convent. 255 pupils registered on that very first day of classes. Thus began the first mission of the Missionary Canonesses of St Augustine in the Philippines.
  • Four weeks later, school enrollment increased to 300 pupils.
  • The first building of St. Augustine’s School was the old convento (Sister’s convent) built in 1832.
  • On 1910 the Sisters held the first elementary classes in the old convent.
  • The European missionary sisters (OFWs) ran the new St Augustine School using the same school system as used in Belgium. They taught reading, writing, arithmetic, needlework and a very intense course in religion and apologetics. They administered no written tests, not even at the end of the school year. They issued no report cards except a report for conduct.
  • They conducted oral examinations before a board of examiners consisted of Father Carlu, Mother Superior and the student’s religion teacher.
  • After the oral examination the student earned a grade expressed in terms of “excellent,” “very good,” and “good”. Achievement of any of these three terms facilitated the student’s promotion and advancement to the next higher grade. Those who failed to meet any of the three passing terms received a term “fair” requiring them to repeat the grade in which they failed to pass.
  • The next year 1911 saw the enrollment increase to 697 children.