Lipa’s golden age towards the end of the 19th century, ushered in the fabled grandeur and opulent lifestyle of its inhabitants brought about by being for a short period the world’s sole supplier of coffee, putting the town briefly on the world map. At the same time, a more lasting fame was spawned in its midst that validates another trait the Lipeños are renowned for, the repute of profound devotion and religiosity of its people.
The Venerable, BISHOP ALFREDO MA. OBVIAR y ARANDA D.D., the only child of Don Telesforo Briones Obviar and Doña Florentina Catalina Recio Aranda, was born during the peak of Villa de Lipa’s splendor on August 29, 1889, and was baptized on the very same day by Padre Don Luis Contreras at the San Sebastián Parish church with Don Rufino Aranda standing as godparent. Auspiciously, he was to become its Parish Priest 38 years later.
His parents were married at the Lipa Parish Church by its Cura Párroco, Padre Benito Baras on September 20, 1888. Don Sixto Roxas, Lipa’s former gobernadorcillo from 1867-68, and his wife Doña Alejandra Luz stood as their Padrinos. His paternal grandparents are Don Sebastian Mabiling Obviar and Doña Norberta Cueva Briones of Brgy. 145 (believed to be Brgy. Patay, now Brgy. San José) of Lipa). Don Sebastian Obviar of Brgy. Patay and the bride’s brother, Don Margarito Aranda of Brgy. Mataasnalupa were concurrently Cabezas of their respective barangays at the time of their wedding. Alfredo’s maternal grandparents, Don Lorenzo Luz Aranda and Doña Lucia Africa Recio were both deceased at the time of their daughter’s wedding.
He was barely four months old on January 12, 1890 when his mother passed away at the age of 24 years and was laid to rest the following day. Her death record indicated the cause as cólico (menstrual pain) but was believed to be from complications of childbirth. Don Telesforo Obviar took over as Cabeza of Brgy.145 from his father at the time of her death. Marta Aranda, the younger sister of Catalina, assumed the role of mother to Alfredo upon her sister’s death, raising her in the Aranda family’s ancestral house in Mataasnalupa situated 650 meters away from the San Sebastian Parochial church.
Alfredo started his education at home with the catón (a primer or a first reading book), and later moved to the Escuela de Latinidad established in 1895 by Professor Sebastian Virrey, which produced such stellar personalities as the brothers Alfonso and Claro M. Recto; Fidel and Carmelo Reyes; Teodoro and Maximo Kalaw; Pacifico, José and Enrique Laygo; and Manuel Luz Roxas, José D. Dimayuga, Bernabe Africa, Pablo Borbon, Potenciano Malvar and Alfredo’s first cousin and childhood friend, Leoncio Aranda. Latin and Spanish were taught here and students are obliged to speak these languages at the school premises. All Escuelas de Latinidad in the archipelago are accredited (“Adscritas”) by the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros. They were authorized to teach courses until the 3rd year of the Bachillerato or Secondary course. He soon after enrolled at the Jesuit-run College of San Francisco Javier in Intramuros but in 1907 stopped briefly on account of his poor health. Regaining his vigour after two years, he continued his studies, finally earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1914 from the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. He later enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas intending to pursue a career in Medicine, but got sick anew. After a year’s respite at home, he resolved that he was probably meant for the Priesthood instead, and took up Theology at the UST Seminary, where he graduated with a mark of sobresaliente.
On March 15, 1919, at the age of 29, he was ordained by Lipa’s Bishop, His Excellency Alfredo Versoza at the San Sebastian Cathedral. His first assignment was to the newly created Municipality of Malvar (formerly known as Luta, then a barrio of Lipa) where he was installed as the first Parish Priest of the Immaculate Conception Parish for eight years, from 1919-1927. Here he displayed an extraordinary charism for organizing catechists and for teaching catechism to the old folks. In 1927, he was transferred to the Cathedral Parish of San Sebastian as Parish Priest and concurrently Diocesan Vicar General until 1944. There, he established many catechetical centers within the town’s población and its barrios. Considering his “sound and active life as a priest, Vicar General of the Diocese, efficient help to Bishop Alfredo Verzosa in his pastoral works, and zealous guidance to the Diocesan synod”, the Vatican elevated him to the rank of Monsignor on February 27, 1930.
On June 29, 1944, he was ordained to the rank of Bishop and appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Lipa, making the formation of rural voluntary catechists the main thrust of his ministry. It was during this period between 1948 and 1950 that Our Lady allegedly appeared on several occasions, along with the miracle shower of roses, to a young novice in the Carmelite Monastery of Lipa. It has not yet been ascertained what exactly the Bishop’s role in the incident was, although he was, as a matter of fact, the chaplain and confessor of the nuns in the monastery. In compliance however with a declaration of non-approval by a six member panel of Bishops representing the former Catholic Welfare Organization, Bishop Obviar abided with magnanimous prudence the line of keeping quiet about the alleged incidents.
With the untimely resignation of Bishop Versoza, Bishop Obviar received from the Holy See a new assignment as Apostolic Administrator of the newly created Diocese of Lucena, where he was installed on January 23, 1951. It consisted at that time the areas comprising the present-day Dioceses of Gumaca and Marinduque. His apostolic zeal never wavered in this new appointment. He started by visiting the parishes under his custody one after the other, invigorating and infecting its pastors and parishioners with his burning love and passion to spread the Gospel. He encouraged the clergy primarily to lead by prayerful example and to make the Blessed Sacrament of the altar the center of his religious life. Aware that he needed to promote priestly vocations to administer the vast territory under his pastoral care, he lost no time in establishing the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Seminary and the St Alphonsus School of Theology. The fledgling diocese which started in 1951 with only 30 priests had swelled to more than a hundred at the time of the bishop’s retirement in 1975. After 11 years as Administrator, he finally received on July 16, 1969 his appointment as the First Residential Bishop of Lucena, the position he continued to hold until his retirement on September 25, 1976.
Similarly in the new diocese, his vigor for catechism persisted. Recognizing however the constant predicament of training anew lay catechists time and again, he aspired to enlist volunteers who will dedicate their lives permanently to this advocacy as a religious community. This vision came to fruition on August 12, 1958 with a motley group of five young women initially, who responded to the divine call of sacred vocation. Eventually named after the secondary Patroness of Missions, the Congregation of the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese (MCST) after overcoming the initial hurdles, flourished with plentiful vocations. On March 16, 1963, in a record of barely five years after its foundation, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Religious and Consecrated Life gave its recognition by granting it a Nihil Obstat (no obstacle), prompting the Bishop Founder to promulgate it as a Diocesan Institute. Not long after on May 4, 1974 it was granted the Decretum Laudis (Decree of Praise), elevating it to a Pontifical Institute recognized by Rome.
His spiritual family notwithstanding, the Bishop despite his various ecclesiastical concerns has remained in touch with his family in Mataasnalupa. In fact, he became the acknowledged Patriarch of the Aranda household, since the demise of Margarito Aranda, his maternal uncle, in the 1930s. Accordingly, he was consulted in all major family matters as well as important everyday concerns. Fondly called “Lolo Po” by family members, his occasional home visits to Lipa were eagerly looked forward to. Though it meant being woken up early to hear him celebrate mass with the family in the small private chapel at home, it also signifies a treat to his favorite thick hot chocolate sprinkled with crisp sugared pinipig on top for breakfast. Children however did not get to sit with the adults in the dining room but were told to eat quietly in the kitchen. Always attired in his cassock, he had a soft-spoken, reserved, and mild-mannered nature and eats quite in moderation. His last home visit was to pay his respects and bless the remains of his nephew-in-law, Jose Luistro, the author’s father, who died in December 1975. Luistro recounts, “I vividly remember Lolo Po with our grandaunt, Claudina Nicasio-Aranda seated in the living room of the house in hushed conversation. He asked me to approach and when I came, pressed his hand on my forehead and beckoned me to stay awhile. While I remained standing before him, he went back to his seat and silently gazed at me, making me feel strongly his paternal concern. He expressed his apprehension and counseled, saying, “ulila na kayong lubos, magbabait kayo” (you are now totally orphaned, conduct yourselves well). Magdalena died in March 1971, four years ahead of her husband, José.
Luistro shares fond memories of their family’s regular visits to the Bishop’s Residence in Lucena. “The trip itself was an exciting break from our usual routine despite the familiar sleepy rural scenery and snail’s pace drive we took through pot-holed and dusty roads. Rosary was prayed on the way, both going and back which together with the breeze would make us doze time and again. We would usually arrive early except for occasional engine trouble or two that might delay us briefly. In no time, we would see the towering pines as we approach the compound, finally, enter the gate and through the lengthy driveway, the imposing residence was at the end. Alighting was always a major thrill, as we would need to rush inside to outrace an agitated flock of geese that would unfailingly chase us from behind. As soon as we arrive, we would be ushered into Lolo Po’s room to pay our respects and after the usual pleasantries, the children would be led to a lounge outside to partake of sandwiches and sodas served to our heart’s content while the adults linger behind. Not long after, the bell in the courtyard would be rung signaling midday and after pausing to recite the Angelus everyone will be trooping to the dining room across the courtyard. Lunch was extra memorable for us children as we were seated with Lolo Po and everyone else on the long dining table where a simple meal was served a la Russe. Time seemed always tight on our every visit, and in no time, we would be bidding Lolo Po goodbye after he had given us his blessings. We continue our regular visits to Lolo Po in Tayabas, after he retired as Bishop. He was much frailer than before yet his mind remained as sharp as ever and he kept his usual calm and serene composure. His gentle gaze and enigmatic smile was something of a draw that I will associate with him.“
” In January 1978, he was transferred back to Lucena at the Mount Carmel Hospital, a facility he founded himself. The effect of Parkinson’s was more pronounced and he seemed weaker and feeble and yet one could still perceive his vigor with life. Confined mostly to his bed, he would nevertheless, greet visitors with his familiar grin and enthusiasm. When we visited him sometime September 1978, I saw in him a renewed strength. He engaged my sister Desy and me in a little game asking us to translate in succession, “aso” and “pusa” to English which I smugly thought elementary being already in 6th grade and presumably well ahead in the idiom. Probably reading my mind, he wittily upped the ante and asked “asongulol”, which left us clueless. Present were MCST Srs. Amparo, Flerida and Virgie, who joined in the ruckus. After a brief pause, he declared the answer as “mad dog” and we all had a good laugh. It was the first time we had a casual conversation with Lolo Po, probably because it was also the only time I could remember being with him by ourselves without our old folks around. I reckoned later that was probably his way of saying goodbye. I will treasure that moment with Lolo Po forever. It was to be our last visit.“
Bishop Obviar died peacefully in the Lord on October 1, 1978, the feast day of St. Therese, their Patroness, at the Mount Carmel Clinic. His remains are buried in the MCST compound in Tayabas. The Process for the Cause of his Beatification and Canonization was granted by the Vatican a Nihil Obstat (no obstacle) on March 6, 2001, while a Decree of Validity was given on April 27, 2007 making him Servant of God. On November 8, 2018, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation of the Causes of Saints to promulgate the Decree of Venerable on the heroic virtues of the Servant of God. In so doing, it allows the veneration and propagation of devotions from time immemorial. His cause for beatification is currently underway. At least one miracle attributed through his intercession that passed the Vatican’s stringent scientific and theological examination is required before he is declared Blessed. Once beatified, a second miracle is required to be canonized a saint.
Bishop Obviar’s motto: Faciem Tuam Domine Requiram (“Your Face, O Lord, I seek”) – Psalm 27:8