Friday, October 2, 2015

How I learned about Fr. Michael McGivney and the Knights of Columbus from my father

The family of Quirino Sugon Sr. Seated from left to right at the back are Leah, Josephine, Cynthia, and Elena, while that at the front are Dictarino, Quirino Sr., and Quirino Jr (author). Not present in the picture are the deceased members of our family: Benedicta (our mother), Iver, and Agustin. The photo was taken at the Convent of the Hermanas Guadalupanas de La Salle at Bacolod City, Philippines.


My father used to be an active member of Knights of Columbus for several decades, serving as the board secretary in the council in Villamonte, Bacolod City. He's 84 years old now, half-blind, and can't recognize faces. But he can recognize you by your voice, especially if he knows you frequent a particular spot when he takes his long walks around our village. He also has a strong associative memory and can remember the names of his students in St. Joseph's School-La Salle way back several decades.

I don't really know much about Fr. Michael McGivney, except that he is the founder of the Knights of Columbus, the organization of men my father belonged to. I always saw Fr. McGivney's picture at the back cover of Columbia Magazine that we regularly received before from the headquarters of Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Connecticut. The pictures in the magazine were of exceptional quality that I would sometimes cut them out to serve as covers for my notebooks in elementary and high school. The articles were several paragraphs long--many of them I didn't read, because they were meant not for kids or teenagers but for adults. I was just content on gazing at the pictures, reading the headlines, such as how the Knights of Columbus supported the vocations of men and women who enter into religious life or how the Knights of Columbus volunteered hundreds of man-hours for community service. The impression I got was that Columbia Magazine is a Catholic magazine who speaks about Christ, Mary, and the Church for a man geared for action in the community.

My father does not have the fancy ceremonial uniform of the Knights of Columbus--the feathered hat and the sword. Perhaps those things are only meant for top-ranking officers. And even if my father used to hold position as secretary of their council for many long years, he would not still be able to afford these uniforms: raising eight children and sending them all to Catholic schools of the Dominican Sisters and the La Salle brothers already took a toll on his and my mother's salary as high school teachers. Catholic education was my parent's priority then more than clothes and food. "God will provide. God will provide." they would always say, even if the tuition fees are paid late, the electricity is cut, the house is foreclosed by SSS, and there is no food in the table. But we all finished our elementary and high schools, and somehow God blessed many of us with scholarships in college.  Even then, life was still difficult. But we survived.

Our Lady of the Barangays
My father may not have a feathered hat and a sword, but he has the white barong with Knights of Columbus logo. And for a sword he clutches the black rosary of the Knights of Columbus. As an officer of the Barangay sg Virgen (Village of the Virgin), he would visit suburbs, squatters, and difficult to reach places during Sundays accompanied by my mother; she died a few years after she retired from teaching due diabetes: her kidney failed and her body bloated with water, drowning her in her sleep. I accompanied my father a few times when I was still teaching in University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City sometime in the year 2000. Upon seeing my father, someone will ring a bell in a makeshift chapel and about 20-30 people would gather. We would pray the rosary, read the liturgical readings for the day, and form into small groups for discussion on our reflections. In his prime, my father would preach about certain topics on Catholic doctrine.  He never took formal theology courses, but he told me that when he begun teaching in St. Joseph's High School (now St. Joseph's School-La Salle), he found some Catholic readings with questions to be answered. He answered them and mailed it to the stated address, and then a new set of readings and questions were sent to him. It was actually a distance-learning course on the Bible and Catechism. This continued for some time until he became sufficiently well-versed on the Catholic faith enough to preach it.

The Barangay sg Virgen waxed in strength in the 1980s. Groups called Trinities were formed in many villages not only in Bacolod City, but even in neighboring cities. These groups transfer a statue of Our Lady of the Barangays to each member's home and there to stay for one night after the group gathered there to pray the rosary. On several occasions, the statue of our Lady was in our home and my father and my mother would gather us all to pray the rosary. I remembered myself kneeling while fingering the beads, yawning with my eyelids slowly closing in, and then nodding while trying to control sleep. Years ago, when we were discussing about the Barangay sg Virgen, my father told me that if not for the Barangay sg Virgen, Bacolod City would have become a bastion of Communism as left-leaning Catholic groups tried to wrest the Barangays from the devotion of the rosary and lure them to Communist armed struggle. Those were terrible times as the faithful found themselves divided in two opposing camps which pitted priests against priests and bishops against bishops.

My father is old now, and his body is becoming weaker. He still goes to mass everyday and used to serve as Extraordinary Minister of the Communion for several years until his eyesight dimmed and his feet faltered in the altar steps. He still goes for coffee with his friends and takes his usual long walks before eating his breakfast. I bought him once a magnifying glass; it helped him to read the headlines of newspapers that he read in the school library. He watches TV or listens to the radio until he finds himself snoring. He only sleeps for a few hours. And when he awakes, he would light up the candle in the altar and pray the rosary.

I still don't know much about Fr. Michael McGivney, except for a few articles I found on the web. But this I am sure: he was a man who inspired a multitude of Catholic men like my father not only to live as good husbands, fathers, and members of the community, but also as a company of knights who shall conquer the New World for Christ.
Knights of Columbus Pin 1"
Knights of Columbus Pin 1"
Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism
Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism
Knights of Columbus, Columbia, May 2014
Knights of Columbus, Columbia, May 2014
The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives.. (Penguin Classics)
The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives.. (Penguin Classics)
Real Men Pray the Rosary: A Practical Guide to a Powerful Prayer
Real Men Pray the Rosary: A Practical Guide to a Powerful Prayer