During his term in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, Monsignor Camomot occupied himself with establishing various religious organizations and pious societies for both men and women. Among these was the Carmelite Tertiaries of the Blessed Eucharist (CTBE), which he officially founded in 1960. Throughout his life, Camomot adhered to the charism of Carmel and constantly sought spiritual guidance through the writings of the great mystics and reformers, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. It was not surprising that although he was a diocesan prelate, he desired his “daughters” to walk in the way of Carmel.
Monsignor Camomot’s fateful encounter with the pioneering sisters happened after mass on the afternoon of November 25, 1959 at the Parish of Sta. Rita. Four former nuns, namely Mary Fatima Toong, Gertrude Rosales, Cecilia Palomo and Lourdes Paclibar, together with aspirant Salvacion Jamilano, arrived looking for the parish priest.
They desired to form their own congregation and were seeking the patronage of a bishop. Without hesitation and with his burning zeal to spread the Gospel, he accepted the group, believing this development to be the answer to his longtime dream of founding a group of sisters that can help him in catechetical work and in serving the poor.
They were soon joined by other sisters and were formally accepted on the Feast of the Epiphany – January 6, 1960 — and were hence known as the Carmelite Tertiaries of the Blessed Eucharist (CTBE) because most of the first sisters were members of the Carmelite Third Order and their founder was himself once a prior of Third Order priests.
Ready to grow roots, more women aflame with vocation were attracted to join the pioneers. One of whom was Mother Asuncion Mendiola, who eventually became their first Superior General. One of the pioneering sisters, Sr. Maria Cecilia Palomo, TDM, recalls her initial encounter with their founder and the early days of the group:
When we arrived in Balingasag in November 1959, we were welcomed by a young, calm and dignified Archbishop Teofilo B. Camomot. With much joy, even if he was still young, he radiated the image of a real father, the aura of a saint welcoming us. In a short time, many young ladies answered the call to religious life through the Carmelite Tertiaries of the Blessed Eucharist. Young and old joined the group. It was his (the founder’s) holiness that radiated to the hearts of those ladies and had them commit to serve God.
This marked how the virtues of the Archbishop magnetized people from all walks of life. Young and old, rich or poor, people flocked to the Church and to the convent asking for prayers, advice, counseling, or material assistance… While giving conferences to us, he used to say that “no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God (Lk 9:62). Padayon (onward)! God will provide.” Regardless of what happens, there was no turning back
The CTBE was first housed in an old convent recently vacated by the Religious of the Virgin Mary. When the group was created, the Catholic Church itself was at the threshold of change. In January 1959, three months after he was elected as Supreme Pontiff, John XXIII announced his intention to convene the Council as it was time to “open the windows of the Church and let some fresh air in”. This gave rise to what we now know as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II.
As an archbishop, Monsignor Camomot made frequent trips to Rome to attend preparatory meetings. Later, when the working sessions commenced, he also attended as Council Father in three of the four council periods. Thus he was an “insider” who had personal knowledge and experience of the direction that Holy Mother Church was taking under the reign of Pope John XXIII and subsequently, Pope Paul VI. He foresaw the many changes that would create a huge and irreversible impact on all aspects of ecclesiastical life, both for the lay and the religious.
Initially, the CTBE conducted itself as a pious association of women engaged in catechism, education and charitable works.In 1965, after coming home from one of his trips to the Vatican, Monsignor Camomot gathered the sisters and asked if they would like to move forward and be formed as a religious congregation. One of the considerations he presented was that they would then be allowed to wear a habit – a privilege not given to the Tertiary. Gaining their consensus, he later proceeded to change the name of the group and called it the “Daughters of Saint Teresa” (DST), after the famous Carmelite reformer, mystic and Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila, patroness of his former parish in Talisay, Cebu.
Because of Monsignor Camomot’s diligence, perseverance and his reputation for holiness, membership of the DST quickly grew. Soon, it spread to other parts of Mindanao like Bukidnon and Davao. However, after their founder resigned from his post in the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro and returned to his native Cebu, the congregation started to break up for a variety of reasons. For some, it was a hesitation to leave the mission work they have begun in Mindanao; for others, it was a strong resistance to adopting the changes brought by Vatican II in their lifestyle as religious women.
Unfortunately, these conflicts began at a time when Monsignor Camomot was ill and physically unable to attend to all the administrative and spiritual needs of the sisters. He requested his nephew, Oscar, a newly ordained priest at the time, to help in the formation and spiritual direction of the sisters, but not even the vigor and enthusiasm of the young pastor could prevent the impending division. Chances are that the same vigor and enthusiasm in the young priest, who had just returned from studies in the US and was eager to apply what he had learned abroad, may have even contributed in no small measure to the eventual breakup.
A kidney operation in 1968 left Monsignor Camomot weak and incapacitated. Worried about his prolonged absence, he entrusted the DST nuns to Bishop Antonio Fortich of Bacolod for his patronage and protection. By then, cracks in the already shaky foundation of the new congregation had started to show. The first exodus happened that same year, when a small group of sisters had been unable to attend the DST annual retreat in Bacolod and instead, joined a renewal session given at the diocese in Malaybalay. It was followed by the manifestation of their desire to separate from the group, as they believed they were formed and prepared for Mindanao missions.
In 1970, Monsignor Camomot resigned from his post as Coadjutor Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro and returned to Cebu. The DST sisters accompanied him to his new parish in Pardo, then later settled in a bigger convent in Valladolid, Carcar, where their formation house still stands to this day. This signaled another split within the group, with the former Superior General Mother Asuncion Mendiola and some 20 sisters choosing to remain in Bacolod to form their own congregation.
This pattern of dissatisfaction and division was repeated several times more until ultimately, seven independent institutes branched out of the CTBE/DST root: the Missionary Congregation of Mary (Malaybalay, 1970); Blessed Virgin Missionaries of Carmel (Bacolod City, 1971); Sisters in the Rural Mission (Bacolod City, 1973); the Teresian Daughters of Mary (Davao City, 1974); Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family (Cagayan de Oro City, 1980); Missionary Institute of St. Therese of the Child Jesus (Tagbilaran City, 1984), and the Teresian Missionaries of Mary (El
Salvador City, 1985).
One of the former DST nuns who witnessed this crucial period was Sr. Patrocinia Labordo, BVMC, who shared her personal reflection of the separation in Bacolod four decades later:
Amidst this upheaval and separation, Monsignor Camomot remained calm. He got sick and when he recovered, he visited us in Bacolod and asked how we were getting along. When we said that we were all right, he said it is okay with him too. All the while, he was most prayerful, full of faith and hope. And I admire the way he made 1970 — a time of upheaval in the Church because of Vatican II changes — make him holy. What happened to his congregation was a cause of making a holy person, with God’s help and the intercession of Mother Mary.
While his heart was sad and broken by the scattering of his beloved sheep, the founder maintained his faith and optimism that the division happened for a greater good. At a homily during mass in Valladolid, he was quoted as saying:
It is not easy to face great problems in life, especially if you take them alone by yourself. But if you allow God to carry the Cross with you, then dili bug-at (it is not heavy). Like for example, as the founder, it is painful to face the truth of the splits that happened in our congregation. Pero(but) thanks be to God, He gave me this reflection: Kana bitaw nga cakenga tam-is ka-ayo, kuninitan man sa hulmigas… Kuninitan for good. (The cake that is sweet will always attract ants that will carry it away… Carry it away for good.)
Cognizant of the conflicts that led to the division of the group, Monsignor Camomot revitalized the spiritual life and formation of the remaining sisters. He also began laying down the foundations for the Daughters of Saint Teresa to be recognized as a diocesan congregation.
The founder’s efforts bore fruit in 1985, when the congregation was canonically erected on October 15 – feast of St. Teresa of Avila — and received the Diocesan Rights from Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, then Archbishop of Cebu. In its new constitution, the Daughters of Saint Teresa (DST) followed a vision of being “consecrated women of prayer and daughters of the Church imbued with the apostolic zeal of Saint Teresa of Avila, giving witness through the Gospel for the sanctification of souls and the reign of the mansion of God’s kingdom”. Its mission was to “serve the Church through zeal for Catholic education, preferential love for the poor and option for pastoral services”. Its seal bore the Carmelite shield with its cross and three stars, inscribed with the popular quote from the famous saint of Avila: “Solo Dios basta”— God alone suffices.
Such was the devotion of Monsignor Camomot to Carmelite spirituality that he desired the Sisters to take to heart the spiritual counsel of St. John of the Cross which he would often echo to them:
Endeavor to be inclined always:
not to the easiest, but to the most difficult;
not to the most delightful, but to the most distasteful;
not to the most gratifying, but to the less pleasant;
not to what means rest for you, but to hard work;
not the the consoling, but to the unconsoling;
not to the most, but to the least;
not to the highest and most precious,
but to the lowest and most despised;
not to wanting something, but to wanting nothing..
Do not go about looking for the best of temporal things, but for the worst, and, for Christ, desire to enter into complete nudity, emptiness, and poverty in everything in the world.
As the example of his life had shown clearly and without a doubt, Monsignor Camomot embraced mortification not as self-abnegation for its own sake, but as a struggle towards perfection. It was self-denial that was purposely undertaken to develop his self-control and willpower. A deep and reflective thinker, he was fascinated at the human being’s (often untapped) ability to free its mind from the limits that have been imposed on it, to break away from bad habits and to form new and virtuous ones. Spiritual discipline was not about just choosing what is the most painful, difficult or tiring as it was about developing the habit of self-control, of doing what is opposite to your earthly nature and, for the religious, bending your will to the advice of your confessor or superior.
In one of the Sisters’ retreats, their pious founder admonished them:
Be ye perfect as Christ is perfect with the Father. Where is He to perfect you? He is the captain of your soul, senses, mind, will, heart and whole self. To make Him able to function in you, (it) needs unconditional surrender of your whole self, otherwise you cannot do anything.
True enough, the DST continued to flourish with a long chain of missions, varied apostolate, and numerous vocations even after the founder has returned to his heavenly home. In 2001, over a decade after Camomot’s demise, the congregation held a General Chapter where — under the guidance of Bishop Antonio Rañola — its charism was reformulated:
In following Christ assiduously on the Teresian spirituality and orientation, we the Daughters of St. Teresa strive to develop an intimate union with God through active contemplation. Essential to our religious life is the practice of a preferential love of the poor, zeal for Catholic education, and eagerness for pastoral services.
In 2003, His Eminence Ricardo Cardinal Vidal encouraged the congregation to apply for pontifical recognition — a task to which the then Superior General, Mother Rosa Magapan, immediately responded to. More importantly, following the signs of the times that called for healing and reconciliation, representatives from the eight branches of the DST initiated discussions and meetings that would pave the way for a “homecoming” that would be participated in by the sisters who trace their roots to the founding work of
The three-day grand reunion eventually took place from October 12 to 15, 2006, with the DST sisters in Carcar serving as hosts. During the event which was filled with tears and cheers, these selfless missionary sisters realized that while the unfolding of the past opened up painful events that happened during the most challenging periods of their religious life, these events must also be recognized as God’s will for the life and development of their respective congregations. And that they are challenged to overcome past hurts and move on towards celebrating the joy of togetherness and showing their gratitude to the pillars who provided the foundation for their lives as religious.
As the lines from the Vita Consecrataadvice all who chose the consecrated life:
You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things.
Today, the Daughters of Saint Teresa has communities all over the Philippine archipelago, where sisters are engaged in Catholic education, catechism, pastoral formation, parish assistance and social work. They continue to toil under the inspiration and spiritual gaze of their founder, whose crypt can be found at a small mausoleum within the grounds of their Mother House in Valladolid, Carcar, Cebu.