Over the years the role of the Columbans gradually changed as parishes were built up and then given over to the local clergy. Now there are only three based in the Diocese of Kabankalan, Fr Brian Gore, director of the new San Columbano Center, Fr Michael Doohan who has been in Negros since 1953 and is now retired, but involved in various projects, Fr Patrick Hurley, ordained in 1948 and one of the first group of Columbans in Negros, who is in charge of a chaplaincy at Biscom, a sugar central (factory) in Binalbagan. I'm based in Bacolod City.
The four Columbans still in the island of Negros: Fr Brian Gore, Director of the Center, Fr Patrick Hurley, (Bishop Buzon and Fr Pat O'Donoghue), Fr Michael Doohan and your scribe (rather casually dressed but with a 'Columban Missionaries' logo on my shirt).
There was a special element of joy about the ceremony because of the release last Thursday of Fr Michael Sinnott who had been in captivity for just over a month, having been kidnapped in Pagadian City on 11 October. Our superior, Fr Pat O'Donoghue, could relax.
Members of the Ramos Family were present and Vice Mayor Luz Ramos Bayot unveiled a plaque thanking her family for their ongoing support of the work of the Columbans and also helped cut the ribbon for the ceremonial opening of the conference hall.
The Center will be a place where many groups can come for retreats, conferences, seminars and the like. It provides simple accomodation and is the only such venue in the Diocese of Kabankalan. It is hoped that students from Catholic highs schools and from public schools, the vast majority of whom are from poor or relatively poor families, will be able to use the facility, as some have done already.
The manager of the Center is Mrs Nomy Muhal, whose late husband Conrado, was one of the 'Negros Nine', which included Fr Brian Gore, imprisoned in the mid 1980s on a trumped-up murder charge.
O Blessed Columban, who, in your zeal for the extension of Christ's Kingdom, and the salvation of souls, spent your life in suffering and exile, assist and protect, we humbly ask you, the missionaries of our day, who have devoted their lives to preaching the Gospel throughout the world.
Obtain for them, we beseech you, that prudence and fortitude by which you overcame the dangers which beset your path, and that firm faith and ardent charity which enabled you to endure gladly the privations of this life for the love of Christ.
Assist and protect us, also, dear St. Columban, so to live for God's glory that when our pilgrimage through life is over, we may enjoy with you the eternal rest of heaven through Christ Our Lord.-Amen.