The Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SCJ) was founded in 1878 in France by Venerable Fr. Leo John Dehon. It is an international religious community of over 2200 priests and brothers living and working in 42 countries in five continents. In the Philippines, the Priests of the Sacred Heart are present since 1989 and are involved in various pastoral and social activities mostly in the island of Mindanao.
The Founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Father Leo Dehon (1843 – 1925) belongs to the generation of priests from the second half of the 19th century whose apostolate and often revolutionary ideas helped build and shape the Church of today. His 82 years long life could be described as full of passion, love and dedication to God, to the Church, and to the Poor. He was an extraordinary man: a Preacher of God’s Love, an apostle of modern times, sociologist, lawyer, writer, traveler, dreamer and fighter. A man of big heart, a man of study, an educator, a man of prayer and contemplation, a megaphone of the Pope and of the social teachings of the Church, a champion of democracy and a man of action. His life was a constant walking and searching. He saw the need to present the Gospel in ways that are persuasive and responsive to the questions of his contemporaries. When people no longer come to the Church, apostles need to go out to the people and learn about the problems they face in order to help them attain the dignity that is rightfully theirs. In a society that is wounded by hatred and greed, Christians need to draw near to the Man with the pierced Heart in order to make the healing touch of his love an active force in their experience of life.
Keeping Alive Fr. Dehon’s Dream
In Father Dehon’s time, the working class was becoming more and more alienated from God and the Church. Low wages, long hours of work, and terrible working conditions made the workers feel abandoned, abused and angry. Father Dehon felt the Church needed to respond to these injustices.
This concern for those suffering from poverty and injustice has been carried on through the congregation that Father Dehon established, the Priests of the Sacred Heart. In Father Dehon’s vision, the love God has for us demands a similar response from us. He chose to express through the Sacred Heart spirituality a strong, devoted love for Christ, and a life lived in solidarity with the poor and neglected.
As disciples of Father Dehon, we, the Priests of the Sacred Heart, strive to carry on his vision in today’s world, to be “prophets of love and servants of reconciliation of people and the world in Christ” (Rule of Life n. 7).
Our authentic service to the Church is based on a life of prayer and oblation. It is expressed through our ministry to the workers, the lowly and the poor, our missionary activity, and our efforts in priestly and religious formation. According to the signs of the times and in communion with the life of the Church, we want to contribute to establishing the reign of justice and Christian charity in the world. We join our efforts to those of Jesus that the human family, sanctified in the Holy Spirit, might become an offering pleasing to God. (cf. Rom.15:16 and Our Rule of Life, n. 31-32).
SCJ Mission in the Philippines
The presence of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the Philippines started with the arrival of the first group of 8 priests in May 1989.
We are an international community composed of 50 religious. At the moment, we are 19 priests, 1 religious brother, 4 deacons after perpetual vows and 26 members on temporary vows. We come from 7 different countries: Philippines (27), Indonesia (6), Vietnam (8), Poland (4), Brazil (3), Italy (1) and Argentina (1). Three (3) of the priests are Filipino.
Our wish is to serve God and the Filipino people. To be Prophets of Love and Servants of Reconciliation, to build and promote the values of the Kingdom of Love through:
- a spirit of openness and dialogue with the Philippine reality and the needs of the time;
- a life of solidarity with the poor and suffering, supporting all that promotes human dignity, justice and reconciliation;
- active integration with and service to the local Church, journeying together with the lay, the religious, and the clergy;
- a centering of our lives in prayer and adoration of the Eucharist;
- simplicity of lifestyle enriched by the spirit of sharing, having a common fund, with equal access;
- promotion of the growth of the Congregation in the Philippines.
Since the beginning of our presence in the Philippines, we chose as our home one of the poorest and least developed islands, the island of Mindanao. Here we live and work. As of now, we have 2 pastoral and 3 formation communities of which only one is located in Metro Manila, specifically, in Quezon City.
The beginning of our ministry was simple, sometimes tough and often challenging. For a long time we neither have a TV set, refrigerator nor telephone. The roads were rough and very often impassable during the rainy season. On the other hand, we were very happy to serve local people, to help them in their needs, to teach them and to learn from them about their lives and culture.
Following the example set by our Founder, Fr. Leo Dehon, the SCJ Philippine Region, since the beginning, has been involved in different social projects favoring the poor, the sick and the oppressed. In this way, we were able to help the poor fishermen in Dimataling to buy fishing nets to help them in their livelihood, to organize farmers in Kumalarang to form a cooperative, to set-up a special fund for medicines for the poor who could not afford to buy them, to grant scholarship to poor but deserving students, etc.
Among the different projects managed at the moment by members of the Region, the priority has been given to the formation of youth and lay leaders, indigenous people and to the victims of abuse and social injustice. The two top priority projects include Scholarship Program for members of Higaonon and Subanen tribes and Kasanag Daughters Foundation.
In the pastoral area in Dansolihon Chaplaincy in Mambuaya, Cagayan de Oro City, we run a boarding house for the Higaonon students who come from very poor and remote villages. We help them in their high school education. At the moment, there are 40 students whom we provide with shelter, food and all other school related needs.
The other major project worthy to be mentioned is the Kasanag Daughters Foundation which was started in 1996 by one of our members, Fr. Eduardo Aguero. The aim of this social program is to offer to the sexually abused girls the possibility of integral healing process for them to find their way back to the mainstream of society. At present, the Kasanag Foundation is a home to around 30 girls, providing them with the professional assistance of psychologists, scholarships, and other needed skills and services. Their age is between 8 and 25 years. All of them go to school: in college, High School and Elementary level.
As of this time, the Priests of the Sacred Heart are doing their pastoral ministry in 3 different parishes, two (2) in Zamboanga del Sur (Dumalinao and Kumalarang) and one (1) in Misamis Oriental (Dansolihon). In each Parish, there is certain number of lay leaders: ministers of the Eucharist, catechists and leaders of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC). This number depends on the size of the parish. In Dumalinao, for example, there are 86 chapels and each chapel has several lay cooperators. Taking into account their poor preparation, we provide with the needed formation by organizing seminars, recollections, regular meetings, etc.
Last, but not the least, is our Formation Program. The purpose of this is to prepare young boys to become future priests or religious by supporting them in their studies. The program started in 1994. At the moment, we have three (3) SCJ Formation Centers: in Cagayan de Oro City, in Lucoban, Dumalinao, Zamboanga del Sur, and in Quezon City, Metro Manila. Cagayan de Oro is the place of acceptance of the new candidates to the congregation (pre-college and aspirancy) and a house of initial religious formation (postulancy). The aspirants are mostly high-school graduates taking their four-year studies in Philosophy at Xavier University. Altogether, there are 56 students.
Our Novitiate, the place of religious formation, is located in Lucoban, Dumalinao, Zamboanga del Sur. As of now we have 2 novices.
Finally, we have 26 students studying Theology at Maryhill and Loyola School of Theology. All of them are based in Dehon House in Quezon City.
Summarizing, we are grateful to God for all the blessings we have received all throughout the years of our ministry here, for the people to whom we were able to serve and learn from, and for all the vocations we got. And we are proud to be the spiritual sons of Father Dehon and to continue his mission of making the Sacred Heart of Jesus better known and loved.