Bishop Alfredo Florentin Verzosa
Bishop Alfredo Florentin Verzosa was born on December 9, 1877 in the historic town of Vigan to Don Alejandro Verzosa and Doña Micaela Florentin.
In 1917, Fr. Verzosa was installed first Filipino bishop and second ordinary of the young Diocese of Lipa. He succeeded Bishop Giuseppe Petrelli who also held the post of Apostolic Delegate to the Philippines as shepherd to the flock of a very powerful and wealthy diocese with a very expansive territory.
Bishop Verzosa came to Lipa rich in experience having averted the Aglipayan schism in the parish of Bantay, the stronghold of Aglipayanism in Ilocos Norte while he was a young priest. He took it upon himself to protect, revive and strengthen the Catholic faith wherever he was assigned and devoted all his time to priestly duties. He converted barrio people to the faith, risking his own life in the process.
As bishop, he concerned himself with the formation of priests by establishing seminaries. He was also a magnificent church and school builder and invited missionaries to serve in the diocese spending even his own personal resources to subsidize their apostolates and to build their convents. But catechesis was his top priority. He established catechetical centers in the far flung barrios of the diocese and with Madre Laura Mendoza, founded a religious congregation of women, the “Congregacion de Maria de la Enseñanza Cristiana” in Bauan whose chief purpose was the teaching of Christian Doctrines and the education of young girls. He is considered as Lipa’s “father of Catechesis”. His high regard for catechesis can be gleaned from the following statement of his:
Apply with a strong hand the axe to the roots, cut them, uproot them without complaisance or any worthless consideration. Dispel religious ignorance following faithfully and in practice my teachings. Reform your customs according to Catholic morals, the morals of your ancestors, and love and make God and His Christ loved by a sincere Christian life, that is, a holy life.
In the primer for the Centennial Celebration of the Diocese of Lipa, Fr. Manny Guazon wrote that “It would not be baseless to call Bishop Verzosa the ‘Father of Catechesis (of the Diocese of Lipa)’. His passion for catechetical apostolate must have planted and nourished the Catholic faith of Batangueños.”
One distinguishing characteristic of the young bishop was that he led by example. He was holy and his fellow bishops and his priests admired him for his humility and the simplicity and the purity of his vocation.
After the destructive Second World War, he used the war damage reparations fund that the diocese received to reconstruct and rehabilitate churches. In his desire to rebuild the churches as soon as possible, he devoted all the income of the diocese to this cause and even used personal funds that he inherited from his family.
Though he administered the diocese well, he was accused of fiscal mismanagement and was forced to retire and went home to Vigan to die and be forgotten.
When he died in 1954, Msgr. Alfredo Verzosa was practically a poor man, having exhausted all his inheritance for his Episcopal ministry, but rich in the sympathy and admiration of pious priests. Still, he died happily with the thought that he had served God and his Queen, the Blessed Virgin Mary and his Church with all his heart and might. His mortal remains were laid to rest in the Cathedral crypt of Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
Madre Laura Latorre Mendoza
Laura Latorre Mendoza was born on August 17, 1877 in the barrio of La Paz, in the town of Lipa. She was the third child of Pantaleon Mendoza and Maria Latorre. Though considered wealthy by those days' standards, the couple lived a simple and pious life.
As an adolescent, like many other affluent young ladies of Lipa, she was sent as an intern at the Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion Concordia in Manila run by the Hijas de Caridad (more popularly known today as the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul). While with the Hijas de Caridad, she felt attracted to the religious life. But circumstances related to her health prevented her entry.
Back in Lipa, she was very active in the parish's catechetical ministry. Obeying the wishes of her relatives, she married Rufino Marave who was also very much involved in the catechetical apostolate.
Being childless and free from any maternal obligations, Doña Laura continued her work of catechizing in the parish. In 1919, Rufino died of cancer leaving the childless widow a good amount of material fortune.
Not long after the death of her husband, in the year 1920, Bishop Verzosa encouraged Laura to go to Bauan to run a school there and to start a religious congregation of sisters. Laura, together with 5 other pious ladies from Lipa heeded the Bishop's invitation and set for Bauan to start the Colegio de Sta. Teresa de Jesus.
The teachers lived in community and followed a regular schedule and Doña Laura, who from then on had started to be addressed as Madre Laura, directed the "sisters" in their activities. On May 1, 1923, after being able to secure permission from the Holy See, Bishop Verzosa promulgated the decree of the canonical erection of the "Congregacion de Maria de la Ensenanza Cristiana" as a religious institute for women of diocesan right whose chief purpose is for the Christian instruction of the youth and the teaching of catechesis in distant barrios. In the same year, Bishop Verzosa invited the Augustinian sisters to provide formal religious formation to the newly established community.
In 1925, Madre Laura got sick and was advised to return to Lipa. Without a leader, the sisters in Bauan was later on dispersed. Some joined the Franciscans and the others the Augustinians.
In Lipa, Madre Laura again involved herself in teaching catechism and in helping the Franciscan sisters at St. Agnes Academy. In 1927, she moved to an old "kamalig" (warehouse) where she took care of young orphans. She named the house Asilo de Sagrado Corazon de Jesus. Later on, three young catechists from barrio Lodlod were attracted to her work and volunteered to assist her in her mission of catechesis. The rest as they would say, is history.
Madre Laura died on July 6, 1969, after 46 years in religious life. She left behind a community of 23 sisters who continued her mission of catechesis up to the present.