Tacurong City Patroness: Nuestra Seῆora de La Candelaria
…guiding light of Notre Dame of Tacurong College
By Apolinario Villalobos
The swampy barrio of what was once Pamansang (later, Talakudong), the old name of Tacurong, formed part of Buluan. The barrio was accessible then, via the Rio Grande de Mindanao. Makeshift wharfs were located at Dulawan, Maganoy, and Buluan, according to Mr. Menandro Lapuz who, together with his two brothers, Felipe and Eusebio, came all the way from Nueva Ecija during the early part of the 1940’s to seek their fortune. The road that led to the already progressive Koronadal was nothing but a “feeder road” with its length furrowed by the sledges drawn by water buffaloes. Another “feeder road” cut through the grasslands that led to Surallah via Isulan. A tamer road led to Cotabato via Esperanza and Maganoy.
The Pamansang of long ago was a typical barrio, greened by the profuse growth of talahib, cogon, enyam and acacia trees, as well as, bamboo grooves. There was a makeshift chapel occasionally made alive by visits of priests from Koronadal. Not long after, several priests who belonged to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) came, to build the foundation of the Notre Dame of Tacurong. Simultaneously, pioneer settlers of the land joined hands in expanding the chapel. The advocacy of the early educators of Notre Dame was not limited within the confines of the school, but extended to the spread of Christianiy, through the first chapel which was yet empty of any venerated image.
One of the early teachers of Notre Dame who hailed from Iloilo, Mrs. Josefina Legayada-Lechonsito, suggested a patroness for enshrinement in the chapel – the miraculous Lady of Candelaria, whose image has been venerated in Jaro, Iloilo since the early 1800’s. Her suggestion was eventually, heeded. The bell followed, donated by Don Vicente and Dona Salud Garcia, Don Juan Garcia and his wife, Mrs. Maria Montilla, and Mr. and Mrs. Roberto Tulio. The four massive posts for the bell tower were donated by Mr. Menandro Lapuz.
Soon the patroness became known even among the settlers in areas around Tacurong. The celebration held during the first week of February attracted devotees who flocked to the continually improved chapel which necessitated expansion to accommodate them. When Tacurong became the center of evacuation during the unrest in early 70’s, the church was always filled with devotees who sought intercession so that peace would prevail, a call which was heeded, as Tacurong now enjoys tranquility and harmony despite cultural diversity of the locals.
When Notre Dame of Tacurong for boys was established by the missionary priests of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, they opened its gate to all who would like to learn, regardless of their religious affiliation. It was therefore, not surprising when Muslim youth from Maganoy, Buluan, Sultan sa Barongis, Datu Piang, and Dulawan, donned the green- striped khaki pants and white t-shirt uniform, although, they were exempted from joining Religion class, scheduled novenas and rosaries.
Along with the establishment of the Notre Dame high school for boys, the Notre Dame high school for girls was also established and administered by the Dominican nuns of the Order of Preachers (O.P.). Just like its counterpart for boys, the Girls Department was also some kind of an educational institution without barrier. Muslim girls donned the green skirt and white blouse uniform, although, not required too, to attend Religion class, and scheduled novenas and rosaries.
Later, the sisters of the Oblates of Notre Dame (OND), arrived to assist the priests in their effort to reach out to the far barrios that needed to be visited regularly.
To make sure that graduates of the two Notre Dame high schools could pursue even the first two years of their college education, preparatory courses were offered, leading to Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEEd), Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE), Liberal Arts (LA), and Bachelor of Science in Commerce (BSC). Despite the trying times that tested the financial acumen of the college administration, somehow, third and fourth year levels were opened not long after. The school which started with small rooms to accommodate high school students has metamorphosed into a progressive college, with courses that big colleges and universities also offer.
With the Lady of Candelaria as the inspiring and moving spirit behind the enthusiastic pioneer educators and religious groups, many things were accomplished for Tacurong. What they did set the trend of progress. More schools were established, such as Lyceum of the Philippines and Magsaysay Memorial College, even vocational schools such as Grimaldo Fashion School and Parisienne Academy. The public market flourished and resulted to a more healthy business environment that encouraged the trek of more migrants to Tacurong.
There are stories about miraculous transformation of lives of locals that they attribute to the Lady of Candelaria, but which are kept as of yet, though, sometimes, they are shared discreetly. As a gratitude to the patroness, they maintain their vow to come home from where they are permanently settled today, to be part of the annual fiesta celebration.
Tacurongnons attest to a unique miracle that involved the quick transformation of the once swampy barrio into a progressive town, and eventually, a city. Strongly felt, too, is the prevailing harmony among the locals who are composed of Muslims, Christians and indigenous tribes. The harmony clearly oozes with goodwill, prompting the local government to refer to Tacurong as the “City of Goodwill”.
As an added information, the devotion to the Lady of the Candle or Candelaria, originated in the city of Candelaria,Tenerife, one of the islands of Canary Islands, where it is regarded as a “black Madonna”, hence, the name Our Lady of Candelaria or Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. Although, the basilica that enshrines the patroness is located at Candelaria, she is considered as the patroness of the whole Canary Islands.