If what you learn as a child shapes your maturity, the Balio family from Pantukan, South Philippines, is one of the wisest families. Diosita, the oldest Balio sibling, explains why.
“Growing up, I don’t recall a day I didn’t tell myself, ‘I’m a lucky girl!’ ” exclaims Diosita. Her eyes glow as she continues, “My parents worked for the Maryknollers performing a myriad of jobs at San Jose Mission, right here …” She points to a map in the atlas on her lap. Her fingernail glides over topography marked, “Province of Davao.” She pauses over the town labeled Kingking.
“The priests at the convento served some 20,000 people so they were always very busy, but …” she emphasizes, “never too busy to meet the catechistic demands of everybody in the parish. It was a big job, yet they always found time for every woman, man and child. If you needed religious guidance, if something troubled you, if you just needed someone to talk to, they opened their ears to your entreaties, offering solid advice.”
Diosita, now my wife and living in Chicago, treasures her memories. “I not only had two wonderful parents,” she says, “but also the best several friends anyone could wish for, the Maryknoll Fathers whom I saw almost daily.”
Diosita particularly remembers Maryknoll Fathers William Morrissey and John Coholan, who, she says, pretty much laid the parish foundation. “It was amazing to watch them work with the local population, grassroots at its best,” she says. “Results manifested. Magic stirred the air.”
Diosita’s lips relax into a smile. “My sisters, Lucila and Marlyn, and my brothers, Diosdado and Joel, we all cherished the missionaries,” she continues. “We were awed at their commitment. Bubbling with human joy, they sprang into the needs of the community, into our daily lives and into our souls.”
She recalls the clergy appeared in the area around 1960 and got right to work renovating the old San Jose Church. “My mom Rosita (the priests called her Zita) cooked for them; my dad Dioscordo, well, he was a jack of all trades: administrator, electrician, driver. I guess we were a full-time Maryknoll household!” Diosita says.
When Diosita’s mother died quite young, of heart trouble, the Maryknoll priests “carried my dad and us kids over some tough months,” Diosita recalls. “The priests’ prayers and consolation brought divine mercy.”
Working alongside Fathers Morrissey and Coholan, says Diosita, was a get-it-done, spiritual team of missionaries and lay people who managed the parish and its various activities. Among the cadre of Maryknoll priests who served her parish, Diosita mentions Fathers Herman Cisek, Herbert Elliott, John Grady, William LaRousse, James Noonan, Thomas O’Brien, John Scott and John D. Walsh. Their duties included piloting a religious education program, creating and sustaining parish organizations such as the Legion of Mary, tutoring lay ministers and building a strong Christian community. That, says Diosita, encompassed everything from counseling families, guiding the parish youth and simply getting involved in the lives of parish members, including their home life, where the Catholic spirit is planted and nurtured.
“So why do I feel so lucky?” Diosita asks rhetorically. “Because my family worked one-on-one, every day, with these fine gentlemen, we Balios had something the rest of the parish didn’t have: a rare front-row seat watching the inspiration that animated them. It was miraculous, such energy, such resolve!
“They are the reason I chose to study theology, a subject I taught at St. Paul University in Surigao for 32 years.”
Diosita Balio Geringer visits Maryknoll friends Fathers Thomas O’Brien (left) and the late James Noonan at Maryknoll, N.Y. (Courtesy of Diosita Geringer/U.S.)