The Filipino Community at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Ybor City

The presence of the Filipino community at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Ybor City has been sporadic prior to the formal devotions that followed in the 1990’s. This consisted of a few individuals who were mostly nurses that worked at Tampa General Hospital.

The formal participation of the Philippine community started with Filipino-American Tampa residents, Angel and Joji Vicedo, who were devotees to Sto. Nino del Mundo, along with a few others who held private devotions at the residents of Alice Bartolazo and at the St. Michael Shrine in Tarpon Springs.

As Joji remembers, it was in 1991 when she and her husband, Angel were looking for a church that could house their Sto. Nino del Mundo Prayer Group.

“One day we were driving around Ybor City, and luckily we saw this beautiful church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help”, Joji recalls. “We attended Sunday mass and afterwards we met Fr. Stokes and Fr. Fahey and introduced ourselves. We asked them if they do Novena for OLPH, and we were informed that it was being done by the Ladies Guild in the morning. We noted our desire to have our Novena every Wednesday night at 7PM. Likewise, we mentioned to him about Sto. Nino del Mundo Prayer Group activities that entail bringing the statue to families weekly for the family prayer meetings and OLPH Novena.”

“We also asked Fr. Stokes if we can have a special mass for Sto. Nino in the month of October at 3pm, with procession outside the church following the mass,” she continued. “They consented to all of this, and from then on, every year sometime in October, we celebrated His feast day and it was very well attended by the Filipino community of Tampa Bay, devotees to Sto. Nino, Mama Mary, Holy Family and OLPH parishioners.”

From then on, the Filipino community established a more permanent presence at OLPH, actively involved in the weekly services, participating in all its events and fundraisers, including significant contributions in the construction of the OLPH parish hall (now Stokes Hall).

OLPH Ladies Choir with Nhick Ramiro Pacis and Vic Omila, Jr.

In 2002, Filipino-American Nhick Ramiro Pacis was hired to form and direct the OLPH Ladies Choir which consisted of about 90% Filipino-Americans. The choir provided the music for the Sunday English masses and special Feast Days. A year later, Filipino baritone Vic Omila, Jr. was also asked to cantor the Saturday anticipated masses. This revival of the OLPH Music Ministry also paved the way to various musical events like fundraiser concerts, house-to-house caroling during Christmas and yearly celebration of Simbang Gabi (Night Masses), a Philippine traditional novena to herald the celebration of Christmas.

Gloria and Gerardo Biaquis

The year 2004 began the Filipino-American devotion to San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, a Filipino saint who was canonized in 1987. Filipino-American Gloria Biaquis, who was also a member of the Filipino prayer group at OLPH, witnessed the canonization in Rome and was inspired to bring the devotion to OLPH. She and her husband, Gerardo, have been housing a statue of San Lorenzo in their home in Tampa after a recent visit back home in the Philippines. Upon the recommendation of the Filipino Prayer Group, the promotion of the devotion to Sal Lorenzo Ruiz started. In 2005, upon the approval of Fr. Thomas Stokes, San Lorenzo was formally enthroned at OLPH and his feast day is celebrated at the last Sunday of September every year.

Bukas-Loob sa Diyos (Open in Spirit to God) Ministry, was also formed in September of 2010, when Evan and Joie Pangilinan, Joe and Vangie Francisco, and Norma Lacsamana, all Filipinos who were friends from the same mother ministry moved to Tampa and found each other in the city. To date, BLD holds weekly praise and worship every Thursday and coordinate a Healing Mass every 1st Thursday of the month. The ministry also holds yearly Life in the Spirit Seminars (LSS) and Marriage Enrichment (ME) retreats for OLPH parishioners and other parishes. BLD now has a multi-cultural membership but is predominantly Filipino.

The presence of the Filipino community at OLPH continues to thrive to this day. At normal Sunday English masses, Filipino-Americans volunteer as readers (Melly Hubbard, Dae Simeon, and the late Fe Carter), altar servers (Larry Cruz), coordinators (Francia and Ernie Roque), and even projector operators (Michelle Simeon and Evan Pangilinan). They also serve as elders in the Parish Council. Although temporarily discontinued due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the weekly novena masses continue to be celebrated at the OLPH Chapel on Wednesdays, the annual celebrations of the Feasts of Sto. Nino and San Lorenzo Ruiz and tribute mass to Mama Mary in May continue to be celebrated and the Filipino presence of OLPH’s music ministry is evident at its weekly masses.