It all started when Don Pablo Atillo (of the illustrious Atillo clan) brought the image of Our Lady from Manila to Cebu in the 1930s. The Atillos, one of the original settlers in the area, were avid devotees of the Blessed Mother and wanted to share their faith with the entire community. Hence, our Blessed Mother first found a home in a small chapel within the Atillo residence, attracting devotees from all walks of life.
In a short time, the place became too small for the increasing number of worshipers who flocked to pay homage to the Blessed Mother. The need to construct a church soon became glaringly obvious. Shortly after, the first Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes gradually took form – with nipa and sawali as the first structure, and the site of the Don Bosco Youth Center as the first location.
The Ravages of War
However, the little church in Punta Princesa was not impervious to human destruction. World War II came, and with it came massive devastation and catastrophe. When the war ended in 1945, the nipa and sawali church was among the ravaged remnants of destruction. The devotees soon rebuilt the church on the same location, with the image of the Blessed Mother temporarily safeguarded at Don Pablo Atillo’s residence. The image made periodic trips to the newly constructed church for the annual novena and feast day.
Expanding Our Horizons
Recognizing the need for a more institutionalized house of worship, the Atillos, together with the acting parishioners and a Salesian priest named Peter John Clifford SDB, approached Msgr. Julio Rosales. Their goal was to give the church autonomy from the San Nicolas de Tolentino parish in 1956. At that time, parishes run by religious congregations was basically unheard of. By the grace of God, the request was approved. Initially, Msgr. Rosales wanted the Salesians to administer the parish for only 25 years. However, Fr. Clifford refused to accept the contract and campaigned for the parish to be entrusted to the Salesians indefinitely. He further insisted that terms should stipulate that the parish be entrusted to the Salesians “Ad Nutum Sanctae Sedis”, that is, if the Holy See tells the Salesians to give up the parish then they will give it up. After some time, the request was approved by Msgr. Rosales.
The parochial independence was spearheaded by Don Pablo Atillo, who officially donated a 4,009-square-meter lot to the Archbishop of Cebu. Two months later, the lot donation was formally accepted by Msgr. Rosales. A small wooden convent was immediately built that same year, which was championed by the late entrepreneur, Eliseo Cornejo.
Our Lady of Lourdes Parish
Our Lady of Lourdes Parish was officially and canonically established on January 27, 1957 with Father Clifford SDB as the first parish priest and Father Pericle Bianchini, SDB (an Italian missionary) as his coadjutor. Father Clifford paid the construction bills with money raised by the Cebu Boys Town through selling eggs. A “weekend movie” fundraiser also helped generate funds for the construction of the church. In February 11, 1958, in time for the Centenary Celebration of Our Lady of Lourdes, the wooden structure of the church was completed. The parishioners of the small Punta Princesa community rejoiced with the rest of the Catholic World – marking the completion of the Parish as well as commemorating the Centennial Celebration.
Reaching New Heights
With the sense of the pulse of times, Father Clifford sought the means for a bigger church. In due time, he bought an 8,000 square metered wide cornfield fronting the area donated by the late Don Pablo Atillo along the F. Llamas Street. Marcello Abella sold his lot to the church for only P5.00 per square meter in 1959. Father Clifford sold to the people certificates of donation and collected the money to buy the lot where the bigger portion of the present church now stands.
In 1962, a draft of the architectural design of the proposed church was conceived by Engr. Plutarco Diaz, a faculty member of Cebu Institute of Technology. The expeditious growth of the parish was not only made possible through human efforts, but also with Divine Providence through Our Lady of Lourdes.
In 1964, another seven years’ mission was given to Father Clifford for Don Bosco Victorias as rector. Father Jose Bosch SDB was appointed as the new parish priest of Lourdes. With a brave heart and a high level of compassion, he continued the mission of the development of the parish and brought it to new heights. He bought the second lot for the proposed church from Dona Maria Esperanza Osmena. Another lot was also acquired from Sergio Osmena, Jr. that same year. This amounted to a total of 1.4 hectares where the present church is now located.
February 13, 1966 marked a historic milestone -- Father Bosch rolled a huge rock from Buhisan River for the laying of the cornerstone of the new proposed church. Simeon Lee, who owned an engineering shop, volunteered to provide the crane to lift the stone. This significant event, led by the Salesians in close collaboration with the Lourdes Parish Pastoral Council, drew a crowd of more than a thousand. Archbishop Julio Rosales, DD blessed the site sanctuary with the presence of the high officials of the church and the government.
In 1970, an 18 meter-high concrete parabolic shell of the church was erected. The current church now boasts an overall length of sixty meters and transepts of 22.3 meters.
The 6-foot stone tabernacle of the church is one of the most attractive religious structures in the metropolis. After exploring the winding Mananga River twenty seven times searching for a hard and towering rock for the tabernacle, Father Bosch discovered one weighing more than twelve tons in Bo. Taup. The door of the tabernacle is of solid bronze weighing twenty kilograms.
Hanging above the main altar is the crucifix with Christ’s body, which is slightly bigger than life-size. This was donated by the hometown workers of Father Bosch in Ciudadela, Spain in 1972. Except for the arms, the body is made of Dutch pine tree by Casa Bochaca of Barcelona for P6,000.
In 1971, Architect Virgilio Asuncion redesigned the rear walls, façade, canopy grotto and the belfry. This was completed in close collaboration with Engr. Eli Hubahib, Engr. Capistrano Ramientos and Jesus Caracena.
The three bells, donated by the Spanish people and cast in Spain , are named Fatima, Maria Auxiliadora, and little Fatima, respectively.
In 1973, the stained glass windows were installed on the façade of the church. All these lovely multicolored stained glasses and the small circular panel at the back of the baptismal font were the artistic work of Casa Kraut in Manila .
Another exceptional highlight of the church is the baptismal font. It is made of a carved stone from a rock in Bo. Taup. This is located in front of the sacristy separated by a thick wall embroidered with gray stones.
The statue of the Blessed Mother was placed on a big white stone depicting the strength and purity of the Mother of God. Governor Osmundo Rama provided the transportation in getting the stones from Mananga River in Sitio Taup to the church site. The statue of the Blessed Mother is made of marble by a local artist Fidel Araneta.
Above the sanctuary is the chandelier designed by Pio Bonilla. Each bulb in the chandelier represents a chapel in the parish. This became a permanent mark of the people’s faith and commitment to the church.
The stained glass of the fourteen Stations of the Cross portraying the passion of Christ and His death adorn the church walls. Architect Pio Bonilla donated paintings depicting exquisite representations of man’s redemption. The pews and kneelers located in the east and west transepts were originally bought by Father Clifford for the wooden church.
Into The Present
It took over 16 years to finish the present church of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. Without the dedication of Father Bosch, the support of the Salesian community, and the collective efforts of the parishioners, the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes would not be the magnificent church that it is today.