Friday, April 30, 2010

Centennial

Last January 17th I received the following e-mail:
Dear Melanie,
My husband & I are from the UK & we are doing our family history. I googled Deaconess Anne Hargreaves & saw your blog and, read with interest all about your work.
My husband has family connections with the Deaconess as she is his great aunt. His grandfather was taken from the UK by Anne, to help out the very poor family he came from, to New York & he stayed with her until he was old enough to come home & work. She was a very big part of his life & came back to see him right up until just before she died.
We have a few pictures of her & St James as it was, as well as the letter from the hospital in the Philippines explaining to Grandpa how she died,we are now presuming he was her next of kin & that's how he got all the pictures, a lock of her hair & other things. I wondered if you would like to see the pictures. I could e-mail you them if you like. I am not sure if you are still there as I wondered if you could take a picture of the cross at her grave for us.
She sounds a wonderful person & as a family, we are very proud of all her amazing work.
With many grateful thanks
Glynis Ellis
Seeing as how Deaconess Ann Hargreaves was a missionnary of Besao back in 1911 who helped to establish St. James High School, I was shocked and amazed at the power of the internet in that moment. Immediately filled with excitement I relied:
Dear Mrs. Ellis,
I am so very happy to hear from you! You and your husband both should know that Besao is steeped in rich memory of Deaconess Anne Hargreaves. Even the small children here know of her as a legend. Of course I will take photos of her cross for you all. This April, St. Benedict’s Parish will be celebrating their centennial, in which they will commemorate the deaconess and her service to Besao. I know that it is a great thing to ask, but we would all be so honored if you and any of your family members would be able to join us in this momentous occasion. People will be coming from all over the world! During the centennial, there will be a photo exhibit and I would love if you could contribute your photos of the deaconess! People would be so thrilled to see them. I would like to send you a formal invitation to the centennial if you would be willing to send me your mailing address. What a blessing it has been to have received an e-mail from you. It truly is a small world! I hope that we can continue to be in communication in the near future.
Sincerely,
Melanie Jianakoplos
These are just a few of the photos which I received from the Ellis’How incredible it is that we were able to find each other. As the months flew by we worked as a community to prepare for our centennial celebration. We found that a lot can happen in 100 years! So much in fact that it took us two full days to celebrate the centennial at St. Benedict’s Parish. On the first day, April 10th, we had a parade from the Municipal Hall to the church, a morning worship service, registration, and cultural dancing presentations. The next day we had high mass, with the Prime Bishop and Diocesan Bishop, launching of the Gowen Foundation for St. James High School, the reading of the history of St. Benedict’s, and the unveiling of the centennial marker.That night we had a great bonfire and danced late into the night. The gongs beating so loud that I’m certain you could hear them in Sagada. The celebration was incredible. People spent hours on end telling stories of the “good ole days” as they shared meals and laughter.The highlight of my week was the friendship that I formed with the Gowen family. Among them were: Geoffrey Gowen and Ann Gowen Combs (The children of the late Rev. Vincent Gowen), Geoffrey’s daughter, Laura Gowen Brisbane, and two of Ann’s sons, Geoffrey and Dave Combs. Geoffrey and Ann were born and raised in Besao until the ages of 8 and 10 when, along with their parents, they were forcibly removed to a Japanese internment camp in Baguio City.When I arrived in the Philippines, My close friend and sponsor, Atty. Floyd Lalwet, gave me a book that changed my life in a way that few books have. It was entitled Sunrise to Sunrise. It is a compilation of the memoirs of the Rev. Vincent Gowen when he served as a missionary in Besao from 1927-1942. In his book, he writes all about the native culture of Besao, its landscape, and its secrets. He had the most wonderful things to say of this cool and peaceful place. In his journal he wrote of Besao:
“It was to be my home, so deeply the centre of my affection that, even after years of separation, no other home can supplant it in my heart, in the love I feel for its people.”
I keep wondering to myself, if father Gowen could have only imagined that 68 years after he left Besao there would be a 23 year old woman from Missouri serving as a missionary at St. Benedicts…
Spending time with the Gowens was surreal. Our time together was filled with stories of mystery and excitement, wonder and praise of this place. A place that only felt like home to a handful of white people, and there we were together, holding hands. We went everywhere together. We ate the Yogurt House in Sagada about ten times. We went to the Lang-ay festival in Bontoc. We took a trip up a sacred mountain and tumbled down it twice as fast as we went up, but that story deserves its own blog. We shared an adventure together!
It was as if I had come full circle. There I was the first lay missionary of the Episcopal Church in Besao since World War II and I had been blessed with the friendship of the descendants of the two most influential missionaries in the history of Besao. And it only took 100 years.
Melanie West Goes…Centennial
If you have the opportunity, read the book Sunrise to Sunrise, By Vincent H. Gowen,
ISBN 142510520-3
It will give you amazing background and perspective of the place where my adventures unfold.

7 comments:

  1. Mel - I have goosebumps from reading this post! Did the lady that wrote the letter end up coming to the celebration??

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  2. Melanie, I'm reading Fr. Gowen's book now. I got a copy after you talked about it in your blog. May God continue to bless you and your work.

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  3. Melanie - Thank you for keeping us updated on your year in the Philippines. We look forward to welcoming you back home!
    Todd +

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  4. Wow! I am in essence astonished by the way you certain out almost every single little detail. It really is truly heading to aid me a fantastic offer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so definitely.
    Teff grain

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  5. Hi Mel. Wow, I really appreciate your blog. I'm a girl from Besao,also member of the Church Youth of St. Benedict's. I'm in Baguio now for college.
    Wonderful blog. <3

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