On October 20, 2016, the Provincial Chapter of the Dominican Province of the Philippines (DPP) elected its new Prior Provincial: the Very Rev. Fr. Napoleon B. Sipalay, Jr., O.P. Being at the helm of the DPP, Fr. “Jun” Sipalay likewise serves as the Chairman of all Boards of Trustees of schools run by the Dominican fathers, including UST, and serves as UST’s Vice-Chancellor. As the Province celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary, we take a look at the life, ministry, and vocation of Fr. Jun: the Provincial from the peripheries.
Responding to the Call
Responding to the Call
“My vocation story is not extraordinary. It’s the typical story of someone who was in a search for meaning,” recalls Fr. Jun. Indeed, he had no inclination to be a priest, especially since he never had religion as a subject in his schooling.
A bachelor’s degree in medical technology prepared him for the medical profession, but the search for meaning was overwhelming, especially after friends of his invited him to join the charistmatic renewal program. “I did not want to just finish my medical degree, get rich, and have a family; I wanted something else. I was looking for the ultimate meaning of things.”
The future Prior Provincial eventually met the would-be Fr. Roberto “Bobby” Pinto, O.P. in Davao, and it was Fr. Pinto who introduced Sipalay to the Dominican Order, which Sipalay confessed he scarcely knew about apart from the things he read in Jose Rizal’s novels.
Prior to his ordination in 1997, he was assigned to the post-novitiate, the Studentate, in which he worked under Fr. Enrico Gonzales, O.P., then-Master of Students. “I was assistant from 1996-2000. Afterward, I was assigned to the novitiate, a 24/7 job of formation of brothers. I did that for six years, until 2006.”
Going where no one wanted to go
In 2006, a call for volunteers was issued for the Dominican Province of the Philippines’s mission in Sri Lanka. “I wanted to go where others did not want to go,” recalls Fr. Sipalay, who volunteered for the mission, not knowing he was entering the country during a civil war.
During his nine-year ministry in Sri Lanka, Fr. Sipalay oversaw the continued evangelization of the area and saw physical structures such as the seminary and library constructed.
Resting in Our Lady’s arms
In 2015, he ended his nine-year mission in Sri Lanka and went home, emphasizing that he wanted to rest. “I told them I wanted to take a rest, so they elected me Prior of Manaoag,” he remembers with a laugh. “They told me, ‘You rest with Our Lady [of Manaoag].’”
A birthday cry: So help me God
Recalling his election on October 20—his forty-sixth birthday—Fr. Jun said he was proclaimed the new Prior Provincial on the second scrutiny. “When my name came out, I had no idea what to say or how to react. I just remember putting down my hand [mindlessly], and my fingers pressed buttons on the keyboard of the laptop in front of me. It [the document on the screen] moved and when I saw what happened, the sentence highlighted was “So help me God.”
UST’s new Vice-Chancellor
As the Prior Provincial, Fr. Sipalay automatically becomes the Chairman of UST’s Board of Trustees and holds the position of Vice-Chancellor.
“My role is really to support to make these [the University’s nine directional areas] things happen. I’m the one assigning brothers, and I will be assigning brothers who will help in pursuing this direction.”
The original, dynamic element
When asked about his message to the Dominican family, the new Prior Provincial calls for the Dominican family to return to their origin: preaching. “We are in a grace-filled year, the 800TH year of the Order. Hopefully, in going back to our origin, we will catch the fire that the reason why we are is the reason of preaching, and hopefully that will always be the dynamic element, but it may take different forms.”
Recognizing that preaching can be done in so many ways, especially considering present circumstances, Fr. Jun emphasized that preachers may be seen in missions, in education, in fighting for justice and peace, in the media, and in the privacy of their studies trying to answer the theological questions of the times. “I believe all of these are means for us the brethren to carry our the priorities of preaching.”
Never in isolation
Fr. Jun further stressed that the mission of the Order—to preach—cannot be carried out by the brethren alone. It was on this note that he paid tribute to all those who have helped and continue to help the Order along the way: “If you go back to the history of the Order, it was not just the brothers; there were many people who helped, like nuns and the lay people.”
Fr. Sipalay recognizes that there is a need for itinerancy among friars, for “when we become too rooted, we may not be as creative.” The new Prior Provincial is intent on ensuring that friars get to try different ministries to respond to the need for preaching. “Those who have been in a place too long and can be re-assigned, meaning they are not sick or too old or in an elected post, will be re-assigned to answer the need for preaching.”
“If we stay too long in one place, we may think that ‘we have tried that; it doesn’t work.’ But if we go to a new place, we are faced with new problems and while we may not have all the answers, we can put our heads together and find those answers.”
A home for those in search of mercy
In his message at the end of the interview, Fr. Jun hoped that the Order will be remembered as a home for those who were in need of mercy. “If there is a name that will Dominican brothers, sisters, and lay people will be remembered with, hopefully, it’s the name of Jesus Christ.”
“We hope and pray for people who have no one to go to. I hope Dominican life and people who are in the Dominican family may be a home for people to go to, maybe just to have a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen. Until then, when we don’t feel that compassion, I think there’s something wrong. Mercy will be the last word hopefully when we have to face Jesus Christ. What mercy we have shared will be our answer to the question how much you have loved: we have shared mercy, the love in action.”