Bro. Gregorio Lima Hontomin, OP: A Wonderful Dominican Cooperator Brother

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Bro. Gregorio Lima Hontomin, OP
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I never met Bro. Gregorio in person but putting together the bits and pieces of the stories about him, one can easily discover that there is something special about him. From the point of view of our faith, Bro. Gregorio was someone who lived his Christian life, as a Dominican cooperator brother beyond the ordinary. It is no wonder why after his death, many were already thinking of the possibility of him being recognized someday by the Church, as a person of heroic virtue. It was also for this same reason that the brethren of the Dominican Province of the Philippines have not failed to mention the possibility of his cause in every Provincial Chapter since after his death.

Bro. Gregorio did not write any spiritual treatise, as he was not trained or prepared for such an undertaking. However, from the interviews and oral testimonies that I have gathered over the past ten years, one could say that Bro. Gregorio may have been a person of few words, but he spoke eloquently through his life and works.

He was a native of the Batanes Islands on November 21, 1909. Situated in the northern part of the Philippines, it is a group of small islands that was evangelized by the Dominicans. The island where he came from is called Sabtang. Its people are known for basketmaking and building boats. Most likely, his talent, for which he would later be well-known (a handyman) may have had its incipience in his island and his culture as Ivatan, as the natives of the Batanes are called. Around 1930, he came to Manila and was employed at the San Juan de Dios hospital in Intramuros. It was there, as some would say, that he was recruited by a Dominican father to become a cooperator brother. In so far as documents would show, he is said to be the first native Filipino to enter the Dominican formation.

We may say, that the first half of his Dominican life was spent in the Convent of St. Albert the Great in Rosaryhill, Hongkong (1936-1959) and the second-half at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila (1959-1982). In the convent of St. Albert the Great, Bro. Gregorio became an icon, so much so, that his life has been embedded in its history. He was there, just right after it was newly established as a convent and a formation house, and he was practically the last friar to leave, when the house of formation was closed. Bro. Gregorio served as an all around and always on-call handyman of the Dominican brethren in the said Convent and House of Formation. He displayed remarkable talents on almost everything, if not all, which required technical and manual skills. He was the friar who was mainly responsible for keeping the convent in tip-top shape. His ingenuity in fixing things was so impressive to the amazement of his Dominican brothers in St. Albert the Great. Another remarkable characteristic of Bro. Gregorio was in terms of taking care of his sick brothers as the community infirmarian who was never tired of nursing anyone who got sick. He had touched, to a great extent the life of the friars in Rosaryhill so much so that any friar who would recollect memories of St. Albert the Great in Hong Kong would remember the genial Bro. Gregorio and instrumental he was to the survival of the friars during the Second World War.

It was said that the room of Bro. Gregorio was like a prayer room and a workshop together. In the midst of all kinds of gadgets; numerous nuts and bolts, screws, wirings, etc., a crucifix was prominently placed. It is said that the way his room was arranged reflected his character as he is said to have found contemplation in his work. The humble generosity and graceful presence of Bro. Gregorio in so many ways touched the lives of the brethren who passed through the alleys of St. Albert the Great Convent in Hong Kong. When the Dominican House of Studies in Rosaryhill was closed on June 7, 1959, Bro. Gregorio was tasked to remove all the temporary and permanent fixtures from the entire convent.

In the Philippines, he was assigned to the University of Santo Tomas where he worked as the head of the General Services of the University Hospital. A few years after assuming his new assignment, he was chosen as one of the delegates from the Philippines to the canonization of St. Martin de Porres by Pope John XXIII on May 6, 1962. It became an opportunity for him to visit other places in Europe, such as Spain and Portugal where he met many Spanish friars he had known before. He is said to have been able to visit the Holy Land as well. His spiritual experience in this journey made an indelible impression on him.

As head of the General Services Department of hospital of the University of Santo Tomas, Bro. Gregorio spent practically the entire second-half of his Dominican life at the hospital. Once again, the ingenuity of Bro. Gregorio blended with a deep spirit of service was clearly seen in his work there. He was not only good in repairing broken hospital apparatuses but also in inventing various kinds of equipment for the benefit of the patients and the rest of the health care workers. Despite the respect and admiration he was enjoying, Bro Gregorio still remained humble and charitable. He extended whatever help he could give to the needy patients. Sometimes in the afternoon, he visited the slumps around the University and distributed bread especially to street children. His extraordinary life and service did not go unrecognized. On May 9, 1977 he was conferred with a pontifical award for outstanding service to the Church - Croce pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.

During those times, the Dominicans in the Philippines were facing a great difficulty, not from outside but from within. The wounds resulting from the birth of the Dominican Philippine Province from the Holy Rosary or Spanish Province were still fresh and the pain was very much felt among the brethren. Bro Gregorio saw and felt the tension between the Spanish and Filipino Dominicans and shared in the crisis and suffering. However, he urged and prayed for peace among the brothers. In a symbolic way, he would make rosaries with olive seeds and telephone wires and would give them out to the brothers on his birthday and a symbol of peace and unity.

On July 6, 1982, Gregorio was found leaning on his table. He has collapsed while fixing things. He was rushed to the hospital but before six in the evening, he had returned to his Creator.

At his burial, his nephew was given a moment to say a few words. He said that if there was anything that Bro. Gregorio left for his brethren, it was his memory as a man of peace. With that, he hopes that like, Bro. Gregorio, the Dominicans in the Philippines would always live together in same spirit of peace, understanding, and love.

 

(30 November 2017)