If there is one person who we can say was mainly responsible for forming the spirituality of the Passionists and former Passionists in the Philippines, this is Father Hilarion Walters, C.P. That includes forming my spirituality although I have left the Congregation of the Passion more than 40 years ago. In this article I would like to say something about him in the hope that his memory will still stay with us as someone whom we can emulate.
Fr. Hilarion was born Thomas Walters on December 16, 1918 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied in the Passionist minor seminary in Dunkirk, New York and was ordained priest in 1947. The following year he went to China as a missionary. He went back to the USA because of the tensions in China. He then served as director of the Passionist seminary in New Jersey. In 1958 he came to the Philippines where he stayed until his final departure on July 7, 2013. He served as parish priest in many towns of South Cotabato, Philippines. He was spiritual director of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal group in General Santos City for many years. He also served as Director of Passionist Theology Students in Metro Manila.
Parish Priest and School Chaplain
I first met Fr. Hilarion as my parish priest in Banga, South Cotabato, Philippines in 1958. At that time I was a first year high school student at the school Notre Dame of Banga. I was staying in a house inside the church compound which he had put up for his cook. So every morning it was my privilege to serve his Mass in the church. He was also the chaplain of that school. After my first year in high school I went somewhere else to continue my studies and so I missed seeing him for a time.
After my high school I decided to join the Congregation of the Passion. After a college life of four years in this Congregation it was time for me to enter the novitiate in General Santos City, Philippines in order to become a Passionist. I was surprised when I met Fr. Hilarion as our Novice Master. We were very few who entered that novitiate, only 4 for the priesthood and 3 for the brotherhood. Fr. Hilarion formed the 7 of us to be genuine Passionists. At the end of the year he recommended two of us to be professed, that is, to take the vows which would make us professed Passionists.
Fr. Hilarion and St. John of the Cross
During spiritual conferences in the novitiate Fr. Hilarion would often refer to the analogy given by St. John of the Cross in the Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book 1, Chapter 11. This is about a bird that was tied to a string. John of the Cross said that it did not matter whether the string was a slender cord or a stout one, as long as the bird was tied to it, it cannot freely fly. Fr. Hilarion used this image to tell us that unless we are detached from everything we cannot be freely united with God.
Thus it was Fr. Hilarion who introduced me to St. John of the Cross. This eventually led me to study and live more the Discalced Carmelite spirituality until I became a Discalced Carmelite secular. This is why I call Fr. Hilarion a father of my spirituality.