Pavia was founded both as town and parish by Spanish authorities in 1862 and a church was built almost at the same time but of less solid material.
Fr. Policarpio Minayo, the first priest of the parish established under the advocation of Saint Monica of Africa, oversaw the construction of this church from 1862 to 1864.
Reconstruction of the Santa Monica Parish Church with the use of bricks began during the tenure of Fr. Antonio Fermentino, who served from 1882 to 1887 and then from 1889 to 1890. A stone convent was added by Fr. Calixto Fernandez in 1887.
Work on the structure continued under the term of Fr. Lazaro Ramirez from 1895 to 1899, when it was finally opened for public worship.
Unique church features
The church is of Byzantine mold, with exterior and interior walls made entirely of red bricks, according to parish records. It is the only one of its kind in the whole island of Panay.
Mass goers and visitors can still see two Greek crosses that decorate the facade today.
Unlike many Spanish-period churches of cruciform design with rectangular transept, Santa Monica’s is round and set against the rear wall.
Fr. Felix Caronongan Jr., writing about parish history in the souvenir program for its 100th founding anniversary in 1988, said the structure is unique because it combines elements of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. He added that it looks like a simpler and smaller version of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in the Iloilo town’s namesake of Pavia in Italy.
The first native priest, Fr. Mansueto Zabala, took over the parish in 1911.
Years of construction, repair
When war broke out in 1941, Japanese forces used the church as garrison and it became the subject of constant raids by Filipino guerillas resulting in the walls getting defaced.
The structure was further damaged by bombing runs of American liberation forces.
After the war, rehabilitation works were undertaken throughout the years by a succession of parish priests. Fr. Melicio Rubrico (1946-1951) repaired the main altar in 1946, Msgr. Ciceron Tumbocon (1951 to 1953) replaced the roof with salvaged galvanized iron, Fr. Vicente Declaro (1953-1958) started on four of the current 18 columns, Fr. Victor Casa (1959-1964) added new wooden benches made possible by donations, Fr. Domingo Tabifranca (1964-1967) had a new wooden altar table made so the priest could face the congregation while saying Mass (Vatican II), and Fr. Victor Piansay (1969-1977) installed steel windows and as well as new marble altar table.
Fr. Casa was also behind the building of a single level wooden rectory because the old two-story structure was already dilapidated and unsafe. Other works by Fr. Piansay included marble flooring for the main altar and cement for the whole church. He added a concrete arch in the man altar.
A new concrete two-story rectory was built under the term of Msgr. Juanito Ma. Tuvilla, who took over the parish on August 27, 1978. With subsidies sourced from West Germany, Msgr. Tuvilla also continued construction of the concrete columns in the church. Incoming priests up to the 1990s contributed their share to building the church and parish.
Solemn, festive celebrations
The Catholic Church decreed Sta. Monica’s day of honor every August 27, moving it close to the feast day of her son St. Augustine, which is every August 28.
While the Santa Monica Parish celebrates it with the usual 9-day novenario and concelebrated mass, it is without the food and funfare characteristic of traditional Philippine fiestas.
Instead, according to parish records, the revelry that marks Fiesta Day happens every May 4.
No one knows why this is so, said Fr. Caronongan. It may be because November weather is not conducive to outdoor activities or it is before the harvest time of the town’s main crop of palay and household funds are already depleted.
Whatever the reason, the townspeople continue to fulfill the spiritual aspect of St. Monica’s feast day in August 27 and conduct festive activities by May 4.