As a child in the Philippines, Ruth Samalca-Manligoy trekked two miles to church everyday with her guitar. Her music gave glory to God then as it does now, many miles and years later at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Midwood.
Samalca-Manligoy believes she was “born to serve,” and her life as a Catholic mother, nurse and musician reflects that conviction.
Last Friday, she was recognized for her ongoing example of service to the church and her community with a Shining Star Award from Catholic Migration Services.
Samalca-Manligoy represented the diocesan Filipino Ministry, one of 29 ethnic ministries whose members were honored at two separate dinners at Gargiulo’s, Coney Island, this month.
“This came as a blessed surprise,” Samalca-Manligoy said moments before accepting a glass star inscribed with her name. “To be given an award like this is a great thing.”
She wished her mother, Helen, could have been there to witness the moment.
Born in Davao City, Samalca-Manligoy was raised in a family of five girls. They rose before the sun each weekday to walk to church, carrying their instruments to play and sing at the 6 a.m. Mass before school.
Life revolved around faith and service, particularly to the church, and Samalca-Manligoy often accompanied her mother, a third-order Carmelite, to church events and activities.
“She was inspirational,” Samalca-Manligoy said. “She was always serving in the church. She did a lot of corporal works of mercy and she brought me along with her. I was old enough to understand what was going on.”
Held Onto Faith, Values
She lost her mother when she was 13, but never lost sight of the faith and values instilled in her.
Today, she is a working mother and musical director of the Filipino Choir at Our Lady Help of Christians parish, her spiritual home since she came to the U.S. in 1993.
Under her direction, the Filipino Choir performs at the parish’s monthly Filipino Mass. A singer and guitarist in her own right, she has participated in fundraisers for regions affected by poverty and natural disasters, including the Philippines following Typhoon Yolanda.
She is also a founder of the Filipino Arts and Music Ensemble, a nonprofit that seeks to preserve and promote Filipino folk dance and music. Youth share music and dances at churches, nursing homes and events, locally and in neighboring states.
Among the ensemble’s shining stars are her son, Margoux, 19, and daughter, Francesca, 17, who are following in their mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps. They serve their parish as altar servers, lectors and are part of the choir.
Samalca-Manligoy further sets an example in her family and community through her service in the intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, formerly Kings Highway Hospital, Midwood, where she’s worked as a registered nurse 23 years.
It was her own brush with illness in 2003, and the solace she found in spiritual hymns, that gave her clarity in knowing God’s plan for her: to continue with her music ministry and promote the work of the church.
“It’s a lot of sacrifice,” she said, “but this fulfills me. I think I am born to serve.”
Unlike most of the other Shining Star Award recipients, African-American honoree Deacon LeRoy Branch Jr. isn’t an immigrant, but he understands the experience of being an outsider.
Born and raised in the Gowanus Housing Projects, Deacon Branch was a member of St. Agnes Church, just a few blocks away in Carroll Gardens, and attended the parish school.
“It was interesting coming from a poor neighborhood, predominantly black and Hispanic, and then going to St. Agnes, where I met all of these different nationalities,” he said.
“It made me who I am today. It made me a better individual and a more well-rounded person to be able to deal with so many different people.”
That experience paved the way for his future ministries as a husband and father, a community liaison with the NYC Dept. of Transportation and a deacon at St. Paul-St. Agnes parish since 2009.
When he was about 17, he left St. Agnes’ faith community and started attending St. Paul’s Church nearby. At that time, St. Paul’s had something St. Agnes didn’t – his future wife, Norma. Last August, they celebrated 29 years of marriage.
Marriage is the first, and most important ministry in Deacon Branch’s life.
“Although I am a deacon, my first ministry is marriage, because I think marriage signifies the relationship between Jesus and His Church.
“In today’s society, for some people, marriage isn’t that important or they trivialize it. For us, as Catholics, marriage is the foundation.”
He believes the future of the Church depends on strong marriage preparation, family life and youth ministry programs, and these are the ministries closest to his heart.
Among his duties, Deacon Branch is spiritual director of the Christian Family Movement Program, he’s involved in Facilitating Open Couple Communication Understanding and Study (FOCCUS) and he’s active in the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns, particularly its Kujenga Youth Leadership Retreat.
“Deacon Leroy has worked on the Kujenga Youth Retreat for many years,” said Father Alonzo Cox, diocesan coordinator of African-American Ministry. “He has encouraged many of the African American youth of our diocese to take on leadership roles in their parish community.
“He challenges them to make a difference in their communities. Many of the youth who participated in the Kujenga Retreat look up to him as a positive mentor in their lives,” Father Cox added.
The fruit of his mentorship, marriage and love is most evident in his son, Christian, who works in the Student Life Office at St. Joseph’s College, Clinton Hill.
From home to work and in his parish, Deacon Branch aims to share his life so that all who encounter him know that no matter “who we are or where we come from, we’re the same children under God’s eyes.”