Bishop Napoleon Sipalay Jr., O.P. officially takes the helm of the Diocese of Alaminos as its fourth bishop, following his formal installation at the St. Joseph Cathedral in Pangasinan on Tuesday, March 19. (Photo by Josh Nikkolai S. Bravo/ The Varsitarian)

ALAMINOS, Pangasinan – Holding to his crozier and determined to overcome personal doubts to lead a new ministry, Bishop Napoleon Sipalay Jr., O.P. officially took over the helm of the Diocese of Alaminos on Tuesday, March 19.

His installation at the St. Joseph the Patriarch Cathedral ended the Diocese of Alaminos’s four-year sede vacante status, or a diocese without a bishop, since the Vatican named its former prelate, Ricardo Baccay, to lead the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao in January 2020.

Pope Francis’s appointment of Sipalay, previously the UST Central Seminary vice rector, made history as he is the first Filipino Dominican chosen to lead a diocese in nearly three decades. He is the fourth Filipino Dominican overall to be named a prelate.

Admitting to being a “kindergarten bishop,” Sipalay vowed to brush off his personal anxieties to lead his new flock.

“The person before you is also beset with so many doubts, but let us now turn it aside,” he said in his homily. “The Lord […] doesn’t look at what we are now; he looks at what we can become.”

“Let us walk together; let us journey together for the common good of this diocese. Let us build this Church together, not going ahead, not going backward, but together, side by side, we walk to build a Diocese of Alaminos,” the newly minted bishop added.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas (second from right) administers the rites of canonical possession, with Sipalay (center) sitting at the cathedra to signify his seat of leadership and holding to the crozier to symbolize possession of an ecclesiastical office. (Photo by Josh Nikkolai S. Bravo/ The Varsitarian)

Sipalay will have jurisdiction over 600,000 Catholics living in 13 municipalities and the City of Alaminos that make up western Pangasinan.

Sipalay is the fourth prelate to head the diocese since its establishment in 1985. Alaminos is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan.

The former Central Seminary vice rector has come a long way since entering the priesthood in 1997. For a decade, he conducted missionary work in conflict areas in Sri Lanka before the Dominican Province of the Philippines tapped him to be its prior provincial in 2016.

Sipalay sat as vice chancellor of UST by virtue of his position and served as chairman of the board of trustees.

The decision to accept the episcopacy has been difficult because he has become accustomed to the Dominican way of life, he said.

“Even this office that has been given to me, I said yes without actually understanding the consequences,” Sipalay said. “I woke up the day after that, and I realized that I wouldn’t be in my Dominican community. I would be with a different community.”

“I realize those who could not live the Dominican community life […] could not live community life in the diocese,” he stressed.

A new shepherd

Auxiliary Bishop Fidelis Bautista Layog, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Alaminos, called on the faithful of western Pangasinan to lend their support to their new bishop in the spirit of synodality.

“May this day remind us of God’s love and grace for all of us as we continue to live as a synodal community, formed and shaped by the spirit of stewardship, renewal and unity, as we join Bishop Jun in his shepherding journey with us,” Layog said in his remarks. “Let us celebrate our gift of faith as we commit our support and prayers for him together.”

Alaminos Chancellor Fr. Melchor Joseph Braga read the English translation of the apostolic letter from the Holy See appointing Sipalay as prelate on Jan. 28, the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“Francis, bishop, servant of the servants of God. To our beloved son, Napoleon Sipalay Jr., member of the Order of the Preachers, currently vice rector of the University of Santo Tomas Central Seminary in the Archdiocese of Manila, appointed bishop of Alaminos. Greetings and blessings,” the letter stated.

“We consider you, beloved son, as one who is greatly devoted to missionary and pastoral activity, as you have shown numerous human and Christian gifts; thus, we see you as suitable for the proper exercise of this office,” it added.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas administered the rites of canonical possession.

Sipalay sat at the cathedra, or a raised bishop’s throne, signifying his seat of leadership before Villegas handed him over the crozier, or a long staff with a crooked top, symbolizing possession of an ecclesiastical office.

Alaminos Chancellor Fr. Melchor Joseph Braga holds the framed apostolic letter from the Holy See appointing Sipalay as prelate. (Photo by Josh Nikkolai S. Bravo/ The Varsitarian)

Local politicians attended the installation, including Alaminos Mayor Arth Bryan Celeste and Vice Mayor Jan Marionne Fontelera, and Pangasinan Rep. Arthur Celeste. Fontelera gave Sipalay a copy of the city council’s resolution congratulating the latter on his appointment.

“It is with profound joy and reverence that we welcome Bishop Sipalay as the shepherd of our diocese as he embarks on this sacred journey of pastoral service,” the vice mayor said in his remarks before the Mass. “May the Holy Spirit guide his steps, light his path, and empower him to lead with wisdom and love.”

Before the installation, Sipalay was consecrated bishop on Monday, March 18, at the Minor Basilica of the Our Lady of Manaoag, with leading Church figures in attendance, including Archbishop Charles John Brown, the apostolic nuncio to the Philippines; Manila Archbishop Jose Cardinal Advincula; and Villegas.

In his first remarks after his installation, the 53-year-old prelate hoped that the two-day ceremony would spur “happy memories” within the diocese.

“The experience with a father is the first experience with God,” he said. “Starting our presence here together is a memory. I pray and hope we can build happy memories together, so when we grow old, you remember this.”


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