Claire and Ronnie de la Gana, along with their children, Isabella and Ryan, in Banff, Alta. Photo courtesy the de la Ganas

For the de la Ganas, service is a family affair

By  Sheila Nonato, Catholic Register Special
  • October 5, 2023

Claire and Ronnie de la Gana are a couple on a mission.

Married for 27 years, the couple have put faith and community service at the centre of their marriage and family life.

The de la Ganas have been parishioners of St. Therese Church in Courtice, Ont., in the Diocese of Peterborough, for the past 10 years and their volunteer service there is as a family: Claire as lector, Ronnie as occasional usher, their son, Ryan, as altar server and their daughter, Isabella, as a lector and choir member.

Their dedication to service also extends beyond their parish. Claire and Ronnie have devoted many years to projects connecting and empowering the Filipino Canadian community by helping to organize cultural festivals, publishing a community magazine and being involved in the creation of the first awards competition and gala highlighting the contributions of Canadians of Filipino descent across the country.

“It’s been a blessing meeting people, hearing their stories and learning from their stories. It is such a gift. It’s a priceless blessing. How you go from one place to another, how you hear one story to another. You always take something with you,” said Claire.

This summer, the Golden Balangay Awards (GBA), the first awards competition and gala geared towards Filipino Canadians, went westward to Edmonton with the hopes of passing the torch to other Canadian cities in the future. It was the first in-person GBA event since the pandemic began. The first awards gala was held in Toronto in 2017.

Ronnie and close friend Jovito Favila founded the GBA in 2014, which recently transitioned to become a foundation.

It was after hearing the passionate pleas of Filipino Canadian youth seeking mentors within the community that sparked the idea for the men. It also came from a sense of purposeful service and giving back to the community for Favila and his wife, Bloomy, after a tragic car accident took the life of their seven-year-old son, Jacoub.

“This is why Ronnie and I click. We believe in the purpose and we centre our work towards serving God,” Favila said.

According to Statistics Canada, there are nearly 960,000 Canadians with Filipino roots. More than one-third of Canadians of Filipino descent in 2021 had arrived within the previous decade.

“That journey of every Filipino, if you look at it, it’s kind of the same but the story and the background, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful hearing one story from one person to another,” Ronnie said.

It’s that journey that the founders hoped would be symbolized in the Golden Balangay Awards, with the word “balangay” meaning “boat” in Tagalog, the Philippine national language. “Balangay” is also the root of “barangay,” the Filipino word for “community.”

Favila noted Claire, 54, a project manager, and Ronnie, 53, a radio communications systems specialist, also have the help and support of their children who volunteer with Filipino community events and are youth members of Missionary Families of Christ Canada.

Their love and dedication for faith and service started a year after Claire and Ronnie were married. They joined the predecessor of the Missionary Families of Christ in the Philippines in 1996.

“I think that’s where we gained our leadership and strengthened our marriage,” Ronnie said.

“Back in the Philippines, traditionally the husbands tend to, during Sunday Mass, all be standing in the back and only the moms and kids, they’re the ones sitting down,” he recalled.

“Growing up, that is what I saw and one of …  the drives of the MFC, they want to change the culture and they want the head of the family to lead. That is one of the strengths of the community,” Ronnie said.

It’s that family involvement, from parents to children, and the goal of working towards building a culture of leadership for youth, adults and families, that appealed to the de la Ganas.

For Claire and Ronnie, it’s not just about giving back. It’s also how everyone benefits in return for investing in the spiritual growth of others and contributing to the building of a bridge of unity within the community.

The roots of service go back to God and finding one’s purpose in how to serve Him, they said.

“My prayer is always: ‘Use me as an instrument, for whatever purpose,’ in every single prayer. It’s not eloquent. It’s very straightforward,” Ronnie said.

It’s been a “life-changing” blessing, Claire said, to be able to find one’s purpose in the service of others.

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