The marriage of Gilbert and Emelie Diaz is, quite literally, built on harmony.
They both love music which fills their home in East Manteca’s Marsh Creek area practically every day. A black grand piano is parked in a very prominent place in their spacious living room not for decoration but for easy and convenient reach when they get the inspiration to play it – which is quite often – as they break into song.
It was, in fact, their mutual love of music, and their devotion to the proverbial language of the soul, which brought Gilbert and Emelie together in the first place. In 1981, the old Santo Domingo Church in Manila, Philippines, needed funds to repair its historic pipe organ. A fund-raising concert was arranged and Emelie, who was then a music teacher at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, was tapped to direct it. Featured in the concert was the Santo Domingo Male Chorale. Among its members was Gilbert, an engineer by profession and a cantor and pianist by avocation. Not long after that initial meeting, destiny stepped in and they tied the knot.
Two years later, the young couple moved to California and brought their music ministry to the Sacred Heart Parish in Oakland. Even as Gilbert pursued his engineering career, and Emelie worked on her master’s degree in music, they continued their music leadership at their parish church. Even when they decided to raise their children in a smaller community and moved to the San Joaquin Valley, they still continued their ministry at the Oakland church, commuting every week to the Bay Area. Eventually, they bade adieu to their service at Sacred Heart and embarked on a new music ministry at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca which flourished through the years and continues to this day.
The couple’s unwavering devotion to their ministry in the parish earned them the distinct honor of being the honorees at the annual St. Anthony Educational Foundation Awards dinner taking place tonight at Chez Shari in the Manteca Golf Course. They join the ranks of Manteca’s cream of the crop who have been similarly recognized by the foundation. Their names read like a Who’s Who in Manteca: Alice Machado who was a strong supporter of the parish and the school from the early years, George Perry of George Perry & Sons who was dubbed the Pumpkin King, the late philanthropist Antone Raymus who championed and started such causes as the Give Every Child a Chance and the Boys and Girls Club, the DeGroot brothers (Jerry, Nick, Al and Leo who were honored at different times), the Bert Van Ryn family, to name just a few.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Gilbert and Emelie studied in Catholic schools from elementary through college. A civil engineer, Gilbert received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He started singing at the age of nine with the Tiples de Santo Domingo, Asia’s oldest Boys Choir. Later, he co-founded and headed the Santo Domingo Male Chorale for the alumni of the Boys Choir.
At the Sacred Heart in Oakland, Gilbert served as chairman of the Building and Capital Campaign Committee whose mission was to raise money for a new church building after the old one was damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Even when he and his wife moved their family to Manteca, Gilbert continued his ministry at Sacred Heart, becoming the church’s director of music while overseeing the building project. It’s a role he held until the building was completed in 1997 when he came to St. Anthony’s to serve as cantor and pianist.
While Gilbert continued to serve at Sacred Heart Parish in Oakland, Emelie joined the music ministry at St. Anthony’s in 1992 as organist and pianist while working on her teaching credential at California State University, Stanislaus, at the same time. After receiving her teaching credential, she went to work as a full-time music teacher at Tracy Unified School District.
In 1998, she accepted the position of director of St. Anthony’s music ministry. She also became the director of the piano and choral music at Sierra High at the same time. In 2002, when St. Anthony’s School was in need of a music teacher, she left Sierra and started teaching at Manteca’s only parochial school. In addition to the music classes, Emelie directed the school’s Christmas and spring music programs, as well as the school’s liturgical music program.
Gilbert and Emelie had another opportunity to be of service to St. Anthony’s when, in 2003, Gilbert was tapped by parishioner Gene Marx who was the Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus at that time, to do a fund-raising for the church and the school. Gilbert happened to be a member of the internationally known and award-winning Saringhimig Singers, a San Francisco-based Filipino choral group, at the time. The group performed not just that one year but for three consecutive years of fund-raising, with the first two performances also featuring the St. Anthony’s School Children’s Choir.
Gilbert and Emelie were blessed with three children – one son and two daughters – who also received a Catholic education at St. Anthony’s School. As parents, Gilbert and Emelie served in a variety of fund-raisers for the school such as the bingo nights, Mardi Gras, and the perennially popular holiday luncheon. Their children were likewise active in such after-school activities as the Anthony’s Angels, sports (CYO), and being altar server and church choir member. Their son, Albert, made them grandparents for the first time late last year. He is currently serving in the Navy and just finished his training in Nuclear Power School. Oldest daughter, Claris, is finishing her PhD in Neuro Science at Cardiff University in Wales. Carol, the youngest of the three, is graduating this June at the University of California, Davis, with a degree in Psychology. Both Claris and Carol also sang with the Saringhimig when they performed for the fund-raising concerts in Manteca.
This year’s foundation honorees are usually the music ministers at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday masses at St. Anthony’s, but they are involved in many other parish ministries as well such as coordinating the music ministry of the church and school.