Award-winning Asian American author Gilbert Luis R. Centina III has written a literary criticism, two novels and six poetry collections: Spiritual Quest in Verse: A Literary Criticism of Ricaredo Demetillo's Religious Poetry (2017), Diptych/Díptico (2017), Getxo and Other Poems (2014), Triptych and Collected Poems (2013), Somewhen (2013), Glass of Liquid Truths (1974-1979-2013) and Our Hidden Galaxette (1970-2013). His first novel Wages of Sin was published in 1988 in Honolulu as a limited edition. The roman à clef was written under a nom de guerre. In June 2013, he published Rubrics and Runes, this time under his real name. This controversial second novel is an attack on clericalism, simony, sex abuse and financial shenanigans as perpetrated by some misguided churchmen.
Respected for his poetry, his works have been widely anthologized in high school and college textbooks on Philippine literature in English. Besides English, he also writes in Spanish and in two Philippine languages, Hiligaynon and Tagalog. One of his Spanish poems and an aphorism were chosen for inclusion in separate anthologies of Spanish poets recently published in the United States while six other poems were included in the 2015 edition of EPA PORTU ANUARIO published in Spain. From the Asian Catholic Publishers and the Archdiocese of Manila under Jaime Cardinal Sin, he received the Catholic Authors Award in 1998, which he considers as his most treasured recognition, along with his selection as one of the outstanding chaplains of the Philippines in the year 2000 by the Knights of Columbus.
Born in La Carlota City in the central Philippine province of Negros Occidental, he is the second child of Luis T. Centina Jr. and Eva Gómez Ramos, who immigrated to the United States and settled in Belleville, New Jersey. His great grandfather Samuel Salas Ramos, a landowner, was appointed the first Filipino judge of his hometown, breaking a long line of foreign judges under Spanish and American colonial regimes. But his artistic bent comes from a childhood surrounded with charcoal etchings by his maternal grandfather Eliodoro Ramos, an amateur painter who studied law while serving in the U.S. Navy and being deployed at the Panama Canal and Annapolis, Maryland in the 1920s.
He comes from a family of artists. His father, an educator, contributed articles to national magazines in the Philippines and authored a posthumously published book, Almost on the Carpet. One of his two younger sisters is a painter while two of his four brothers are poets. In 2001, the State of New Jersey honored his father with a certificate of recognition for his valiant efforts in the Asiatic-Pacific War Theater as a combat intelligence and counter-intelligence officer during World War II under the United States Army Forces Far East and the organized guerrilla movement against the invading Japanese Imperial Army.
His paternal grandparents were lovers of education. His grandmother, a schoolteacher and his grandfather, a land surveyor, saw to it that every single one of their children earned a college education. One founded a school, another served as a chemist in the Red Cross and the rest met with success in various fields in Australia, Europe and North America.
In 1964, Gilbert entered the Augustinian monastery in historic Intramuros, Manila and later attended the University of Santo Tomas, the Philippines' royal and pontifical university. He made history as the first seminarian to be picked as literary editor of The Varsitarian, the official student publication, after winning the university's top literary prizes in English fiction and poetry. He graduated cum laude in each of the four degrees he obtained from the university: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Philosophy, Bachelor of Sacred Theology and Licentiate of Sacred Theology.
He also holds a Master's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of the Philippines. As well, he completed the coursework towards a doctorate in Comparative Literature in another state university but due to a new assignment that required him to relocate, he was unable to submit a dissertation.
During his novitiate, he contributed short fiction, poetry and articles to The Chronicle Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Saturday Mirror Magazine, Weekly Nation, Impact, Weekly Graphic, Philippines Free Press and Solidarity and worked as staff writer of Now Magazine and as editor of Coed Magazine. He also penned a column for Homelife, the Philippines' family magazine, while teaching religion at Santa Rosa College in Makati. He returned to Homelife in 2004 when it celebrated its golden jubilee to receive a citation for his contributions to the magazine.
In 1972, he was named the most distinguished alumnus in the field of journalism by La Carlota City High School, his alma mater, on its silver anniversary. Three years later, the town council of Calinog, Iloilo passed a resolution making him adopted son of his father's hometown.
Jaime Cardinal Sin ordained him a priest in 1976 at the Manila Cathedral. A year prior to his ordination, he won the Palanca Memorial Awards, the country's highest literary honor, in English poetry. Years later in 1983, he received the Focus Magazine literary award in English poetry.
After finishing his Master of Arts in Comparative Literature degree at the University of the Philippines in 1976, he volunteered to serve as a missionary in Peru. Upon his return to the Philippines in 1978, he worked as a professorial lecturer at the University of the Philippines-Visayas and as a literature professor at Pius XII Institute of Catechetical and Social Studies under the Archdiocese of Jaro, which also assigned him as chaplain of Apostolatus Maris. He wrote a weekly column for Yuhum, a leading weekly magazine in Hiligaynon in Western Visayas. In 1980, the city of Iloilo tapped him to chair the publicity committee of Dinagyang, an annual religious-cultural event that attracts tourists from far and wide. It was during this time, while assigned as treasurer of San Jose Parish in Iloilo City, that he galvanized the parishioners, led by sisters Dolores and Guadalupe Lacson and by Angelita Mossman, to renovate the church and the bowling lanes run by the parish.
While in Iloilo, he composed the lyrics of the Diamond Jubilee Hymn of the University of San Agustin on the occasion of its diamond jubilee celebration. It was put into music by Fr. Santiago Ezcurra, OSA, then the dean of the Conservatory of Music of the University.
He attended the 1976 UP National Writers Workshop and the 1974 Silliman National Summer Writers Workshop, where he was followed by his elder brother Romeo and his younger sibling Pierce also as writing fellows, becoming the first triumvirate of poet brothers to be accepted to the annual event, a record in Philippine literary history that stands to this day. He is a member of the UP Writers Club and a charter member of the National Writers Union of the Philippines, which is now known as Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL).
Upon the invitation of Kerima Polotan-Tuvera, publisher of the Evening Post, he wrote a column for her newspaper in the late eighties under a pseudonym. Throughout the nineties, he penned the widely-read "Silver Linings" column in People's Tonight and a second column under another pseudonym in Philippine Newsday.
Following the ouster from power of Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986, he went to Hawaii and spiritually ministered to the former leader, his wife Imelda and their household staff for over a year. Political pressure on some Honolulu prelates led them to prohibit priests from performing religious services for the Marcoses at the time. Years later in 2001, he was asked by Philippine President Joseph Estrada to introduce him before a massive prayer rally in Manila to show support for the beleaguered leader.
Upon his return to the Philippines, he was appointed chaplain and chair of the Christian Formation Team of Colegio San Agustin-Makati, with added responsibilities as editor of Search, an Augustinian journal, and as publicity officer of the school community.
He improved and expanded the annual student diary, published books by fellow friars and launched an annual writing contest for the best research on St. Augustine. A regular Mass in Spanish was added to the schedule on his initiative. With the help of benefactors, he shepherded the renovation of the altar, the presbytery, the tabernacle, the confessional chapel of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and the shrine of the Santo Niño (Holy Child). The gardens by the chapel were turned into a mini-park.
From 2007 to 2010, he served as pastor of a parish church in Upper Manhattan. A well-traveled writer, he has visited many places in Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia, including Tibet.
Today, he divides his time between the New York metropolitan area and Neguri near Bilbao, Spain, where he is assigned at Iglesia del Carmen.