Thursday, November 30, 2006

The essential Scholastican

What fruits had we tasted? What pearls had we found? What seeds had been sown in our young lives, and have they grown into great trees? What did we get, what did we give? What food, what richness, what strengths did we take along when we set out into the wilderness?

Did we discover the hidden wells and the orchards? Did we search for life among the ruins? Did we listen, did we speak? Did we laugh and did we weep? Did we hearken, did we heed? And as we journeyed on, who have we become—for ourselves, for others, for God?

Much have been given us and much is to be given back—and forward. The late Sister Caridad Barrion OSB, dean of St. Scholastica’s College for almost two decades, never tired of reminding generations of Scholasticans to give. Her mantra: “You cannot give what you do not have.”

And so we had to fill ourselves first, to drink, by drawing from the deep. To be steeped in a Benedictine tradition of learning for the heart, a way of life so ancient yet ever new. Ora et labora. Pray and work. And study too, for weren’t the Benedictine monks known since the fifth century to be keepers and spreaders of wisdom and knowledge, the bearers of light during the Dark Ages when barbarians threatened to destroy Western civilization?

St. Scholastica’s College marks its glorious 100th year on December 3. On Sept. 14, 1906 five German Missionary Benedictine Sisters arrived in Manila to become the pioneers of an institution of learning for women and girls. They had come to serve the poor but were disappointed when something else they had not expected was thrust upon them: the education of those who had relative material affluence and future influence. And so with typical German grit, they went to work--to teach, to shape, to mold, to discipline (sometimes too severely—and I should know) so that their wards would become “women of character”. Well, the pioneers did not come straight out of the Bavarian Kulturcampf for nothing.

Last Sunday, we launched “Daughters True: 100 Years of Scholastican Education, 1906-2006”, a great book that summarizes a century as distilled in the minds, hearts and lives of generations of Scholasticans. It is history, yes, for it serves up a lot, not just about St. Scho and its evolution, but the Philippine context as well. But it is more than just history, it is also a book of insights and experiences--sublime, hilarious, serious, unforgettable because true-to-life--delivered in so many ways by more than 60 Scholasticans from different corners of these islands and the world.

Scholasticans from across 100 years and from all walks of life shared the essence of their lives by drawing from their own life journeys. Five long major chapter essays (thematic) hold the book together and are spiced up by dozens of short scrumptious pieces and hundreds of vintage photographs (some to-die-for antiques) in duo tone. (Book size 8 by 11 in matte coated paper, more than 300 pages between hard covers.) Already several bookstores have called to inquire if they could have some.

You don’t have to be a Scholastican to appreciate the book. For it says a lot about culture, education, being Filipino, being Christian, being women and “daughters true”. How we become.

The major themes are the school’s history and evolution through the years, the different levels and their thrust, women’s education and empowerment, education for justice, Scholastican activism, Scholastican spirituality, the school’s neo-Romanesque and art deco architecture, the 36 outstanding Scholasticans (Pax awardees from 1979 to 2006, Pres. Corazon Aquino among them) who wrote some of the pieces.

But as I said, the short essays (even the lists) are the spice and garnish that make the book even more palatable. I do not like to pick out names and essays lest I be accused of favoritism. But I must mention the editors—Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Paulynn Paredes Sicam, Karina Africa Bolasco and myself. Lynett Villariba, the Inquirer’s art and design director, gave the book a great look never before seen in books about institutions.

This book was four years in the making. It was the brainchild of then school president Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB (now mother prioress) who made sure “Daughters True” became “daughters through”. Sr. M. Soledad Hilado OSB saw us through the 100 years with her sharp eye and solicitude.

I wrote one of the major essays, “The Essential Scholastican: The Roots and Fruits of Her Spirituality” which is not about spirituality above the clouds but on terra firma. It was wonderful to hear Scholasticans from all walks of life share their process of becoming. For what is spirituality if not (according to theologian Fr. Percy Bacani MJ) “a style, unique to the self, that catches up all our attitudes in communal and personal prayer, in behavior, bodily expressions, life choices, in what we support and affirm and what we protest and deny”?

Mother Irene Dabalus OSB sums up the ideal Scholastican thus: “God-grounded, God-enthralled, God-enamored, she swings into the lives around her and feels for the sufferings and struggles of others.”

This same life force, Mother Irene adds, is active in Benedictine education known for that combination of a passion for the truth in academic pursuits, and compassion shaped by a sense of community, prayer and service to others.

“This was all there in our college days, this vision of life which united a deep thirst for the Spirit and a grounding in God, and the work of calling forth the best resources in life, goodness and peace out of each one of us…and the whole of creation.”

Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus. That in all things God may be glorified.