The Ateneo de Manila University celebrates the 150th anniversary of its foundation this year. I am proud to be an Ateneo alumnus, one of those who graduated from the Grade School, High School and College on the Loyola campus. Some of the boys I met as classmates then are even better friends now that we are men. We have not forgotten where we came from nor the friends that we made there. This is the homily at the Mass for the Sesquicentennial of Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Schools.
Homily for the Sesquicentennial of ADMU, Loyola Schools
by José CJ Magadia SJ, 10 December 2009, Church of the Gesù
This has been quite a year. From the launching of the celebration last June in the old Ateneo in the walled city, to the conferences and concerts, the blessing of the new Rizal Library, yesterday’s book launching of the Agenda for Hope, the ads, the hype, the countdown, the tarps and the themes, the blessings that came with the athletic victories, especially the UAAP championship of senior and junior basketball teams, the top university ranking, the academic competitions where our excellence has been displayed. Wow, what a year! T.S. Eliot says that the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper; we end our three-year build up to this sesquicentennial not with a whimper, but a bang.
Today, however, as we come together around the table of the Eucharist, I suggest that we step out of the hustle and bustle of the “sesqui,” and for these short span of an hour, be more recollecting and quiet. Today, December 10, 2009, we are gathered in this Church of the Gesù to do two things.
First, we come together to remember.
We remember that on this very day, 150 years ago, in 1859, the first class of twenty-three grade school students came to the doors of the Escuela Municipal in Intramuros, to become the first wards of the Jesuit priests who had just returned to Manila some months earlier after almost a century of absence from the archipelago. Twenty-three students came, out of thirty-three enrolled. So at least we know that cutting classes has somehow always been part of our school tradition!
We remember that just a few years after, in 1865, secondary education began and the school was renamed the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. We remember that in 1901, state funding ended and the school came to be called simply Ateneo de Manila. We remember that from the very beginning, it was an institution on the go, moving and expanding, from Intramuros to Padre Faura to Loyola, and from Loyola radiating to Salcedo and Rockwell and Ortigas, and beyond, through its satellite campuses, its on-site course offerings, its on-line programs.
From its beginnings in forming young men in the basics of reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, and religion, it has gone on to brave many more academic and professional fronts, from Philosophy and History and Literature, to Chemistry and Management and Sociology, from law and business, to governance and medicine and entrepreneurship. From the small staff of four Jesuit missionaries, the university has grown into faculty and staff and administration of hundreds of dedicated men and women.
Today, we also remember the many mentors, Jesuits and lay, who have walked the Ateneo’s corridors, whose voices have rung loud through its halls, whose ideas have pushed the boundaries of the possible, whose idiosyncrasies have sometimes charmed and sometimes annoyed and sometimes even turned off, whose exams have challenged many to set aside computer games and facebook updates, if only for a while.
With the mentors, we also recall the learning experiences – the lectures and the oral exams, the required field trips, the group projects, the class presentations. We remember that we enjoy this great luxury of learning, of enjoying space and seclusion, while at the same time entering new experiences, through exposure and exploration and experimentation.
Most of all, we cherish the memories with our fellow Ateneans who have become parts of our lives – the barkadas that were formed, the classmates we discussed and debated with, the student leaders we have admired and followed, the great athletes who have displayed both discipline and humility, the men and women who have taught us to live, not just for ourselves, but also for those around us, especially those who are poor.
We remember all this, and we realize that the Ateneo is not just a place. The Ateneo is a community of men and women who work together to seek the truth, to accept it wholeheartedly, and to speak it clearly and fearlessly, through word and deed. We remember and we know that this is a great school – not so much because of its resources and its wealth, but because of the people who have made it what it is.
As we remember, the second thing that we do today is give thanks. We acknowledge the gifts we have received, like Mary in the Gospel, who saw the infant in the manger and the shepherds who came to adore, and she cherished all these things in her heart. So too, as we remember, we hold these memories close to our hearts and we proclaim our gratitude.
Gratitude for what? Yes, gratitude for people and places, for events and experiences, for relationships and community. But most especially, we give thanks for three great gifts from the Ateneo –
The gift of mind, of straight thinking, which comes with logic and rhetoric, which comes with the ability to organize information and ideas and distinguish qualities;
The gift of spirit that teaches us to live with failure and learn to pick up the pieces of a broken world and rise again, and build on its ruins – win or lose, it’s the school we choose;
And the gift of heart, of feeling with and feeling for, of being there for and accompanying the people we are given to care for, of consoling and encouraging them, of giving them hope.
But we also realize that as we give thanks, we also become aware of this deep desire to give back to a country so immersed in violence – the violence not only of arms and coercion, but also of impunity and injustice, poverty and inequality, of Filipinos lacking in decent food and education, health and housing, whether in Maguindanao or Payatas. And now, more than ever, we feel called to heal the victims of the violence of an earth that has been hurt and abandoned by human carelessness – manifested through global warming and climate change, resulting in flooding and disaster. The gratitude impels us to give back, and to give generously, and to lose ourselves, as Christ did on the cross.
As we remember and give thanks, we ask God to bless the Ateneo, using the words of the first reading. May the Lord bless the Ateneo and keep us. May the Lord let his face shine upon us and be gracious to us. May the Lord look upon us kindly and give us peace.