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Ateneo de Manila Celebrates 145 Years
Ateneo de Manila Celebrates 145 Years

A View from the Hill at 145
by Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.

It all started in 1859 when Father Cuevas, the Jesuit Mission Superior, could not resist the pleas of the burghers of Manila. The Jesuits, expelled from the Philippines a century earlier, had just returned. Their marching order from Father General was to go to Mindanao. Mindanao would remain a target, but other opportunities opened. Thus by an ordinance of the Ayuntamiento the Ateneo Municipal de Manila was established – with three priests, one brother, thirty- three young boys.

The school was new, the tradition old, reaching back to Coimbra in Portugal, LaFleche in France, Stonyhurst in England, all built on the pillars of the Ratio Studiorum. The Ratio had produced Francis de Sales, Bossuet, Galileo, Moliere, and would later produce Jose Rizal.

That was the beginning of the Spanish era of the Ateneo. It was an era of intense dedication to Latin and Greek classics. What came out were Filipinos steeped in the faith and capable of producing literature in Spanish.

In 1921 a new era began. Twenty American Jesuits of the Maryland-New York Province, sent by their Polish General in Rome, arrived in Manila. The American Jesuits, like their Spanish predecessors, were also products of the Ratio Studiorum. The Ratio was to stay. But the new situation called for new devices – English gradually replaced Spanish, the exact sciences came in, together with athletics, debating, (often involving public defense of Catholic ideals), and military training.

Tragedy struck in 1932 when fire consumed the Ateneo of Intramuros. The product of seventy memorable years went up in flames. But fire did not extinguish the flame that had been lit by Spanish and American Jesuits.

Three distinctive qualities took root during the years of the American Jesuits: fierce loyalty to the school (in and out of basketball contests!), the habit of independent thought, and the ability to express one's thoughts with ease in English.

World War II and Japanese occupation closed the Ateneo. The American Jesuits were thrown into Japanese concentration camps. Ateneo ROTC cadets died in Bataan and Corregidor. Those who survived suffered the ordeal of the Death March,

Liberation from the Japanese finally came, but once more the ensuing conflagration reduced Ateneo facilities to rubble. But the same Ateneo spirit of the pre-war years lived on and continued to be transmitted in quonset huts in Padre Faura until the move to Loyola Heights in the early 50s.

Loyola Heights would also taste turbulent years. The Filipinization movement engulfed the nation and students clamored for an Ateneo with a more Filipino face.

The sharp division between the few rich and the multitudes of poor, often victims of exploitation, fanned the flames of revolt and ushered in a virtual dictatorship in 1972. In 1986 People Power put an end to dictatorship. But people power did not solve the problem of poverty and injustice.

The times clearly clamored for another look at the Ratio Studiorum. Rejection of the system would not be the answer; but radical adaptation was called for.

A defining moment for all Jesuit schools was an address of Father General Pedro Arrupe to Jesuit alumni gathered in Valencia, Spain, in 1973. Arrupe shocked his hearers with a bombshell: "Have we Jesuits educated you for justice? You and I know what many Jesuit teachers will answer to that question. They will answer, in all sincerity and humility: No, we have not. If the term 'justice' and 'education for justice' carry all the depth of meaning which the Church gives them today, we have not educated you for justice."

The Valencia address went around the Jesuit educational world under the title “Men for Others.” It evolved into the inclusive title “Men and Women for Others.” Since then, “Men and Women for Others” has become a guiding principle for the Ateneo and all Jesuit education.

The Arrupe era has not yet ended; nor has it been completed. But it has been complicated by the onset of globalization, new scientific discoveries, the end of the Cold War, and the intensifying threat of terrorism.

145 years of Ateneo education -- from Intramuros, to Padre Faura, and now Loyola Heights, with satellites in De la Costa Street and Rockwell, both in Makati City. Is there a unifying thread that ties the years together?

Yes, there is. The unifying thread and at the same time the vivifying force is Ignatian spirituality.

"Spirituality is about the experience at the core of our being of something -- a power, a presence, a drive, a longing -- that is beyond the ordinary." It is at the heart of human life. Spirituality, understood in this sense, is something that every person possesses.

When you define spirituality as Ignatian, you refer to the driving force that was at the core of the life of Ignatius of Loyola. Its distinctive features are what make Jesuits and Jesuit institutions behave the way they do. St. Ignatius calls it nuestro modo de proceder, our way of proceeding.

One leading distinctive feature is the constant striving for excellence, the idea of doing "more" (magis) for the "greater glory of God" (ad majorem Dei gloriam). Excellence in academics, excellence in athletics, excellence in service. There may, indeed, be shifts in emphasis; but the drive for “more” is always there. Now, in the Pedro Arrupe Era, the emphasis is on service of the faith that does justice.

Another distinctive feature is centeredness on Christ the way Ignatius centered his life on Christ, a Christ immersed in the hurly-burly of history, often out there where the battle lines are drawn.

There has always been an element of this-worldliness in the various phases of the Ateneo -- the Spanish, the American, the contemporary Ateneo -- because Christ was this-worldly. He brushed shoulders with the best and the worst of the world.

Ignatian spirituality sees God as active in everything that is – in nature, in people, in structures, and even in most tragic disasters. Hence, Ateneo education seeks to instill in the minds of students an insatiable hunger for knowledge because knowledge can lead to an appreciation of mystery and to a sense of wonder that finds ultimate fulfillment in worship and service of the Lord and of the universe.

Ignatian education also seeks to be rooted in culture. The Ignatian Christ was born into a culture and grew and lived and immersed himself in a culture.

Ateneo was born in the Manila of 1859, where there was nothing like the uniquely Chinese culture into which Ricci brought Christ or the uniquely Indian culture in which de Nobili preached. The Ateneo was born into an enclave that was Catholic European. Ignatian spirituality, however, is dynamic. It can undergo change. Thus, Ateneo changed in the era of the American Jesuits, changed further in the “Pedro Arrupe Era”, and in the 21st century world of globalization, scientific discovery, and intensifying threat of terrorism. For, in the words of Cardinal Newman, “in a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

145 Years of Ateneo de Manila Service and Excellence

Ateneo de Manila Beyond 145

History and the Ateneo

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  • 145 Years of Ateneo de Manila Service and Excellence

  • Ateneo de Manila Beyond 145