The History of the Ateneo de Manila Grade School (1859-2004)
The Ateneo de Manila Grade School, the first Jesuit grade school in the Philippines, was inaugurated on December 10, 1859. Thirty-three boys attended the school on Anda Street, Intramuros. One hundred years later, in 1959, enrollment at the Ateneo Grade School had more than quadrupled to 4,167 boys.
Has the Ateneo Grade School grown and expanded only in its enrollment and physical plant?Let us turn back the hands of time, recall the beginnings and trace the changes that have made the Ateneo Grade School today a different Jesuit school yet the same as that of 145 years ago.
In 1800, Don Pedro Vivanco founded the Escuela Pia de Manila on Calle Real. A private elementary school for Spanish children, run by Spanish laymen and attended, off and on, by some thirty students. After a few years, the Spanish government took over its administration and made Escuela Pia a public school under the Administrative Commission of the City of Manila, and later under the Manila City Council. At that time, Escuela Pia was the only primary school in a city with 100,000 inhabitants. The education of the Filipino children was at stake. Something had to be done.
On August 5, 1859, some two months after the Jesuits arrived, a delegation of Manila residents presented themselves before the Governor-General and requested that a Jesuit school be established. The Governor-General endorsed the petition to Jesuit Superior Father Fernando Cuevas, but the Jesuits refused – not because they dislike to teach but because the Society of Jesus had been reestablished in the Philippines primarily to convert the pagans of Mindanao. The Manila residents refused to take “no” for an answer; however, Father Cuevas finally consented to put up a Jesuit school after the Governor General promised to take full responsibility for it before the Royal Government of Spain. So it was that on the 10th of December, 1859, Escuela Municipal, the first Jesuit grade school, was inaugurated in Anda Street. Father Cuevas was Rector; Father Guerrico, Prefect of Studies; Fathers Barrado and Barua, teachers; and Brother Belzunce, Prefect of Discipline.
Thirty-three boys were enrolled at the Escuela Municipal, but only twenty-three attended schools. This was not a very encouraging start, but the teachers were soon reassured when attendance jumped to 76 within a week, 120 within a month, and then170 within just three months.
The Jesuit school intended to impart to Spanish and Filipino children, the incalculable benefits of a careful education at the elementary level, in accordance with the requirements of their station in society.
The curriculum consisted of two kinds of subjects: the required, which all the boys took; and the optional, which they applied for, should their parents desire.
Specifically included were the enlightening of the mind by Christian truths, the formation of the will according to the moral precepts of the Gospel, and the rules of urbanity and good breeding. The students of this first Jesuit grade school attended daily mass and recited the rosary every Sunday afternoon.
For five years, the Escuela Municipal remained a grade school. Then in 1864, Father Cuevas worked on the draft of a plan for secondary instruction. The following year, the school assumed the name “Ateneo” from the Greek word “Athena”, the goddess of wisdom.
As years passed, the Ateneo Municipal de Manila activity pursued its mission of training boys to think correctly, to choose rightly, and to develop the body properly to serve the mind and the will. The school’s most distinguished alumnus, Dr. Jose Rizal, acknowledged a debt of gratitude to Ateneo, the school where he spent many happy days. The Ateneo was the school which formed boys into Christian gentlemen.
This course of events was interrupted by the Spanish-American War and the Philippines’ becoming a possession of the United States. In 1901, the American authorities seceded to withdraw government support of the school. In 1902, Ateneo Municipal became a private college and to indicate this change, it was renamed Ateneo de Manila.
In 1908, the American government extended recognition to the Ateneo de Manila. English gradually replaced Spanish as the medium of instruction, and Ateneo adapted the American system of education introduced in the public schools of the Islands, without sacrificing the basic objectives and methods of Jesuit Education. The practice of popular democracy gradually emerged. In 1914, the school was recognized into three departments one of which was the department of elementary instruction.
As time passed, it became increasingly clear that the changed social milieu demanded more then a mere organization of the school curriculum. Rather, it also pointed to a need for American teachers who would replace the Spanish Fathers who had to leave because of the international tensions wrought by World War I. Maryland-New York Province of the Society of Jesus thus sent twenty American Jesuits to the Philippines in 1921, and they were assigned principally to the Ateneo. Father Francis Byrne, S.J. assumed the office of Rector. Fr. William Jordan, S.J., became the first American Headmaster.
On the night of August 13, 1932, a big fire razed the Ateneo buildings in Intramuros. Classrooms, equipment, chapels, dormitories, museums, and the famous Rizal collection became virtual ashes in a matter of hours. Only the Mission House and the adjoining church of St. Ignatius were saved through the heroic efforts of the Fathers and the firemen. The whole Ateneo had burned down. The Jesuit superiors quickly decided to move Ateneo to Padre Faura campus in the Ermita section of Manila where the San Jose Seminary and the Jesuit Novitiate and Scholasticate occupied a commodious building. The San Jose Seminary was then moved to the Mission House, and the Novitiate and Scholasticate were transferred to La Ignaciana in Sta. Ana. The big stone and wood building in Padre Faura was improved and expanded.
November of the same year, the Ateneo Grade School resumed classes. In 1936, Father Luis Pacquing, S.J., became the first Filipino Headmaster.Before long, the Padre Faura became too small for the three Ateneo departments. On December 10, 1939, which was the 80th anniversary of the transfer of the “Escuela Municipal de Manila” to the Jesuits, the cornerstone of the new grade school building was laid and blessed in the Walled City. By 1940, this edifice stood proud and complete.
When the war broke out in 1941, classes were again disrupted. The Japanese invaders set the grade school buildings on fire, making a holocaust of hundreds of people who had taken refuge in them. This time, nothing was spared: the Manila Observatory, the Mission House and the St. Ignatius Church also went up in smoke. The American, Spanish and Filipino Jesuits endured years of untold suffering in the hands of the Japanese.
Manila was finally liberated in 1945. Classes resumed at Nazareth House, a retreat house in Plaza Guipit, which had been offered for the use of the Ateneo by the Hijas de Jesus. By July 1946, Ateneo returned to its former site in Padre Faura. There, two dozens quonset huts had been erected and small sections of the destroyed buildings had been roofed over. The grade school, high school and college were again together in a new campus in temporary shelters amidst the ruins of war.
After a few years, long-range plans for an even more adequate campus were laid. The site chosen was a 100-hectare lot along the eastern boundary of Quezon City, and overlooking Marikina Valley. Three kilometers away were the Balara Filters and the University of the Philippines. By January 1954, the Ateneo Grade School had transferred to its new home in Loyola Heights, a sprawling campus with modern buildings.
The 1960s were years of adjustment not only to its new physical surroundings, but also to the thoughts and ideas of a revolutionary decade. They paved the way for reforms inevitable in the 70’s. No longer were the comings and goings of the Ateneo traced, as were its spiritual exodus, its moving forth: “Down from the hill, down to the world go I.”
By the 1970’s, the Ateneo de Manila Grade School included bilingual communication and social consciousness in its curriculum. The exercise of freedom with responsibility was encouraged. The Ateneo de Manila Grade School had indeed begun and continued to move out of its shell. It now extended its social curriculum to the community it should serve.
Students, parents, teachers and administrators participated in exposure and outreach programs, rallies and demonstrations for social and judicial reforms, and relief rehabilitation operations for the needy. This emerging image of the Ateneo de Manila Grade School – a school dedicated to the formation of young men in personal academic excellence yet with feet firm on Filipino soil, committed to the service of God and country – mirrored the “man-for-others” product of Jesuit education.
In the 1980s, Father General Pedro Arrupe’s call to “serve the faith and promote justice,” challenged the Ateneans to adhere to the simplicity of lifestyles imposed by this Jesuit priority. The educational implications of this particular challenge forced the Ateneo de Manila Grade School to reexamine itself. It did not find its curriculum wanting, but found that some of its practices, needed reorientation towards simple living. Parents were also asked to accept the Jesuit “priority of priorities” – the promotion of justice – even before they could enroll their sons in the Ateneo. By the time the People Power revolution broke out in February 1986, the Ateneo community was ready to participate in the very real sense of the word.
At the onset of 1990’s, the Ateneo de Manila Grade School found itself revising and trimming its curriculum going back to “the basics”, realigning skills, aiming for the mastery of subject matter, integrating values in all subject areas, streamlining and updating content offerings, constructing additional classrooms and facilities – all in the spirit of being second parents to more than four thousand students.
By 2000, four years after the new millennium, the Ateneo de Manila Grade School dares to move on, undaunted by the future, armed with old and new tools, inspired by old and new ideals. The Bible and the computer, values and modern information technology, environmental issues and progress, local concerns and global education, media as a friend and media as an enemy – all these go hand in hand as the Ateneans proceed.
The 21st century beckons and still the Ateneans today carry their rosaries as they did 138 years ago.
Much has changed, but the Jesuit values are still intact, finding growth and bearing fruits in the hearts, minds and souls of all Ateneans.