With the closing of a hundred years brings about the opening of a coffee table book.
It was on an overcast afternoon of July 30 that guests, select students, alumni, teachers and school officials stepped into the Carlos Dominguez Conference Hall for the penultimate activity of not only that day, but the closing of the Centennial Jubilee Celebration as well.
That afternoon’s event, the launching of the centennial coffee table book entitled Pro Deo et Patria: 100 Years of Ateneo de Zamboanga, 1912-2012, saw the different years the school has seen and still celebrates today, through the different age groups gathered there. Among those present were Atty. Aresenio Gonzales, Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar, and members of the Coro Concordia de Aguilas from the high school unit, who led the doxology and singing of the National Anthem and Zamboanga Hermosa Hymn.
In his welcoming remarks, OIC President Fr. Wilfredo Samson said that in our times of crises and strife, “What we need are stories of people who can inspire us. [We need to] go back to our one hundred years; bring fire to our own hearts once more,” he said indicating the story of how Ateneo opened its gates and reached out to the victims of the Camino Nuevo fire seven years ago. “This afternoon,” Fr. Willy concludes his remarks, “we launch a beautiful book with stories of people who made the Ateneo a story.”
This story was then turned into “a book of Ateneo, by Ateneans” as Aryx Ismael, master of ceremonies, put it while introducing the writers behind the book. The Centennial Coffee Table book has three chapters; a different author for each chapter; hence three different authors. The first of the three would be Ma. Cristina Agdeppa-Canones, who wrote the chapter on Pre-War Ateneo; followed by Dr. Aileen Barrios-Arnuco who wrote the chapter on Postwar Ateneo; and lastly, Monabelle Blanco-Delgado who wrote the concluding chapter on Ateneo in Recent Times. Each of the three authors was then given the floor to give sneak peeks of what a reader may see and read in their chapter.
The most the average Atenean today would know about the history of Ateneo would only constitute the short but comprehensive section of information found in his or her student handbook. In her chapter, Ma. Cristina Agdeppa-Canones went as far back as 1902, when Escuela Catolica was still attached to the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral. In 1916 it was then renamed Ateneo de Zamboanga. In 1928 it started admitting secondary school students, and in 1932 saw the graduation of ten fine young men, one of which would be the “Illustrious Atenean,” Roselier T. Lim.
But beyond the Ateneans we celebrate and remember today through streets and edifices named after them, the Centennial Coffee Table Book also acknowledges those whose stories were failed to be recognized during their time. An example given by the author would be then eleven-year-old Leandro Fermin. In 1929 he was jogging through Pasonanca when he saw a boy drowning in the pool and rescued him. Back then, Ateneans were also known for being the best cadets in the islands, as well as known for their scouting skills.
Another nugget of information not known to all and sundry would be the fact that the first seal of Ateneo de Zamboanga from 1929 featured a bald eagle – the United States of America’s national emblem – and not a blue eagle; the seal was introduced by the American Jesuits who ran the school during that time. But as with everything that ascends, a descent is also imminent, like the bombs the American forces let loose on the school prior to the liberation of the city from the Japanese during World War Two.
When came the time for Dr. Aileen Barrios-Arnuco to tell those present about her chapter of the book, she promised to keep it quick by reading excerpts of it, all in under five minutes. And this she did, starting by reading the thesis statement: “In the next four decades following World War II, Ateneo saw a steady growth…” but that would be giving away too much. It is, after all, the thesis statement of the entire chapter, something that the entire chapter is grounded and expounded on.
But as with the previous chapter, this chapter of the book contains facts, pictures and anecdotes that haven’t seen light in several decades. The only people who could possibly remember these are well after their midlives, well beyond it, in fact. Although these may be trivial details, they still constitute a part of the Ateneo. One such example would be the anecdote on the wooden statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which went missing a few years after Fr. Eusebio Salvador SJ relocated the campus to Bailen street; extensive searches were made, and accordingly the last place they searched for was the hollow under the stage of the Brebeuf Gym. To this day, it still remains missing.
Ateneo in Recent Times
Monabelle Blanco-Delgado, before proceeding with the summary of her chapter in the book, told the audience that “Writing the third chapter of the coffee table book filled me with dread, because most of the characters in this chapter are still alive.”
This last chapter (from the little of it we have seen so far) tackles at length the growth and development of Ateneo as a university, and as campuses. The most significant date before the centennial jubilee in this chapter would be the 20 of August, 2001. This is the date we were granted university and full autonomous status. This has been 22 years in the making, and it clearly shows the integrity and excellence in our instruction and community service.
Besides the authors, the floor was also given to incumbent mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar, an alumnus of the Ateneo herself, who stressed on women and men of service, saying “These are the beautiful stories of Ateneans serving the city despite the daunting task.” She lingered for a while longer after giving her speech, but duty and the city calls and left right away.
The event was also graced with the presence of the three most recent father presidents of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University: Fr. William H. Kreutz SJ, Fr. Antonio F. Moreno SJ, and incoming president Fr. Karel B. San Juan SJ.
Fr. Tony, as the president who delegated the task of coming up with the book during his term, was then presented a copy of the book by the three authors. “This book is the fruit of labor of five years,” he said, “I gently told [the authors] to prepare for a – ” but then he gets cut off due to another power interruption that daily plagues this city. Nonchalantly, despite the darkness, Fr. Tony quips “Now I feel at home,” to which the guests laughed along with, and as the lights turn back on a few seconds later, carries on with his speech as though nothing happened. Such is an anecdote that could be included in the sesquicentennial coffee table book, if such a project is made possible.
Fr. Tony ploughed on and quoted Pope John Paul II in saying “To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future.” Further, “If only the four walls could speak, there are many more stories to tell: sad, happy, inspiring … makapeste, makaugut … stories that make us a lot more humble. Ateneans are known for a lot of things, but never humility. Maybe you can hear an Atenean say ‘I am proud to be humble.’ But no. I hope one hundred years of stories teaches us humility.”
In his closing remarks, Fr. Karel said of the book that it is “a required reading … and a beautiful orientation as incoming president.” He then summarized the event of the centennial coffee table book launch into three points: memory, gratitude and obligation. “Memory,” Fr. Karel expounds, “because we are reminded of the past and our heritage … Gratitude because these are stories of the victory of the human spirit … Obligation because we feel the burden to continue the task of continuing this beautiful heritage of AdZU … We will shape the ‘beyond’ together.”