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Home » Rebuilding News » The Ateneo Gym and the Blue Phoenix

The Ateneo Gym and the Blue Phoenix

by Salvador Wee SJ

The Ateneo gym and The Blue Phoenix

At past 7 on Thursday morning, July 7, 2016 a two-hour fire broke out and razed to the ground the St. Jean de Brebeuf Gym of our Ateneo de Zamboanga University. Together with the entire 66-year-old gym, where the ADZU band room was with all its expensive instruments, the fire also burned the 5-year-old firewall-less Sauras Hall behind, housing the College of Law and the canteen.

Also destroyed was the entire third floor of Gonzaga Hall (constructed in 1964), which housed ADZU’s Center for Information Technology Services and its adjoining computer laboratories. The second floor housing the College of Nursing and the School of Liberal Arts was also damaged by the fire. The ground floor with its School of Management and Accountancy together with the College of Education also suffered damage.

The Brebeuf Gym through the years had become an elephant in the room, so to speak. “Elephant in the room” is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is unaddressed. It also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.

How true, how accurate, how apt this definition of the gym. It was an accident waiting to happen. It was not a matter of if or how, but when. Decades ago everyone knew the gym was a firetrap. Reports say the July 7 fire was the fourth time a fire broke out in the gym. The first three fires through the decades were put out on time. This last fire ended the matter, finally and decisively.

St. Jean de Brebeuf (March 25, 1593 – March 16, 1649) was a French Jesuit missionary martyred by the Iroquois Indians in New France (Canada today). This is what the internet says about the name. Brebeuf: breh-BUF. Bre: like the “e” in “angel” and beuf: like the “u” in “full.” The “f” is pronounced.

Before it was painted the familiar blue we all knew, it was originally painted grey for decades. An old American Jesuit brother assigned at ADZU many years ago described its aesthetically-challenged stark blue color as “barriotic.” Sorry, you cannot run after him anymore. He left for the States and eventually also left for heaven.

The 1949 Beacon Yearbook recorded that on March 30, 1949 “the first shipment of materials for the gym-auditorium arrives.” The fire exposed the gym’s cornerstone marked “Ateneo Gym 1949.” We can presume it was finished the following year.

The Ateneo Gym, as it was known during the first half of its life, was the center of the cultural life of Zamboanga. Here basketball games between Ateneo de Zamboanga and its rival the Zamboanga AE Colleges were played. Here programs, shows and concerts of the city took place. Here the late actor Philip Gamboa played Lady Macbeth in their high school presentation. Here the famous Filipino violinist Gilopez Kabayao performed in the 1960s. The Ateneo gym was for many years the Araneta Coliseum of Zamboanga.

A week before the fire, I looked out from the third floor of Xavier Hall and noticed how rusted the entire roof of the gym was. Little did I know that the problem would be gone several days later, gone up in smoke.

The outpouring of sadness and expressions of help have been overwhelming. “How can I help, what can we do?” Well, right now the Ateneo de Zamboanga University needs all the support it can get – financial, material and moral. At this period of loss, it is time for ADZU’s blue eagles through the years to put their money where their mouth is. It is time for put into action, to walk the talk about ADZU’s Pro Deo et Patria, magis, men and women for others.

The alumni are in the process of replacing the band instruments lost in the fire. Why not call this fund-raising “Ateneo Band Aid?” Everyone will easily remember this. We are also sure they will not only help the band but will generously contribute to our Ateneo rebuilding fund. For the Ateneo family, past and present, this is the time to remember St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity. 

In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a mythical bird associated with the sun. It always gets new life by rising from the ashes. With the Blue Eagle nursing its wounds in the hospital, as it were, we need a temporary mascot to fill the gap. What could be more appropriate than a Blue Phoenix to symbolize our determination to reconstruct or rebuild a better, safer and more well-thought out Ateneo de Zamboanga University for future generations?

Arriva Ateneo! Arriva Blue Eagle! Arriva Blue Phoenix!