Jesuits in our midst | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Jesuits in our midst

There has been much comment on the way Pope Francis is opening windows in the Vatican. That he happens to be the first Jesuit pope, and who resembles Inquirer columnist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, has not escaped comment in social networking sites. One question that bugs me relates to the Jesuits’ vow of obedience to their superiors and the special vow of obedience to the Pope. When Pope Francis (the “White Pope”) met the Jesuit Father General (the “Black Pope”), the roles were reversed, so who obeys who now?

Then there is Cardinal Chito Tagle whose close links to Ateneo de Manila University lead some people to blur the tag “Jesuit-trained” and mistake him for a Jesuit! The Jesuits come out very well in anticlerical Philippine history because by the time of the Philippine Revolution in 1896-1898 they did not own huge tracts of land and other properties, unlike the other religious orders. They arrived in the Philippines in 1581, were expelled in 1768, after 187 years of missionary work, and only returned in 1859 when they opened a municipal school for boys in Intramuros that has since grown into what we know today as Ateneo de Manila University. Another reason the Jesuits stand out in our anticlerical history is this: Many of our heroes studied in Ateneo Municipal de Manila and retained fond memories of the school and Jesuits. Of course, one of its most distinguished students was Jose Rizal.


When I was a boy, I remember one of our Jesuit teachers exhorting us to excellence and greatness. He complained aloud that most of the presidents of the Philippines were educated in the University of the Philippines and that all the Ateneo had produced were dead heroes like Rizal. He wished that one of us would be president one day and do the school proud. Well, there was Joseph Estrada, who, when he became president, was welcomed back to the school that had expelled him. It is unfortunate that our Jesuit teacher did not live to see Benigno S. Aquino III become president. That would have been an answer to his prayers.

Contrary to popular belief, Rizal was not accepted into the Ateneo. In his juvenile diary covering the years 1872-1875, he wrote:


“I was introduced at the Ateneo Municipal to the Rev. Fr. Magin Ferrando… At first he did not want to admit me whether because I had come after the period of admission was over or because of my rather weak constitution and short stature: I was then 11 years old.”

Like many disappointed parents whose sons do not pass the Ateneo entrance test, Rizal’s parents used their connections. And so Rizal said: “But later, at the request of Mr. Manuel Jerez, nephew of the ill-fated Fr. Burgos and now Licentiate in Medicine, the difficulties were removed and I was admitted.” This is quite interesting because many textbooks state that Rizal had to be careful in school not to be associated with Fr. Jose Burgos when he actually got into the Ateneo through a relative of Burgos!

So, Rizal got into the Ateneo, wore his school uniform that consisted of a coat and a ready-made tie, and described his Jesuit professors thus:

“With what fervor I entered the chapel of the Jesuit Fathers to hear mass… After mass I went to class where I saw a great number of children: Spaniards, Mestizos and Filipinos and a Jesuit who was the professor. He was called Fr. Jose Bech. He was a tall man, thin, with a body slightly bent forward, with hasty pace, an ascetic, severe, and inspired physiognomy, sunken, small eyes, sharp Grecian nose, fine lips forming an arch whose ends turned towards his beard. The Father was somewhat lunatic so that one should not be surprised to find him sometimes disgusted and with a slightly intolerant humor while sometimes he amused himself, playing like a child.”

His favorite Jesuit teacher was described as follows:

“Our professor was a model of uprightness, earnestness, and love of the advancement of his pupils; and so much was his zeal that I, who scarcely spoke very ordinary Spanish, at the end of a short time, succeeded already to write it moderately well. His name was Francisco de Paula Sanchez. With his aid I studied mathematics, rhetoric, and Greek with some advantage.”

Graduating at the top of his class in 1877, Rizal was terrified of the world outside his asylum called the Ateneo:


“I had entered college still a boy, possessing only a limited knowledge of the Spanish language, my intelligence only moderately developed, and my emotions scarcely cultivated. By dint of study, of self-analysis, of aspiring to ever greater heights, and of countless corrections, I began to be transformed little by little, thanks to the beneficent influence of a zealous professor [Francisco de Paula Sanchez].”

Later in life he met schoolmates in Europe, and whether they were Creoles, mestizos or Malays, they called themselves Filipinos. Rizal said: “The Jesuits have surely not intended to teach us love of country, but they have showed us all that is beautiful and all that is best…” And again he said: “I owe a great deal to this order—almost, almost everything that I am.”

What would Rizal have been without his Jesuit training? The same can be asked now of Pope Francis, Cardinal Tagle, and President Aquino.

(Comments are welcome at [email protected])

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