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Crossing Over to the Mayayabang na Lasallistas

Strange as this may sound now, but once upon a long, long time ago, I actually dreaded crossing the Great Divide over to the green side. But let me digress a bit first to allow younger readers a foothold on what this will be all about.

In the early sixties, there used to be a school called the Our Lady of the Rosary Academy or OLRA. It was a co-educational Catholic school run by an American order of nuns who bore strange masculine religious names like Sister James Catherine. They were the Maryknoll Sisters.

The campus was to the right of the St. Sebastian Cathedral, where there was a dark gloomy building and a small yard. At the far end of it were tombstones behind which rested priests and nuns who had been called to the Almighty. One held one’s pee in rather than risk trips to the washrooms for fear that the adjoining commode would mysteriously flush by itself or that the doors would slam shut even when there was no wind. Those washrooms had mumô written all over them.

There was another building right across the yard fronting the cathedral in what is now known as Plaza Independencia. Everyone simply referred to the building as “Annex.” I remember being there for Grades 2 and 3; but went back with my classmates to the gloomy building beside the cathedral for Grade 4.

The Maryknoll sisters were well-loved, as American missionaries tended to be in those days. They were kindred people who loved being with their pupils; and the affection was returned aplenty by not only their students but also by their lay co-workers. Their discipline was firm; but not coercive and never strangling.

I think I was in Grade 2 when word started to leak out that the beloved sisters would start to make graceful exits from the country over a period of several years. They were really more missionaries than educators and would like to stay true to their mission. At least, that is as far as I remember things – and it has been almost half a century since. As it turned out, they would be in Lipa only until I finished Grade 3.

Those were sad times when the Maryknoll sisters said their goodbyes. They told everyone before leaving that the school would be taken over by another order of nuns, the Canossian sisters from Italy.

I do not know why; but I never really developed any fondness for the Canossian sisters; at least, not in the way I still remember the few years with the Maryknoll sisters to this day as “good times.” Perhaps, it was because I was only ever with them for one school year. Perhaps, it was also because I have this image in my head of burly sinister women who wore scowls on their faces and who were called “mothers” instead of “sisters.”

At any rate, my classmates and I moved back to the gloomy building beside the cathedral for Grade 4, our last year in the school before we crossed the Great Divide to that school in Paninsingin. The boys were already separated from the girls in two sections; I suppose, in preparation for our eventual transfer.

Like most everyone else, I wondered why we could not have simply stayed on in the school like boys used to do before. It was later that I learned that, since the Maryknoll sisters were leaving, there was an agreement that the boys would be going over to that school in Paninsingin that was operated by what were called Brothers instead of Fathers; while the girls would stay on in the school that would henceforth be operated by the Canossians.

Who the exact parties were to the agreement and if it was ever placed on paper, that I was never privy to. Albeit, decades later, I would learn when I was already in administration of the other school from my boss Br. Rafael Donato that he was being cariñoso towards the sisters because he felt that they had never really forgiven the Brothers for opening the school’s doors to girls back in the mid-seventies. But that is an altogether different story…

There were those among us who dreaded crossing over to that school that everyone simply referred to as La Salle; and its students, the mayayabang na Lasallistas. You have to understand, we were brought up in the serene and orderly world of the sisters.

What was it about that other school that, when we passed by it in our Air Force school bus, its students were always shouting or tearing at each other loudly and boisterously and acted as though they owned the world? The place always looked like it was in a perpetual state of barely-controlled mayhem. Who would want to go there?

Basta, I remember professing to my elder sister – a high school student at the time – I would be OLRA-nian forever, even if the new Italian sisters had cheekily inserted a “C” to the school’s name so that it had become the Our Lady of the Rosary Canossian Academy. Becoming a Lasallista – or Lasallite, the fashionable term of the era – was a chilling and unwelcome prospect.

Students were not the only ones hurt and saddened by the departure of the Maryknoll Sisters. The legendary Ms. Alice Rivera, Maryknoll-educated and who had returned to her alma mater to teach, would later openly admit that the reason she moved to La Salle was because of the departure of the beloved sisters.

Of course, my classmates and I did not really have much in the way of choices. We did cross over. And the rest, as the worn-out cliché goes, has been history…

Six years more of basic education in La Salle; five years of college in La Salle; and 29 years working in La Salle. And the OLRA-nian forever pledge completely forgotten until just about a few moments before I decided to write this post…

But what does a silly schoolboy know? Especially about crystal balls and eventually becoming one of the dreaded mayayabang na Lasallistas. It was all, as it turned out, simply a matter of which side of the fence one was in. In the end, those Lasallistas were not too bad, after all.

As to the OLRA-nian pledge, I am what I am no small thanks to the Maryknoll Sisters. When I come to think about it, I did not really break the pledge. I just appended to it.

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