THE Philippine Jesuits’ history apparently carries much weight; two pounds, in fact.
That’s how the coffee table book 150: The Ateneo Way [Mediawise Communications Inc. 2009] weighed.
But the book’s physical weight was less than the depth of its contents, which is as much the colorful past of the school run by the Society of Jesus as the profound history of Manileños.
Ateneans and the Jesuits should thank historian and priest Jose Arcilla, who wrote much of the stories in the book and took out of the shadows rare photographs of our urban roots.
Arcilla, Cruz’s former teacher, is known for the keeper of the keys to Ateneo de Manila University archives in one of the white-washed buildings in the school’s Quezon City campus.
Arcilla’s painstaking care of the photographs –some of which are wedged between two square glasses in a traditional slide projector cartridge– and documents –some of which are too old they need to be held with cotton gloves– is the secret behind “150”.
The photographs, notably printed liberally to the edge of pages, give the book its weight, which is equivalent to an ordinary laptop computer, literally and figuratively.
It could be held on a lap on a quiet balmy afternoon, leafing through the pages sparingly to suck in the images and stop the passage of time per era.
That is how publisher and businessman Ramoncito Cruz and Arcilla arranged “150” –photographs showing a specific era– to show how Ateneo influenced and have been influenced by the Filipino.
The photographs and the book are arranged in three chapters, beginning with the arrival of ten Jesuit missionaries in Manila up to the period prior to the take-over of American colonialists from the Spanish friars.
The final chapter, titled Filipinization, shows more photographs of the contemporary post-war Ateneo de Manila University, from its relocation to its present campus “on a bluff overlooking Marikina Valley” to the plains where the psyche of Philippine socio-political and economic elements rest.
As such, the thinly-inserted text compliments the depth of the visuals.
“We designed it as so not to highlight just any specific person but the richness of a particular segment of the people that had, in one way or another, took the Ateneo way,” Cruz said.
One of these is Jose Rizal, whose very young life was alien to many Filipinos but given by Arcilla a rotund attention in the book.
There, Rizal is quoted as a student falling deeply in love with literature and, like most young Filipinos grappling with puberty, analyzes himself.
“By dint of studying, of analyzing myself, of reaching out for higher things, and of a thousand corrections, I was transformed little by little,” Arcilla wrote citing the national hero’s youthful memoire written on the eve of his graduation.
The young Rizal expressed gratitude to his professors who cultivated in him love of poetry and rhetoric.
“Virgil, Cicero, and other authors showed me a new path which I could follow.” After humanizing Rizal, Arcilla bared the valor of lesser-known heroes, like Jesuit priest Jaime Neri and American Maryknoll nuns Sister Trinita and Sister Brigida.
One notable figure, a lay, was Manuel C. Colayco, who was also editor-in-chief of student publication The Guardian and of the underground paper Collaborator.
Aside from the pen, Colayco also wielded the sword, according to Arcilla, when he helped American prisoners at a concentration camp in the University of Sto. Tomas campus.
“At the gate of the university campus, they were met with gunfire. A Japanese sentry hurled a grenade which landed neatly on the floor of the jeep in which he was riding, and exploded. Still, he had enough strength to empty the clip of his Carbine against the enemy. All the prisoners were freed, but they failed to revive [Colayco] and he died in a hospital a week later, 10 February 1945.”
There used to be a statue of Colayco at the UST but “edificial” aims rather than perpetual memorialization prevailed among Dominicans.
“150” allowed Colayco to be immortalized at least in paper.
His eyes, and that of Rizal’s, and many others in the photographs say it all: we have been witnesses to the pinnacle of the intellectual renaissance and to the nadir of gunslinging humanity.
And still they transcended such ignominy inherent in the frail human spirit.
Hence, “150” rests on the foundation those who were in one way or another involved in the shaping of the Ateneo de Manila University, whether Jesuits or lay, followed a path and surpass the limits imposed by the physical elements.
For Cruz and Arcilla, that can only be the Ateneo Way.
SALE INFORMATION “150: The Ateneo Way,” co-published by Ateneo and Media Wise Communications Inc., is sold at the Office of University Development & Alumni Relations, Loyola Schools Bookstore, Ateneo Press, Jesuit Communications, Fully Booked, PowerBooks, Mag:Net, and online at www.mediawise.ph for P4,500 (US$97.80) each. Portions of the sale will go to a program for ailing and elderly Jesuit priests.
DISCLOSURE: The writer received a copy of the book for this review originally submitted to the BusinessMirror where he works as a reporter.