When I met my school's patron saint

iTEACH - Jose Claro (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2012 - 12:00am

Ron Darvin, my very first college teacher, couldn’t have expressed it more beautifully: “There are places that feel like they’ve been built just for you because everything fits, because the things that surround you represent all that you value and find meaningful in life.”

My eloquent teacher was talking about Ateneo after he visited the campus during a vacation break from his work in China. But he writes not merely about school pride but also about the affirmation that a certain place  and all that it represents  has a profound impact on one’s life, convictions, and principles. 

I felt exactly the same way in a city more than 6,000 miles away.

Last May, my jet setter of a mom treated us to a vacation in Italy. But while other parents would tour their children only to famous scenic spots, she prioritized going to Chiesa del Gesù, the mother Church of the Jesuits who, of course, were our primary formators at the Ateneo.

As I was still in denial that I would finally be able to travel to Europe, I was not fully prepared for the experience that awaited me at the Church. Fortunately, what makes a travel memorable is the surprise of the unexpected. For me, that moment was to be able to see and touch what remains of St. Ignatius’ presence in the world:  his small, wooden desk, his humble priestly garments and worn-out sandals, and the ancient door to his room. Most precious of all was the experience of being able to spend a few minutes kneeling and venerating the very spot where St. Ignatius breathed the last of a life offered for the greater glory of God. In these simple and ordinary rooms, grand dreams came into fruition and to this day, continue to change the lives of many around the world. 

After the visit to the Rooms of St. Ignatius, we entered the Chiesa del Gesù where the majestic art works and architecture are a fitting tribute to a Church that serves as the sanctuary for the relics of St. Francis Xavier and the very tomb of St. Ignatius. It was the fourth day of our visit and we had already gone to many of the holiest sites in Rome, but it was an entirely different experience to partake of the past of a holy man. Here, Ignatius offered his life of service to God, here he lived and served the Church, and here he died but not without inspiring many people to form men and women the Ignatian way.

All of this got me to thinking about how Philippine education is closely tied to the lives of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church. Many times, most students do not get to appreciate the history and significance of the origins of their schools. A few fortunate ones, however, are able to reflect on and realize how the ideals and philosophy of a school’s patron saint have had a personal impact on one’s spirituality and on what one values and deems important in life.

As I gazed for the last time at the structure of Il Gesù, I could not help but feel immense joy and gratitude to have been part of something far bigger and grander than my own humble life. Somewhere along the way, this life of mine became intertwined to a noble dream and mission of doing more and offering the best fruits of one’s love and service to God.

For this reason, no matter how beautiful Rome is, I left it not wishing to migrate and transfer to Italy but rather to go back home with a greater passion for continuing on with my work of teaching disadvantaged students at my Jesuit-supervised school. It’s comforting to know, however, that somewhere at the heart of Rome, there is a place I could call home because it enshrines all that I hold dear. And it was because of one man whom my Jesuit formators introduced to me as Ignatius of Loyola.

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