Wednesday, December 30, 2009


LOYAL SENIORS CLASS OF 1948. Mission accomplished for this post-war batch of graduates of Holy Angel Academy. Included in this group is my mother, Estrella del Rosario, and the daughter of the school founder, Teresita Nepomuceno (Wilkerson), the class salutatorian. 1948, Author's Collection.

It is said that no Kapampangan home is complete without a Holy Angel diploma hanging somewhere on a wall. For over 75 years, the school has educated, nurtured and inspired generations of Kapampangans thirsty for knowledge, changing not just their lives, but the life of their communities as well. In an extraordinary way, Holy Angel has become larger than its walls can contain, impacting the city’s history while contributing to the advancement of affordable education in the region.

The school started as Holy Angel Academy in 1933, founded by Don Juan D. Nepomuceno (1892-1973) and Msgr. Pedro S. Santos. Don Juan’s son, Javier, had been sent to La Salle in Manila for his high school education, but homesickness drove him back home to Angeles. He enrolled at the town’s only high school—Angeles Academy—but soon found himself facing problems such as the high cost of school supplies and the daily ten centavo commute via calesa to the school.

Piqued by his son’s predicament, Don Juan realized the need for a high school (like Angeles Academy) that could provide Catholic education (like Holy Family Academy) with high academic standards (like Pampanga High School). Above and beyond this, he also envisioned a hometown school that offered affordable, accessible education, so that children need not be sent to Manila, to live away from their families, like what Javier experienced.

The Commission on Private Schools approved the application for the opening of the high school. Except the proposed names—either St. Joseph Academy or Holy Rosary Academy—which had already been taken by other schools. Fr. Santos recommended “Holy Angel”, after the town patron, which was approved. Thus Holy Angel Academy, the first Catholic school administered by laypersons was born, temporarily housed in a building on the side of the Holy Rosary Church.

The tuition fee for 1st year students was 4 pesos monthly, 5 pesos for sophomores and 6 pesos for junior and senior year level. The first students of Holy Angel were transfer students from Angeles Academy, including Javier. Ricardo Flores, former history teacher of Javier at Angeles Academy, was taken in as part of the faculty and he would later play a significant role in running the affairs of a growing school. The first teachers also included Miss Encarnacion Aranda, who multi-tasked as a physics, biology and math teacher. Don Juan taught a special Spanish course, free to all students of Holy Angel. Holy Angel Academy also offered Night School to accommodate Clark Air Base employees who wished to earn a high school diploma.

In October 1941, the school moved to its new building with its signature columns, designed by architect Marino Valdes. The coming World War forced the closure of the school, re-opening after the liberation in June 1945. The first collegiate courses—Normal (Teacher Education) and Commerce—were offered in 1948, paving the way for the institution of Holy Angel College in 1961. Twenty years later, it finally achieved a university status. In 8 March 1982, the Archbishop of San Fernando, Oscar Cruz, named Holy Angel University a Catholic University. The Commission on Higher Education cited Holy Angel as one of the top universities of the country in 2001.

In more recent years, Holy Angel University faced challenges from all fronts, including student unrest, boycotts, faculty strikes and a volcanic eruption. Through it all, Holy Angel survived and thrived, upgrading services and expanding facilities that included the organization of the Center for Kapampangan Studies (2002), the opening of the College of Nursing (2002), the inaugurations of San Francisco de Javier Building that houses a world-class theater (2007) and the new Chapel of the Holy Guardian Angel (2009). Still under construction is the multi-storey St. Joseph building, the state-of-the-art future home of the College of Arts, Science and Education and the College of Information and Computer Technology.

Among Holy Angel’s outstanding alumni are Sec. Rizalino Navarro; the Very Rev. Silvestre Lacson, OSB, the first Filipino Benedictine prior; Right Rev. Tarcisio Ma. H. Narciso, the third Filipino Abbot; and Atty. Cesar L. Villanueva, Dean, College of Law, Ateneo de Manila University. But there are also thousands of ordinary Kapampangans who benefitted in more ways than one from their Holy Angel experience.

One of them was my late mother, Estrella del Rosario. As I sort out her old photo albums, I picked out this picture, the Loyal Seniors Batch of 1948. She was among the 458 who graduated that year, the biggest number thus far, in the school’s history. There she is on the front row, the first young lady on the left, proudly clutching her diploma. She would recall her days at Holy Angel, how they would escape to the fields at the back of the school with her friends, how her sister Gloring became Miss Sophomore, stories of endless soirees and programs, all fond recollections of her youth.

Many, many years later, as senior citizens, she would attend her annual high school reunions without fail, often hosted by their batchmate and salutatorian, Mrs. Teresita Nepomuceno-Wilkerson. She was looking forward to her 2009 reunion until she was felled by a sickness from which she would not recover. The Holy Angel family tradition was continued by my four siblings who chose to go to college in the city: Mike, Susan (Commerce), Eric (Political Science) and Momel (who, after finishing Med Tech from UST, enrolled at Holy Angel for a commerce degree). I, too, remember taking up summer classes at Holy Angel, a cross-enrollee from a Baguio school, a brief but an enjoyable period of my student life.

Holy Angel University has just celebrated its Diamond Year. Through good times and bad, it has remained true to its mission of providing quality yet affordable Catholic education for all. Mindful of its founders’ precious legacy, Holy Angel University today forges on, continuing what it does best: molding minds, shaping destinies, and making history.

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