Sunday, June 6, 2010

*199. ST. MARY'S ACADEMY. Bacolor

AND THE ACADEMY GOES TO... A post-war picture of a class of the Benedictine-run St. Mary's Academy of Bacolor, rehabilitated after it sustained major damages during the war. Dated 1946.

St. Mary’s Academy is one of three Benedictine schools opened in Pampanga, pre-dating Holy Family Academy in Angeles by a few months (although founded by Augustinians in 1910, it was taken over by Benedictine nuns in 1922) and Saint Scholastica’s Academy of San Fernando. Rev. Fr. Pedro Santos of Porac laid the foundation when he put up the Bacolor Catholic School in 1919, which offered free education to all children.

In 1922, the parochial school was turned over to the Sisters of St. Scholastica’s College in Manila. Five nuns were assigned to the school to oversee the education of some 200 students. Fr. Santos remained its Director. In 1923, the school opened a high school department—for first and second year students. However, when St. Scholastica’s College opened its San Fernando branch, the high school was forced to close after only two years. Assumption Academy, as the St. Scholastica branch was then known, absorbed some of the students of St. Mary’s, often transported in school buses bought by Fr. Santos just so they could continue on with their education. After Fr. Santos ended his term, many students dropped out forcing the high school to stop its operations.

In 1925, St. Mary’s Academy was granted government recognition for its elementary course. Much of the school population came from the lower class; those who could pay were charged the minimum monthly fee, probably the lowest among private schools in the country.

St. Mary’s operated without any interruption until the coming of the second World War in 8 December 1941. During the War years, the American Forces used the school as its headquarters on their way to and from Bataan. It resumed operation at the onset of the Japanese Occupation in June 1942, only to be suspended in late 1944 and early 1945—during the country’s Liberation. The school provided sanctuary to refugees and evacuees during those difficult times. Finally, it reopened its doors on 20 February 1945.

Just a year after--in 1946-- St. Mary’s Academy took pride in its course offerings, that included kindergarten and elementary grades, with a total student population of 300 boys and girls. Of this total, 100 students enjoyed free tuition. It had a library, school garden and clinical facilities administered by the Sisters themselves, although it still needed much post-war rehabilitation , including the repair of classrooms, benches its Home Economics equipment. In all, the school suffered damages worth P1,000.

But the worst blow dealt on the school was the 1991 Pinatubo eruption that closed the devastated academy for months. Several alternative venues were used to accommodate students whose education just could not be disrupted--the San Vicente health center, the parish social hall, the Cabalantian Elementary school and even private residences. By 1992, after a year of rehabilitation, St. Mary's was back on its feet, but the year also signalled the end of the Benedictine administration of the school after seven long decades. St Mary's Academy was entrusted to the archdiocese of San Fernando on 6 May 1992.

The school’s distinguished alumni include the internationally well-known cardiologist Dr. Mariano Alimurung, Amparo Villamor (Cabinet Member of Pres. Carlos P. Garcia and Social Welfare Administrator), Rev. Frs. Odon Santos and Generoso Pallasigui, Pasudeco executive and agricultural magnate Gerry Rodriguez, civic leaders Elisa Buyson-Sison, Pilar Villarama and violinist Virgilio Palma. Their exemplary achievements reflect the school's commitment to education excellence shaped by solid Catholic values that it has espoused since the school's inception.

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