Universidad de Sta. Isabel and the Legacy of Padre Gainza

Right across the grand cathedral of Naga lies one of the most historic building in Naga, the Universidad de Sta. Isabel de Nueva Cáceres, the pilot normal school for women in the country.

The founding of the school is the idea of one visionary man, Dominican Francisco Gainza. He saw the potential of women to be educators, this in a time when Filipinas were considered little more than home caregivers and producers of offspring. He envisioned a school where every parish would be required to send one representative to be schooled as teacher. The plan was for these ‘pensionadas’ to return to their communities and teach. He fought long and hard to get funds to erect the foundations of his school.

Universidad de Sta. Isabel today.

After the red brick school was completed Gainza then lobbied for subsidies so women from poor parishes could enter and complete their schooling. He petition the local administrators of the province to help shoulder the costs. From the period of 1877 up to 1898  the school produced 300 graduates.

Padre Gainza came in the country to further his religious studies–here he was ordained priest and rose from the ranks, retiring as bishop of Nueva Cáceres. In his younger years, he was sent to China where death is a constant, looming presence for religious missioners. He was typical of his generation of Spanish missionaries, highly educated, extremely devoted–most of these men died without seeing their families and homeland again. Padre Gainza taught physics in UST, he was a canon lawyer and a member of the Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos de País.  He wrote the novenario for our Lady of Peñafrancia. The good Bishop died in 31 July 1879.

In his latter years as bishop of Nueva Cáceres, he sat on the ecclesiastical tribunal that reviewed the case of the GOMBURZA priests. The religious in Manila had petition the priests implicated in the Motín de Cavite to be divested of their priestly status. Bishop Gainza, not only said ‘no’, he went farther– expressing  his opinion that the three priests be pardoned. If he had his way, those three priests would’ve walked away free but Governor General Rafael Izquierdo had approved for the execution to be carried out.

We’re obviously looking at a visionary priest here that was ahead of his time. His biography, like all those obscured heroic friars that were placed in a bucket called ‘Damaso’, awaits to be written.

The Universidad de Sta. Isabel was where the Spanish signed the instruments of surrender in 18 September 1898. The provincial governor surrendered the entire province to the revolutionary forces to two corporals, Elias Angeles and Felix Plazo.
When Lukban arrived to help the revolutionaries overthrow the local Spanish administration the general was greeted with locals who had already deposed the Spanish. Elias Angeles, who organized the local government in Naga, held office in Sta. Isabel. This man was known for his gentlemanly character. A quaint iron plate marker describes him as, “the perfect gentleman, respected and treated with utmost courtesy and consideration all the Spaniards.”
Majority of the schools founded during the Spanish era have retained the patron saints name but dropped the Spanish ‘Universidad’ and ‘Colegio’. Some schools in Manila that adapted this strange arrangement are: Sta. Isabel, San Beda, Immaculate Conception, San Sebastian to name a few.

The most awkward change was that of Universidad de Sto. Tomas, now University of Sto. Tomas. They must have changed ‘Universidad’ to win regard from the Americans. Universidad de Sto. Tomas predates Harvard by a quarter of a century. The Ateneo schools retained the Spanish “Ateneo de” but like UST had the English ‘University’ attached as part of their official name. Like all Spanish founded schools, they went through a major overhaul when the Spaniards were sent packing–the faculty was Americanized.

Laudable are schools that maintained their original Spanish names like Colegio de San Juan de Letran. The Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion de la Concordia has retained the official name but is commonly referred to as Corcordia College these days.

But why is it the original name is even important?

As humans, we keep our name because it’s an integral part of our identity. Those who change their names either wants to forget their past or has decided to embraced a different identity. When we allow our streets, towns and institutions to be casually renamed, we’re permitting the deletion of our forefathers memory. These constant changes are common in this country. Not surprising because most of us are apathetic when it comes to our history.

May 2013


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