100 Years Ago: The Genesis of DLS in the Philippines

By: Romi Beza, Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 09:57 am PST
Filed under: Headlines!

(Editor’s note: Below is the Jan. 17, 2011 article from Business World Online http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?title=Cheer,%20cheer%20for%20Old%20De%20La%20Salle&id=24611. Thanks to Tom Consunji for the heads-up!)

To Take a Stand

By Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

Cheer, Cheer For Old De La Salle

As the boys used to sing during the NCAA basketball games in the 1930s to the 1960s, cheer, cheer for Old De La Salle. The school celebrates its centennial anniversary this year. It was on June 16, 1911, when the first Christian Brothers school in the Philippines opened it its doors. Centennial celebrations were kicked off last Tuesday.

Shortly after American rule had been established in the Philippine islands, President William McKinley instructed the military authorities to make English the official language of the islands, and therefore the medium of instruction in all public schools. In 1899 he told a group of Methodist ministers who had called on him, “there was nothing left for us to do but to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.”

With McKinley’s blessings, Protestant ministers left for the Philippines with missionary zeal. The Presbyterians opened in Dumaguete an elementary school for boys, Silliman Institute, the first American private school in the country. The Episcopalians established Brent School in Baguio. Back in 1901, 540 American teachers, almost all Protestants, disembarked from the USS Thomas at the mouth of the Pasig River, and went to different parts of the country to man the public schools.

At about that time, there were about 31 private schools in Manila, including the San Juan de Letran College and the University of Santo Tomas run by the Dominicans, the Ateneo of the Jesuits, and the schools for girls conducted by nuns. But the medium of instruction in all these schools was Spanish.

The American archbishop of Manila, Jeremiah Harty, had just replaced the last Spanish archbishop, who hastily went back to his native Spain in fear of his Filipino flock for opposing the revolution in1898. Archbishop Harty feared that the Catholic faith was being eroded by the influence of the Protestant missionaries who were fast gaining control of the educational system. He felt that only new educational centers superior to those controlled by American Protestants could arrest the erosion.

Intimately familiar with the Christian Brothers brand of Catholic education, being an alumnus of the Christian Brothers College in St. Louis, he wanted a school staffed by American Christian Brothers. Thus, he wrote the Brothers inviting them to open a school in Manila.

But from the time of John Baptist de la Salle, the founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the Brothers opening a school in a new territory depended on the local civil or ecclesiastical authorities financing the purchase of a suitable site and paying for the upkeep of the teachers.

John the Baptist de la Salle was the eldest of seven surviving children born to a wealthy and landed family in the city of Rheims, France. He was ordained a priest in 1678. With Adrian Nyel, a zealous schoolmaster well known for establishing schools for poor girls, de la Salle opened new schools for poor children. Discerning God’s call for him to create with his teachers a new kind of school that would make quality human and Christian education accessible to the poor, he formed the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

In 1691, fearing the collapse of the institute due to lack of resources, de la Salle and two Brothers made a sacred vow to keep the society and the work alive even if they have to live on bread and water alone. But soon after, more men became inspired by the example of de la Salle and his Brothers. They joined the Institute and together they opened more schools for poor children.

Because of their teaching method, their schools became famous all over Europe, leading local governments to invite the Brothers to open schools in their territory, assuring them subsidy and aid of the diocese and local benefactors. The American civil government in the Philippines, however, was not inclined to subsidize private schools such as what Harty wanted.

Harty offered to finance the establishment of a school including dormitories, and possibly a free school and orphanage if the Brothers insisted on being true to the mission of St. de la Salle and the Institute of the Christian Brothers. In his tour of the United States, he was able to obtain pledges of financial support from American Catholics. He went to Rome to tell the Pope how important it was for a Catholic school run by English-speaking teachers to be established in Manila. Convinced, the Pope asked the Superior General of the Brothers to set up a school in Manila.

Acceding to the wish of the Pope, Brother Adolphe Alfred, director of a large school in Barcelona, sailed for Manila to meet with Archbishop Harty for the purpose of establishing a Brothers school in Manila. Upon his arrival in Manila, the archbishop took Brother Adolphe around to look for a possible site of the school. They agreed that a site in Paco, formerly occupied by the American School, would make a suitable location. Harty entered into a contract by which he would pay P20,000 down, and P10,000 annually for the next five years at an interest rate of eight percent per annum. Another P16,000 was spent to spruce up the place in time for school opening in June.

De La Salle school opened on June 16, 1911, with nine Brothers forming the faculty. Only one of them was American, three Irish, and five French who spoke English. The school drew the sons of well-to-do families not only in Manila but in the provinces as their parents wanted the children to learn English, the emerging language of formal communication. For that reason most of the first students were rich Spanish mestizos, as were most of the students in the next three decades. Thus, the elitist image of the school, an image not shared, however, by most of the Christian Brothers schools in over 80 countries.