A Backgrounder on SMSSI and SMSSAFF

The Sagada Mission of St. Mary the Virgin, which includes St. Mary’s School [SMSS],Old Sagada was established by Rev. Fr. John Staunton in 1904 in the mountains of the Philippine island of Luzon, among "naked, head-hunting, trial-marriage savages," as one missionary called the local Igorot tribes[1].

Fr. Staunton, then 34 years old and Rector of St. Peter’s Church in Springfield, Massachussets, was among a number of American missionaries who leapt at the opportunity to do missionary work in the Philippines following President William Mckinley’s declaration that it was the United States manifest destiny to take possession of the Philippine Islands to “educate the Filipinos, and uplift and Christianize them”[2]. President McKinley supposedly told a Methodist congregation that he came to this decision after seeking divine guidance[3].

While not a few would point out that it was really the lobbying of President Mckinley’s friends in the Sugar industry that prompted the United States to take possession of the Philippine Islands, the missionary works of Fr. Staunton and other American Missionaries have had profound influence in the lives of Igorots in Northern Philippines.

Igorots have historically been referred to as non-Christian Tribes, cultural minorities or mountain dwellers of the Cordillera mountain ranges of Northern Philippines. Fiercely clinging to their freedom-loving ways, Igorots remained unconquered by the sword during three centuries of Spanish Rule of the Philippines. It was through the cross and educational institutions such as what Fr. Staunton established in the Sagada Mission that finally capitulated Igorots to accept Philippine civil authority.

St Mary's School before World War 2SMSS became a watershed of learning for education-thirsty Igorots. Through St. Mary’s School, quite a number of Igorots were able to educate themselves and accelerate their assimilation with mainstream Philippine society. Many found gainful employment in the Philippines as well as overseas particularly in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia.

With the help of American missionaries/educators, SMSS built a reputation of not only dispensing academic excellence but also discipline to its students. In fact not a few parents [including parents with military backgrounds] sent their spoiled brats to SMSS for the primary purpose of reforming them. SMSS students came as far as Mindanao as well as from Manila and Baguio City.

It, therefore, came as a shock to most SMSS graduates to learn that their beloved alma mater had been experiencing extreme financial difficulties and the possibility of closing the school was being floated around by the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines [EDNP], the administrators of the school.

Since 1990 when the Philippine Episcopal Church [PEC] gained autonomy from its mother church – The Episcopal Church of the United States of America [ECUSA] – school subsidy from the later dried up. This, togetherIgorot house with economic stagnation in hinterland communities of Northern Luzon, which often are the last priorities of Philippine economic development programs, were cited as the key factors for the financial difficulties of the school.

The majority of Igorots and related people are still mired in poverty and could not afford the tuition fees and cost of living required to enter the better-staffed and better-equipped schools in urban communities of the Philippines. Closing SMSS can only exacerbate the difficulties of acquiring quality education for many indigent but gifted Igorot students.

Igorot kidsCognizant of the foregoing and the importance of SMSS in improving the educational, spiritual, social, economic and/or political well-being of their less fortunate brothers and sisters in the hinterlands of the Cordilleras, concerned SMS alumni and friends led by Frank Longid, launched several initiatives to support the continued operations of the school.

These initiatives were mainly in the form of funds, books and equipment support campaigns effected by word-of-mouth, net-working with alumni and friends, periodic alumni homecomings, and an SMSS alumni and friends website.

Through these efforts, monetary donations and pledges were generated; scholarships were sponsored; second-hand books and magazines as well as computers and related materials were received. From monetary donations, paintings and repairs needed to comply with basic facilities requirements by the Philippine Department of Education were done.

St Marys SchoolWhile these financial and material support somehow helped to keep the school functioning, the magnitude and frequency of donations was hardly what EDNP was looking for to justify the continued operations of the school.

To exacerbate the situation, the financial woes of EDNP continued to deteriorate. Subsequently, EDNP announced that it will no longer be able to sustain operations of SMSS beyond year 2005.

Concerned SMSS alumni and friends opposed any plan to close the school, with Frank Longid orchestrating the opposition. Frank Longid, who contributed so much of his personal fortune and time to SMSS, was able to convince the majority of alumni and friends as well as EDNP that a better option to closing the school was for the Diocese to turn over administration of the school to the Alumni Association. His plans for saving the school included incorporating SMSS as a foundation which would enable the administrators to be in a better position to:

  • formulate and implement fund-raising campaigns aimed at encouraging tax-deductible donations, grants and aids from individuals as well as corporate donors; and
  • tap the management skills and/or business acumen as well as network contacts of SMSS alumni and friends worldwide.

Apparently, the EDNP administration realized that they were mainly trained for saving souls rather than managing schools and fund-raising programs and so they relented to the request of the SMSS alumni and friends.

Frank LongidWith EDNP's blessings, Frank Longid initiated: 1) the drafting of a memorandum of agreement effecting transfer of school administration to the proposed foundation; and 2) preparation of the foundation incorporation papers. Unfortunately, before the foundation was organized, Frank Longid died on May 19, 2003.

Rufino BomasangThe responsibility of organizing and registering the foundation and eventually heading it was graciously assumed by Engr. Rufino Bomasang who was prevailed upon by alumni and friends to take over the leadership of efforts to save SMSS from closing.

Subsequently, the school was incorporated as "SMS Foundation of Sagada, Inc." under the laws of the Republic of the Philippines on September 2003.

Following their Philippine counterparts, concerned U. S. based alumni and friends of St. Mary’s School, Sagada, gathered in July 5, 2003 at the Episcopal Church of St. Lukes and All Saints in Union, New Jersey, to likewise consider their options at effectively helping their alma mater and other related schools in the Philippines. The consensus arrived at was to incorporate an SMSS Alumni and Friends Foundation to serve as the springboard for generating contributions, donations, aids and grants from individual and corporate donors in countries outside the Philippines particularly the U. S. A..

Consequently, concerned SMSS alumni and Friends in the U. S.A., organized themselves as a public charity foundation and obtained approval as A Tax Exempt Organization under section 501 (c) (3) of the U. S. Internal Revenue Code effective May 4, 2004.

As such, donations /contributions to SMSS Alumni and Friends Foundation are tax deductible under section 170 of the Code. Likewise, bequests, devises, transfers or gifts made to SMSS Alumni and Friends Foundation are also entitled to tax deductions under section 2055, 2106 or 2522 of the Code.

It is the fervent hope of St. Mary's Alumni and Friends that with the tax exempt status of their organization in the U. S. A., individuals as well as corporate donors will be encouraged to donate/contribute to the humanitarian effort of saving SMSS and other needy schools involved in attending to the educational concerns of Igorots and related people.

These U. S. based Alumni and Friends of St. Mary’s School [unlike President Mckinley] sincerely believe that it is their manifest destiny to support, in whatever way they can, their less fortunate brothers and sisters in the hinterlands of the Philippines Cordilleras.

LBS

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