SMS' Continuing Journey (1987 to Present)

[Note by p8: I'd like to use my access in this website to share what Ben Longid has forwarded to me.  I believe this would also be included in a book that would be made available during the 2012 Homecoming/Centennial Celebration of SMS.]

 

St. Mary's School's Continuing Journey

(1987 to present)

 

. . .but those who hope in the LORD

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles; -!

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

 

A gathering of eagles

 

In December 1987, never-say-die SMS alumni gathered in Sagada to mark St. Mary's School's First Grand Alumni Homecoming.  This came at a time when the school was facing extreme financial woes as a result of the annual 10 percent reduction of diocesan subsidy as the Episcopal Church in the Philippines moved towards full autonomy. Other church institutions in the diocese were caught in the same dire straits.  Hobbled financially, the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines had to phase out St. Hilda's Institute for Evangelists and retrenched its graduates who had, for decades, been faithfully serving in mission stations in the different dioceses. For the same reason, the diocese soon turned over the operation of St. Alfred's Tambuan to the government which later became Tambuan National High School.  

 

State subsidy to public high schools and the stable pay of public school teachers gave SMS a run for its money. Salaries were sometimes delayed for months on end and the idea of closing SMS was seriously being contemplated. The lease of the school facilities to the government was an option being considered at that time.  The eventual cutting off of full diocesan subsidy plus the opening of Sagada National High School and other government high schools within the municipality offering free quality education rose as twin threats to the school's continued existence. But even with the slump in the performance of SMS graduates in national examinations and the drastic dip in enrollment, it is to the credit of the embattled soldiers at SMS that they staunchly defended the home front with pitchforks notwithstanding overwhelming odds.  

 

This was the backdrop of the First SMS Grand Alumni Homecoming in 1987, a gathering of SMS lion-hearted eagles who refused to buckle under the threat of the school's perceived impending doom.   Attended by alumni from SMS' first graduating class to the latest who just graduated that year, the event was filled with nostalgic euphoria as well as faith in the capacity of alumni and friends to revive a school apparently writhing in its death throes.  

 

The first president of the SMS Alumni Association (SMSAA), Frank I.O. Longid called on SMS alumni to put their shoulders to the wheel and rescue the school. This gathering, happening eight years after the school's 75th birthday, was nevertheless dubbed the school's Diamond Jubilee. Hoopla marked the event and the issue of historical accuracy was apparently sidelined amid the excitement of meeting long-missed former sweethearts, teachers, classmates and friends.

 

It was in 1987 that Dorothy Kiley ended her term as principal, a position she held for 18 years of dedicated service. Evangeline Aguilan took over the position until 2000 and was replaced by Bernice Aquino-See who served as adminstrative officer for one year. John Guitelen, retired principal of Bangaan National High School, succeeded See and became acting principal of SMS until 2002. Dominga Toccong, retired teacher, took over as acting principal until 2003 when she gave way to Dennis Faustino, retired vice-principal of the International School. The fast turnover of principals within five years could very well reflect the anxious journey of St. Mary's School which was constrained to hire two retired teachers to head the school at a difficult time. But old war horses need to give way to fresher mounts and the arrival of Faustino, though retired himself, was met with hopeful expectation even as dark clouds continued to hover over the future of the school. 

 

In April of 2003, the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines made the announcement that it would not extend its subsidy to the school beyond 2005. One month later, Longid, who had been preparing the groundwork for the incorporation of St. Mary's School and steered the SMSAA ship through years of uncertain weather, succumbed to prostate cancer.  

 

Thereafter, Mary Inglay Fokno took over as president of SMSAA. In September 2003, St. Mary's School was incorporated as St. Mary's School of Sagada, Inc. (SMSSI) and the indefatigable Rufino B. Bomasang was unanimously elected chairman and CEO of SMSSI at the board's organizational meeting. Bumas-ang has since then been very active in raising resources for the school through his corporate network and the holding of golf tournaments, among other things.  Thomas A. Killip, whose friendship with Alfonso "Boy" Yuchengco paved the way for the completion of the  Don Enrique Yuchengco Memorial Building, was elected president in the general SMSAA assembly of 2008, succeeding Fokno as SMSAA president.  

 

Five-year Strategic Plan

 

When Faustino assumed the position of principal, he wasted no time in drawing up a 5-year strategic plan for SMSSI:

 

- to develop a college preparatory curriculum to enable SMS students to enter university and pursue careers of their choice

- to provide adequate resources, facilities, and teacher training to achieve the first objective

- to achieve financial viability as an institution supported by balance\contributions from the parent community, scholarship funds, and subsidies from government and other donors

 

With money coming from the donations of alumni and friends plus government subsidies, Faustino embarked on a massive physical renovation of the classrooms, chemistry lab, physics lab, biology lab,  library, audio-visual room, the basketball court, and the construction of a cistern, an amphiteatre and a gym which is yet to be completed. Some of the facilities are of international standards, thanks to the work of the magic dalikan - the SMSAA,  SMSSI board and the school administration.  And nobody can contest the fact that the school's natural bonuses of unpolluted air, 'rocky slopes' and 'winding woodlands' all conspire to make St. Mary's School's campus one of the best in the country.

 

It had been a long and arduous journey for SMS and it took sometime to get out of the rut but in 2010 Faustino was proud to report:

 

"Sagada's St. Mary's High School topped the National Achievement Test besting 58 private and public schools in Cordillera region's Mountain Province. It was the second year in a row that Sagada's only private high school took top honors, beating other high schools in bigger towns such as Bontoc, Besao and Tadian. Lubon National High School in Tadian placed second while Guinzadan National High School in Bauko placed third. Three other schools in Sagada placed in the top 20 with Sagada National High School, Banga-an National High School and Antadao National High School ranking 14th, 17th, and 18th respectively."

 

Another yardstick in the much improved performance of the school is the rate of acceptances to top colleges and universities in the Philippines in recent years.  This is included the assistant's principal's report.

 

Leaks that could have sunk a big ship have not only been mended and we behold the building of a better ship well on its way to conquer the seas.  

 

The observation was made at the drafting of the five-year strategic plan that digging into donors' pockets and collecting tuition fees  for the operations of the school were band-aid solutions.  Today, it remains a challenge for the school to implement a long-term plan to generate revenues. SMSSI and SMSAA may have to be more agressive in building their endowment funds while looking for grants and bequests for the school. Performance entails cost and the quality of service rendered by any institution is largely dertermined by the availability of resources.  Isn't it time to do an inventory of the school's physical assets and draw up a comprehensive development plan towards self-reliance?

 

Looking back, funds for overseas missionary work of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America (PECUSA) came from the donations of parishes across the United States and legacies from benefactors. Church archives indicate that parish donations, however small (some amounting to one-digit figures), were sent towards the support of overseas missionary work. No donation was too paltry for overseas missions.  Staunton envisioned an industrial mission, including a a technical school, that would make a long-term impact on the lives of Igorots but the economic depression in the US and American stockpiling for World War I hurt the pipeline to PECUSA missions around the world.  But it was World War II that inflicted heavy damage on infrastructure set up by the early missionaries. Among the buildings razed to the ground during World War II were the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the White House (also known as Balay a Purao), and the beautiful shingled school building that stood where the Don Enrique Yuchengco Memorial Building now stands. All the other mission buildings were peppered by bullets but survived and now count among some of the assets at our disposal.  Add to this are the assets donated to the school in recent years.

 

But the greatest asset is still the more than 2,000 SMS graduates spread across the world who form an ever-expanding resource base waiting to be fully tapped to support the school.  This great reservoir of time, treasure and talent can help make St. Mary's School reclaim its renown as a leading beacon of secondary education not only in the Cordillera but throughout the country.  

 

The changing of the guard at St.Mary's at the beginning of this school year could very well indicate the big strides the school has made and the confidence it has reached to take on fresh challenges. This school year saw Dennis Faustino ending his stint as principal to become headmaster of mission schools, as a step towards federating the schools of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. Nemia Ngalob Lite, who had priorly been assistant principal,  is now acting principal of St.Mary's School.  

 

When eagles blink

 

Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: 

the conscientious historian will correct these defects.     

Herodotus

 

At the First Grand Alumni Homecoming in 1987, we may have been too swept away to pay attention to the error of commemorating SMS' Diamond Jubilee which should have been done in 1979.  But William Henry Scott did not let this error slip. In his Brief History of SMS, which appeared in the 1987 SMSAA souvenir program, Scott wrote a gentle reminder:

 

The first school building of the Mission of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada was completed in 1912, just 75 years ago. It was a two-and-a-half story building, 36 x 90 feet, with siding and roof of pine shingles. Today it is the Girls Dormitory, the oldest surviving building from the original mission.

 

But mission education had started eight years earlier when Father  John A. Staunton and his wife Maria moved in with Señor Jaime Masferre in Batalao in 1904. They had brought four pupils with them from Baguio ~ one from Darlik, two mestizos from Banaue, and, and the grandson of a Spanish friar from the Ilocos ~ and Sagada children soon started coming out for lessons. The following May the Stauntons moved into Sagada and built a wooden and cogon house at the location of the present Pureza Kiley Memorial Gate. Here they took ten more students into their household, and here primary classes were taught for the next seven years.  In 1907 there were 17 pupils with a mission budget of P60 for each, and three Ilocano teachers  ~ Pedro and Fortunata Catungal and Victorino Balbin.  (Underscoring supplied)

 

The following account is also in Vol. LXXX of The Spirit of Missions published 1n 1915 by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States.

 

The Igorot mission-station nearest to civilization, though not the first in point of time, was established in 1906 by the Rev. S. S. Drury at Baguio among the Benguet Igorots.

 

Our first work at Baguio was educational, and supplementary to that already in progress at Bontoc and Sagada farther in the interior.

 

Several days' journey from Baguio, far up in the mountains; was a district centering in the barrio of Sagada where existed no civilization of any sort except that which our Mission brought. To this place went the Rev. John A. Staunton, Jr., in 1904.  For some months, Fr. Staunton, as he is familiarly known by all, stayed with Senor Jaime Masferre, a coffee planter and retired Spanish army officer, and looked over the country. It was a widespread district of mountain and valley, pine-clad, with narrow trails winding over the hills and connecting the scattered Igorot barrios, in the neighborhood of which the skill of the natives had converted the steep mountain slopes into those marvelous series of terraced rice-fields which form the characteristic feature of the Igorot country. 

 

Fortunately, "Padre Juan," as Father Staunton came to be called, was a graduate in mining engineering of Columbia University, and he brought his expert knowledge to bear on this field where everything had to be built up from the beginning. There were no workers, no buildings, no money. When he was joined by his wife, they moved into their first home which was a small shed twelve feet square, formerly used as a goat shelter. There, for nearly a year, the Stauntons lived, taught school, conducted a dispensary, held services, and baptized more than one hundred converts.  (Underscoring supplied)

 

Staunton was conscious of the Church's mission to preach, teach and heal and he did that forthwith when he established the Mission of St. Mary the Virgin in 1904.

 

Easter School was founded in 1906 and rightfully celebrated its centennial in 2006.  There is no rhyme nor reason in celebrating SMS centennial later than Easter School when historical records show that Easter School was "only supplementary to that already in progress in Sagada."

 

The year '1912' in the SMS logo was not in the original coat-of-arms designed by Scott who openly wondered that it may have been inserted by a well-meaning culprit from a misreading of the fact that the first schoolbuilding was completed in 1912.  And that perhaps explains how we got our cue from a miscue.  The circle surrounding the coat of arms with the text 'ST MARY THE VIRGIN, SAGADA, MT. PROV. 1912' is evidently a future insertion to the original. In his chararacteristic nonchalant fashion, Scott pointed to the abbreviation 'Mt.', saying that it is the abbreviation of 'Mount' and not of 'Mountain'. The corrections on St. Mary's School's official seal are long overdue.  

 

Today is St. Mary's School's  108th birthday - well within the 2nd century of the school's founding.  The centennial of Saint Mary's School is no trifling matter because it has bearing not only on the history of the school but on the history of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.  Let nothing dim the fireworks in the school's belated birthday bash but we should seize this moment to blast this historical blunder and set the record straight. 

 

The next centennial will be in 2104 - not a second later.  Mark the date and don't be late!

 

by: Ben Longid, Class '66

blongid@yahoo.com (For your reactions.)

SMSAA Manila Chapter

 

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