HER RESPONSE TO THE CHALLENGES OF THE DAY
A period marked by profound changes
1817-1898: In the 81 years of Marie Eugenie’s life, seven political regimes followed one another in France. It was a troubled time, though from the point of view of social, political, artistic and ecclesial life, it was rich in change and innovation.
The French Revolution of 1789 signaled a break with the past: new ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity shook the foundations of monarchy, not only in France, but throughout Europe.
New philosophies challenged traditional understanding of human thought; there was a new consciousness of self, the world and others; people became increasingly interested in their own emotions and passions – human nature itself became a fascinating field for study.
School of thought, such as the Romantics and the Symbolists, succeeded each other in literature and painting, putting the accent on feelings, emotions, and imagination.
The new scientific method and mentality gained ground and shaped minds, sharpening the conflict between science and faith, the latter all too often paralyzed by scrupulosity, guilt and fear of offending God.
Industrialization, too, was beginning to transform not only economic structures but also the lifestyle of society, relationships and ambitions.
The German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) had proposed a theory of progress in which, it seemed, the poor paid the price.
Social reformers and theorists invented the vocabulary used and spread by Karl Marx (1859-1913) to explain history in terms of economic theory. Working men began to organize themselves and France discovered the power of popular movements.
Such a historical upheaval bring about profound changes in a culture and destabilize the structures of society – its government, social order, economy, education – and its Church.
Anne Eugenie – child and adolescent
In 1830, Anne Eugenie was thirteen. At the time of the July Revolution, the banks failed and Monsieur Milleret was ruined. About this time too, Lamennais published his periodical “L’Avenir” (The Future), as mouthpiece for the struggle for freedom, especially in education. The Gospel, for him, must penetrate the whole life, including social institutions and politics.
During this period, Marie Eugenie made her First Communion in the Church of St. Segolene, at Metz.
“At my First Communion, which I made on my own and without the usual course of preparation, I felt, as profoundly as I have ever done since, a silent separation from anything to which I was attached, so as to enter, alone, into the immensity of the One whom I possessed for the first time.”
In 1835, Father Lacordaire began his conferences at Notre Dame. Anne Eugenie was eighteen and her mother had died of cholera three years earlier. She wrote:
“My thoughts are like a troubled sea which wearies me and weighs me down…Tired of myself, I would like to destroy this mind of mine, quieten it, stop its probings.”
“I was incredibly ignorant of the doctrine and teaching of the Church, yet I had been instructed for my First Communion like other children. I had made my First Communion with love and had even received, on that occasion, graces from God which, together with your preaching, have been the basis of salvation for me."
A radical conversion of heart and mind.
1836: At Notre Dame, Anne Eugenie underwent a conversion while listening to Father Lacordaire. Later she wrote:
“Your words fitted in with all my ideas, my impulses, completed my picture of reality, revived my notion of duty and my longing for goodness. All had been on the point of fading from my heart but your words gave me a new generosity and faith which, henceforth, nothing was to shake…I was truly converted.”
This was for her a radical conversion, not only of the heart but also of the intelligence. She was dazzled by the light of Christ and of His Kingdom.
It was above all an intellectual conversion. Marie Eugenie was to speak, later, of the “renewal” of her intelligence. She continued, “I hold on to faith as to something I have discovered.” Divine truth illuminated and transformed her own ambitions, ideals, and her understanding of the world. Her heart was on fire with the passion for truth and for God’s cause. She expressed it in this way:
“I had conceived the longing to devote all my strength, or rather all my weakness to the Church which, from that moment, I saw as holding the only key to the knowledge and achievement of what is good.
The foundress: Anne Eugenie at 22
Anne Eugenie wanted to be part of the new and evolving world of her duty and to find her own place in it. She renounced her own comfort in order to write her vision into human history. On 30th April 1839 she founded the Congregation of the Religious of the Assumption in a small apartment in the parish of St. Sulpice: No. 4, rue Ferou.
The letter that she wrote to Abbe Gros two years later expresses the way she was rooted in her own times:
“The dominant idea in the foundation of this undertaking of ours was that of an inspiration of zeal and it was this that decided my vocation. Daughter of a family unhappily without religion, brought up in a social circle which was still less so, left motherless at fifteen, and, through the workings of chance because of my position, having had many more contacts and greater knowledge of society than is usual at that age, I had been able to realize how unfortunate from a Christian point of view the class to which I belonged…It seems to me that anyone who has a love for the Church and is aware of the profoundly irreligious outlook of three quarters of the rich and influential families of Paris, must feel compelled to try every means to bring Christ into their lives.”
She looked upon her times with hope, and unlike some of the other religious and spiritual thinkers of the day, considered that the world was the place of the revelation and the glory of God. This way of looking at it, this mode of contemplation, far from distancing her from the world, impelled her to love it better.
“It pains me to hear this earth called a land of exile. I consider it a place of glory for God. Here he can receive from our free and suffering wills the only homage that He does not find in Himself.”
She understood that God has a plan for the world and that each one is called to partnership in it.
“I believe that each of us has a mission on earth…the final aim of religion is not just to seek our eternal beatitude but also to make us seek how God can use us for the spreading of his Gospel and for its fulfillment.”
The light of Christian faith is the source of coherence. Marie Eugenie believed in the earthly consequences of living out the Gospel and in its power to transform society. She emphasized the fact that, if her contemporaries did not share in God’s project, it was from ignorance rather than from malice. It was a matter of understanding one’s times and bringing them within a Christian perspective, according to the Gospel.
"What seems to be lacking…nowadays…is religious orders that communicate with the characters, the spirits, and I would even say, with the physical forces of our times."
She was confident that it was within the capacity of women to bring about this transformation.
“You will see that women believe they are in a family to assure a fortune and hardly ever to bring about honor and justice. They are those whom heaven intended as the educators of the world.”
Instead of bewailing this state of affairs, Marie Eugenie set about changing them by inculcating, through education, a Christian social spirit which corrected the superficiality she denounced.
“The goal of education is that, once they have gone out into the world, they should be Christian women who are able to carry Christian ideas, thoughts and practices into the midst of their families.”
The intelligence should be trained in such a way that it animates and directs the will. A person should act according to reason and have good reasons for acting.
“We had all experienced the difficulties that result from an education based on worldly or anti-Catholic principles. Doubtless, it was not deliberate that God’s name was never mentioned nor religion made the basis of our education. However it lacked conviction. We could read any type of book, our teachers had widely differing beliefs…”
It was her reflection on her own experience, on the needs of her time, as well as on the growing split between faith and reason, that led her to choose education as her response to the challenges of her time.
Marie Eugenie was convinced that her project was within God’s plan. Her faith gave her not only boldness but also endurance, not only the energy for action but also the strength to carry it out in the face of misunderstanding, opposition and even persecution. She had patience when confronted by the lethargy of people and the weight of institutions. Her faith and her love of Christ were for her a source of unity. Her obedience to the will of God and her sense of her calling kept her gaze fixed on her goal. She wrote to Fr. Lacordaire in 1841:
“I knew none of the members of this Church…I imagined they were all apostles. Later, I was to find that they were but men.”
Her intuition and her experience of the true nature of the Church made her always see there Christ, The Good Shepherd.
THE ASSUMPTION IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Religious of the Assumption came to the Philippines in 1892 upon the request of the Queen of Spain, Maria Cristina. To meet an urgent need of the time, they established a Teachers Training School in Manila. At the outbreak of the Revolution, the school was closed and after the cessation of hostilities, the Sisters were repatriated.
In 1904, a group of English speaking Sisters with Mother Helen Marguerite as Superior was sent to re-open the school. Instead of the Superior Normal School of Women Teachers, which had been established in the Spanish era, an elementary school and a secondary school were opened. In 1940, a College Department was added to the school.
The Covent and the school were completely burned down during the Liberation of Manila in 1945. At the request of the alumnae, the grade school and the high school were re-opened in June of the same year. Most classes were held in quonset huts built on the ruins of the school, since only one building remained standing after the war.
In 1947, the work of re-construction was begun by Mother Rosa Maria assisted by Mother Esperanza. As the number of students increased, it became necessary to move to a new site.
In 1958, a second Assumption school was built in San Lorenzo in Makati, Rizal and the College moved into it in 1959.
In 1973, the high school of Herran moved to San Lorenzo, and the grade school of San Lorenzo moved to Herran.
In 1974, with Malate fast becoming a commercial center in the tourist belt, the property was sold, and the grade school moved to Antipolo along the Sumulong Highway.
HISTORY OF THE COLLEGE
In 1940, Assumption added a College Department to its Elementary and High School divisions. Sr. Philomene Marie was the first College Dean, and Sr. Esperanza Maria Cu-Unjeng, its executive secretary. The College was in the midst of preparations to open the liberal arts department when war broke out in 1941. School was abruptly suspended and the students sent home.
The College department re-opened in Herran, Malate on June 26, 1948.In school year 1948-49, at Mother Rosa Maria’s suggestion, the College Department started with a one-year secretarial course. The Department’s course offerings expanded gradually in the following years to include liberal arts in 1950, accompanied by education and commerce in 1951. Small post-war classes were held, typical of European semi-tutorial classes, with only 11 or 12 students per classroom. The College was authorized by the Archdiocese to give a catechist’s diploma to students who had taught catechism either in Sunday school or in the public schools during their years with the Assumption.
Sister Esperanza Maria was College Dean, Mother Espie, as she was fondly called, was a no non-sense Dean. She was a genuine administrator who also succeeded uniquely as true mother to her students. She rightly demanded excellence, but she trained them in simplicity and prompt obedience.
For lack of space and facilities, the college transferred to San Lorenzo Village in Makati on June 1959 occupying Aquinas Hall. It was a modern campus with the latest facilities. An outdoor stage, patterned after the Hollywood Bowl, a swimming pool, tennis court and a bowling alley were built to complement the academic courses being offered for the ultimate development of a “sound mind and sound body.”
The College curriculum was heavily Thomistic in orientation. The students were provided with a rich program of philosophical studies.
Together with this an environment was prepared where creative talent and social commitment could blossom.
Changes marked the growth of Assumption San Lorenzo. Sister Esperanza’s health suffered, especially during the martial law years, and she was relieved of healthy responsibilities.
Sr. Esperanza’s assistant of many years, Sr. Ma. Luisa Locsin, became College Dean.
The early 1970’s was a period marked by a heightened restiveness among the students in the college department that had to be continually tamed during those years. Besides student’s activism, the government imposed rigid new restrictions, which curtailed academic freedom. The political-social situation brought to the fore, flagrant violations of social justice and human rights that forced education to take on a stronger social thrust.
Within the formal school set-up, a new organizational structure integrated lay faculty members with administrative responsibilities. Ms Emma Rotor held the position of Academic Dean, succeeded by Ms. Remedies Poblete.
In the 1980’s there was an increase in the number of college students. The lack of space was resolved with the building of the Therese Emmanuel Hall. In the decade of the 90’s the college continues to grow both in population as well as in academic and nonacademic programs.
Assumption College San Lorenzo is the only Assumption school run by the Sisters that offers tertiary education in the Philippines and internationally.
The college continues to be a part of the spirit in which the Assumption was founded. It continues to adapt its curriculum to make education relevant to the challenge of the times.