Driving northeast through the President Elpidio Rivera Quirino Avenue, in Novaliches, one may notice the sudden change from a bustling urban center to a verdant lining of trees along the highway. Spying to the left is a long white imposing wall, and the gate to the Sacred Heart Novitiate. Turning into the gate, one knows you have entered a different world, as the highway melts into a narrow cracked concrete road flanked with majestic trees on each side.
As you drive through the broken road, steles with plaques of the Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross), featuring events from the Passion of Jesus Christ, reminding the visitor to humble themselves before God, for this is holy soil.
As you drive on, the forest opens up to a sprawling lawn, and the Sacred Heart Novitiate Compound.
Stopping in front of the main building, one comes face to face with the main entrance, with its Art Deco and Mexican fusion of architectural styles. Completed in 1933, the building was designed by Arch. Fernando Ocampo.
Arch. Fernando Hizon Ocampo (1897-1984) first graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Ateneo de Manila, then studied engineering at University of Santo Tomas (UST). Ocampo would take his architectural studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1921, and advanced architectural studies at the American Academy in Rome in 1922. Ocampo would first practice in Philadelphia, before returning to the Philippines in 1923. Ocampo started working at the architecture division of the Bureau of Public Works, and then he went into private practice in 1928. Ocampo was one of the founders of the UST School of Fine Arts and Architecture, established in 1930, and a member of the Board of Examiners for Architects, 1929-1930. In 1933 Ocampo co-founded the Philippine Architects’ Society, which was later renamed as the Philippine Institute of Architects (PIA). In 1964 Ocampo received the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila.
From the entranceway, one steps into a grand lobby, with the left door leading to the priests’ quarters, and the right door leading to the administrative offices. The door in front lead to the main hall and chapel, and it is flanked two wooden carvings of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. Looking at the style of the sculpture, these pieces may be the creations of Luis Ac-ac, who has done many pieces for the Jesuits since the 1990s.
Luisito Ac-Ac (born 1952) is first and foremost a product of the carving town of Paete, Laguna Province. Ac-ac took his further studies at the University of the Philippines, College of Fine Arts, to major in Visual Communication. Ac-ac also minored in sculpture, where he apprenticed under fellow Pateño, Froilan Madriñan, and National Artists, Napoleon Abueva. Upon graduating, Ac-Ac worked as an illustrator at the Bookman Printing and Kayumanggi Press and El Dorado Comics of Graphic and Atlas. He later returned to his home town, and has been practicing wood carving hence.
At the sides of the main lobby, there are four large paintings created by Arch. Jose de Ocampo, which were all completed in 1934. The four paintings are a collection of pieces on the lives of four Jesuit saints, with the first painting presenting “The Vision of Saint Alphonsus Rodríguez, S.J.” (1532–1617), which is based on the work of Brother Martín Coronas y Pueyo, S.J. (1862-1928). The second painting features “St. Pedro Claver y Corberó (1580-1654) administering to the slaves of Columbia”, but the reference cannot be traced. The third painting is about “St. Peter Faber (1506-1546) administers the Holy Eucharist, in Cologne, Germany” by Pietro Gagliardi (1809-1890). The last painting is that of “The Vision of St. Stanislaus Kostka (1550-1568)”, with the reference unknown.
Arch. Jose Lorenzo Gómez de Ocampo (1906–1995) is a noted architect and painter, who graduated from the Ateneo de Manila and later at the University of Santo Tomas. As a painter, De Ocampo focused on religious scenes. As an architect, De Ocampo is most known for designing the Antipolo Cathedral, in 1954. In his spare time, De Ocampo would paint religious imagery, often reproductions of other famous European master. After his retirement from architecture, De Ocampo moved to California, USA; where he continued to paint, until his death in 1995.
Going past the main lobby, there is the entrance hall to the main dining room on the ground floor, and the main chapel on the second floor. The entrances to the dining are partitioned by a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cubist painting of a flame as the backdrop to the sculpture.
At the dining hall, the area is very spacious, and the large glass doors and windows allow the diners to have a view of the novitiate’s gardens while they sup.
Returning to the main hall, there are two sets of stairs going to the second floor. On each side of the stairway, there is a bronze relief of “Mary holding the Infant Jesus” on one side, and “St. Joseph, The Carpenter” on the other side. Both sculptures are undated and unsigned.
Reaching the second floor, there are pillars at each side of the stairway. And on each pillar, there is a statue of a young Jesuit saint, by Joseph Sibbel. Sculpted in 1903, these are Sibbel’s depictions of St. Aloysius de Gonzaga, S.J. (1568-1591) and St. Stanisław Kostka S.J. (1550-1568). These sculptures were most likely taken from the San Ignacio Church (built in 1899), which had burned down in 1932.
Joseph Sibbel (1850-1907) is a German sculptor of religious iconography, who emigrated to the United States of America. As a child, Sibbel had exhibited the knack for art by cutting ornaments and figures from wood. A techer noticed the young lad’s skills, and suggested to his parents that they send him to learn sculpture formally. So they sent Sibbel to apprenticed under the wood carver Friedrich A. Ewertz (born 1857) and sculptor Theodore William Achtermann (1799-1884), in Munster, Westphalia. There Sibbel developed his talents in ecclesiastical sculpture, before moving to Cincinnati, USA, in 1873. Sibbel’s first ventures didn’t pan out, as the ateliers the put up with fellow sculptors closed down. It was only when he completed a series of alto-relievos for the cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, did the different Christian sects pay attention to Sibbel’s work. There Sibbel formed a partnership with Arch. Patrick Charles Keely (1816-1896), who employed the sculptor in many of the churches that he designed. Although Sibbel’s works are mostly created in America, he has done several pieces all over the world.
The first leg of touring the Sacred Heart Novitiate has proven to be not just a glimpse the art and architecture of the Philippines, but that of the world. And behind each work of art is a story that extends beyond our islands, but also of the influence of the Catholic Church and the Jesuits in shaping our world history. The second part of the tour continues the stories behind the artworks at the Sacred Heart Novitiate. . .