Driving through the heart of Quezon City, through Aurora Boulevard, visitors and passersby can spy what seems to be a high ivy walled citadel in the middle of the New Manila district. These tall fortifications belong to the Saint Paul University Quezon City (SPUQC), and inside a treasure of heritage architecture and art.
The SPUQC traces its roots with the establishment of the St. Paul Hospital inside Intramuros, Manila, in 1905, by the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres (SPC). This was followed with the founding of the Saint Paul Novitiate in 1911, along José de la Herrán Street (now Pedro Gil Street), also in Manila. This development continued with the opening of the kindergarten Saint Paul Institution in 1912. In the ensuing years, the school continued to expand with the opening of the elementary in 1913, and the high school in 1924. These expansions made the SPC compound too congested. And in 1931 the SPC sisters transferred the Novitiate and Provincial House of the SPC from Manila to the outskirt provincial locale of San Juan del Monte, which would be later annexed as a part of the newly established Quezon City.
The tranquility of the new novitiate was shattered by the Japanese occupation of the premises in World War II (1938-1945), and the subsequent destruction of some of the buildings at the end of the war. Along with the post-war reconstructions, the Saint Paul Grade School was established in 1946, and the High School followed in 1947, to accommodate the students of the Saint Paul College of Manila, as well as the growing number to migrants from Manila and the provinces, to Quezon City, after their homes were destroyed by the war. In 1966, the Saint Paul’s opened its college department, paving the way towards its recognition as a university.
Inside the SPUQC is a haven of quiet shaded open spaces, with many trees and plants that ease the visitor and students’ minds from the hustle and bustle of the roaring jeepneys outside the walls of the school. Adding to the tranquil and dignified ambience of the school is the old Novitiate and Provincial House, which now houses the SPUQC Amphitheater and Library, among other services. This edifice is a post-war reconstruction of the original Novitiate building, and is still going through regular maintenance and restoration work, with the last major work spearheaded by Arch./Eng. Roberto P. Cericos, in 1998.
Roberto P. Cericos is both an architect and engineer, who is also the chairman of the Special People Inc. Foundation, an NGO that works for providing scholarships of deserving students with hopes that they will give back to the community. For his many charitable activities, Cericos was honor the Bayaning Pamilyang Pilipino National Award in 1999. In 2007, Cericos ran for governor of Bohol, but lost. Despite the loss, Cericos continues to do developmental work around the country.
Part of Arch. Cericos’ renovations was the construction of the new Chapel at the basement of the old Novitiate building. Entering the Chapel transports the visitor to a surreal yet serene world, as if one has entered a cave lit by the hundreds of glow worms, or as if one looks at the starlit night sky with the sun rising in the horizon in the form of the altar.
Although the chapel has classical statues of the saints of Paul the Apostle and Saint Pio de Pietrelcina, as well as the Madonna and child Jesus; the main figures of the Crucifix at the altar is a bronze expressionistic modern sculpture, which is said to have come from Rome. Another of the chapel’s modernist collection from Rome are the Stations of the Cross.
From the chapel, visitors can climb the stairs of the old Novitiate building, towards the SPUQC Theater, which was also restored by Arch. Cericos. At the southern façade of the theater is a five paneled of stained glass window; featuring the Holy Spirit on both sides, Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres’s co-founder Marie Anne de Tilly, Madonna and child Jesus, the Christ Ascending to Heaven, and Saint Paul the Apostle.
At the entrance of SPUQC Theater is a bust of Fr. James Bertam Reuter S.J. (1916-2012), which was created by Julie Lluch. Fr. Reuter first started teaching at the Ateneo de Manila; where he established himself as a writer, director and producer in theatre, radio, print and film. Fr. Reuter’s experience led to his aid in developing the Mass Communications program of the SPUQC. For his contributions to the country, Fr. Reuter was given the “honorary citizen” status by the Batasang Pambansa (Philippine Parliament), in 1984.
Julie Lluch (born 1946) was born in Iligan; and she has been a stalwart in feminist artist since the 1970s. First known for her life-size terracotta sculptures of herself, representing various issues and statements on a Filipina’s life, Julie has then moved on to experiments in film, as well as public sculpture made of bronze. Art in the art scene, Lluch co-founded the women artists’ groups KALAYAAN (Katipunan ng Kababaihan para sa Kalayaan) and KASIBULAN(Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan or Women in Art and Emerging Consciousness). She married fellow artist, Danny Dalena; and they had three daughters, whom they call the Tres Marias (three Marias), who have all become noted artists in their own right. In 1990, she was recognized with the Thirteen Artist Award.
The neoclassical architectural style of the old Novitiate building dominates the whole structure, with the exception of the interior of the SPUQC Theater. Inside the theater is a sleek Art Deco styled interior, with a metallic motif. This was also renovated by Arch. Cericos.
At the grounds outside the SPUQC Theater is a memorial large abstract sculpture, which stands like a black flame in the middle of the campus. This monument was created by Arch. Cericos, in 1999, who used the old girder beams of the SPUQC theater, which they were replacing during the renovation of the theater. This monument is a testimony in steel to the strong commitment of the SPUQC to the holistic formation of the youth.
All around the SPUQC campus are sculptures by Jose “Joe” Barcena Jr. The first of Barcena’s 2009 statues greets visitors at the base of the old Novitiate building, near the entrance of the chapel. This is sculpture of Saint Paul the Apostle, placed in the middle of the lush greenery, as he looks up to the heavens in silent prayer.
Jose “Joe” Barcena Jr. is a product of the Bicol College of Arts and Trade (BCAT) and the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and also learned his craft from his grandfather, Federico Jr., who was also a sculptor. Jose comes from a line of sculptors, whose great grandfather is attributed to creating Naga City’s first historical landmark, of the 15 Bicolano martyrs executed by the Spanish in 1896. Early in his career, Barcena garnered awards in painting, such as the 1995 UST painting competition and the 1998 Shell Student Art Competition; however the shift to sculpture is where truly shone. He started creating outdoor pieces for many religious organizations around the country, such as the 20 ft. (6.096 meters) Virgin Mary for Dominican Sisters of the Regina Rosarii, six founding nuns of the Daughters of Charity and Bishop Gainza at the “Founding Garden” of the Colegio de Santa Isabel. In 2009, Barcena was named Bikolano Artist awardee of the Naga City government.
Outside the SPUQC Theater, there is an elevated open plaza for students to congregate. From the plaza, there is a stairway that leads to the ground floor, where the next set of Barcena’s 2009 sculptures can be found, which features three Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres. Although the SPUQC administration claims that this set of statues are a generalized representation of the sisters, I assume that Barcena might have wanted to represent Marie Anne de Tilly (1665-1703), the co-founder of the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres, training the first sisters: first members: Mère Marie Micheau and Mère Barbe Foucault.
The last piece by Barcena is his 2008 sculpture of Saint Paul, which stands at the entrance of the SPUQC Hotel. This statue is not just as reminder of the teachings of the Apostle Paul, but also a memorial to the history of the congregation of the SPC, which was founded in 1996. Father Louis Chauvet (1664-1710) and Marie-Anne de Tilly established the SPC in the French town of Levesville-la-Chenard, where they took inspiration from the apostle to evangelize and expand to the nearby town of Chartres.
The SPUQC Hotel was built 2006, and was designed by Arch. Edilberto Caballero. The SPUQC Hotel was developed to give the students of the Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management Program a real time experience in the Hospitality Management disciples.
Beside the SPUQC Hotel is a replica of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, which was installed around 1976. This “diorama” is a common image seen in many Catholic churches and schools, which commemorate the Mariam apparition in the French town of Lourdres, in 1858. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadeta Sobirós (1844-1879) eighteen times during that year, with many miracles witnesses the townspeople and visitors, once the apparitions were made public. Saint Bernadette is a also good example of spiritual fortitude for the SPUQC students, as she is the patron saint of the those who are ridiculed for their faith.
Another series of artworks scattered all around the SPUQC campus are the paintings of Dr. Abercio Rotor. The first piece can be viewed by visitors is the ceiling painting located at the walkway coming from the parking lot. Entitled “Saint Paul University and the arrival of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres”, the painting was completed in 2003, with the aid of Dr. Rotor’s children: Marlo, Ana and Leo Carlo, and a certain Ricky Cano. The mural depicts the arrival of the first seven SPC sisters in the Philippines: Mother Marthe de St. Paul Legendre, Sr. Anna de la Croix Anne, Sr. Marie Louise du Sacre Coeur Nivou, Sr. Ange Marie Bannier, Sr. Marie Josephine Rappeport, Sr. Catherine de Genes Gutteres, and Sr. Charles Aho. These sisters landed on the shores of Dumagete, Negros Oriental, and opened the Saint Paul Academy in 1905. Also in the mural is either the burning of the Saint Paul College in Manila, during the height of the Battle of Manila in 1945, or the 1965 burning of the St. Paul University Philippines campus in Tuguegarao, Cagayan. Whichever image Dr. Rotor is portraying, this burning of an SPC school show the resilience of the sisters to rebuild after a tragedy.
Dr. Abercio V. Rotor is a noted biology professor from the UST, who is also a very staunch advocate for environmentalism. Dr. Rotor has written two books, the 2003 “The Living with Nature Handbook” and the 2008 “Living with Nature in Our Times“, which have received the Gintong Aklat Award and National Book Award, respectively. Dr. Rotor also hosts an AM radio show called a School-on-Air (Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid) at DZRB 738, which also was awarded the Gawad Oscar Florendo for Development Communication. Other major distinctions garnered by Dr. Rotor are the 2002 Outstanding Teacher in the Philippines by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Filipino Scientist by the DOST (Department of Science and Technology-Batong Balani). Dr. Rotor has also served the country as the former Director, National Food Authority and Consultant on food and agriculture to the Senate of the Philippines.
There are two more paintings on the walls along the walkway by the Rotor family; these are the “Coral Reef”, “Mossy Forest” and “Forest Spring”. The three murals are meant to remind the students and visitors of the importance of the eco-systems of the Philippine and our need to preserve these for our future.
In a special gallery to more murals by Dr. Rotor can be found in a hallway between the old Novitiate building and the SPUQC Hotel. The first major mural is 1998 piece entitled: “Oh Centennial, Oh Centennial: Ruins of Colonialism”. The artwork is an ode to the Centennial Celebrations of the Declaration of Philippine Independence (1898-1998), which is a diptych showing a riverside Spanish Era (1521-1898) stone fort and its armaments being engulfed by nature, and an old provincial hospital on fire. Dr. Rotor also penned a poem that explains the symbols of the artwork:
Centennial, oh centennial, in what thoughts of deception,
Heart of steel, cold as Damascus before the lightning,
Do you offer to this nation trampled, yet your creation
Is to love and be loved, oh Pearls forever shining.
A rosy garden you painted, picked lei for each to wear
A round the neck yet bears still yesterday’s yoke and lock;
A rower chained, chime ringing for his feet with pain to bear,
Makes no difference to the sound at the dungeon years back.
Centennial, oh centennial, noble leaders at the helm,
Same skin of brown, language of old spoke, heroes revered:
Would doubt find a place in your hearts, to yield to shining gem
Strewn to blind you? Laments the land to loyalties served.
Suffering within and from without the land bears proof:
Rills to gullies, grandeur to ruin, galleon to relic,
Doings of Western craft abandoned on the shore and roof
Of a house divided, people fleeing, leaving the sick –
Centennial, oh centennial, silence’s supreme in tempest
When dawn breaks like any dawn sans its rays of noble past,
The day shall come to put the people again to test,
When a bed of roses is tomb disguised, the die is cast.
The next two murals of Dr. Rotor are about the life of the Apostle Paul. The first work is the 1995 piece entitled “The Conversion of Saint Paul” (Acts of the Apostles 9:3–19), which features the Roman Saul looking for the voice of Jesus addressing him, as his horse falls on the way to the town of Damascus. Before he became one of the pillars of the Catholic Church, Saint Paul (5-67 AD) was a Jewish-Roman Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, who was on his a mission to Damascus to arrest the local Christians in that town, and bring them back to Jerusalem. While on the road, Saul was struck down from his horse by a bright light, which would call to him “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The voiced was revealed to be that of Jesus Christ, who instructed the now blind Saul to continue to Damascus. Three days upon his arrival in Damascus, Saul was healed of his blindness by a Christian, named Ananias. Upon his healing, Saul converted to Christianity and took on the name of Paul.
The second Dr. Rotor mural is 1996 work entitled “Saint Paul and the Burning of Rome”, which features the 64 AD burning of Rome by Emperor Nero. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, whom Nero blames for the fire, as an excuse to openly persecute them. Saint Paul was already under arrest in Rome, and a few years after the fire, Nero had Saint Paul beheaded.
There is one more mural by Dr. Rotor, which is an untitled abstract piece he created in 2010. One can assume that this artwork refers to the Holy Spirit or God’s creation of the universe.
Walking toward the southeastern wing of the campus is the SPUQC Gym & Multipurpose Hall, which was built in 1984 and designed by Sr. Erlinda Bandril, SPC (1937-2015).
In front of the SPUQC Gym & Multipurpose Hall is a wide garden area with gazebos for the students to get together and rest between classes. To ensure that they students are also in a contemplative state of mind, there is are figures of the Crucified Christ and the Virgin Mary also located within the green.
An interesting sculpture in the garden is Beh-Hur Villanueva’s 1992 work entitled “Thy Will Be Done,” which features Jesus Christ accepting His fate at the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46 & Luke 22:39-46).
Ben-Hur Gorospe Villanueva (1938-2020) is a sculptor from Baguio City. Before going full time into his art, Villanueva taught at the Ateneo de Manila Grade School for 30 years, before retiring in 1992. Villanueva was also president for the Society of Philippine Sculptors (SPS), the Art Director for the Ephpheta Foundation for the Blind, Inc., and vice president-treasurer for Unesco’s International Art Association (IAA). After retiring from teaching, Villanueva returned to Baguio, where he opened his arts workshop, Arko Ni Apo (Ark of the Lord), which serves to teach local communities various art skills.
Not only is the SPUQC blessed with creations by artists invited by the school, as the students of the SPUQC are just as creative. Along the halls of the campus are many of the paintings the SPUQC students created for their Humanities classes through the years.
Since the arrival of the first seven Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, on the shores of Dumagete in 1904, to the founding of their first schools in Vigan (1905), Culion (1906), Tuguegarao (1907), Iloilo (1911), Manila (1912), and Surigao (1926), the SPUQC continues the traditions of service and excellence in education in Quezon City. And with this wealth of history and art in the campus, the SPUQC creates an environment of holistic learning for its students. This in turn creates graduates who have made their mark in their communities.