“What I love about homecomings is this, friends,” said Gertie Duran-Batocabe when asked about why she keeps on being part of St. Agnes Academy’s Grand Homecoming. Gertie and I were classmates since grade school in 1974-75. Now that we are in our late 40s, returning to our beloved alma mater is not just a matter of reliving memories, it has been a matter of gratitude.
Established on 1 July 1912 by the Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing of Germany, St. Agnes Academy in Legazpi City first began as a primary school. Fifteen years later, St. Agnes opened its doors to secondary education on 1 June 1917. It transferred to its present site in 1920.
During World War II, St. Agnes became a hospital and refuge of the citizens of Legazpi on April 1-28, 1945. It was eventually destroyed during the war, but rebuilt in 1946. The high school became co-education in 1983.
Annie Roa-Llaguno remembers how we began our day in school. From the flagpole (see above) to our classrooms, we would form a straight line, maintaining an arms length distance from each other. Sr. Melanie Lumauig, OSB, our principal, taught us cleanliness very early. She would always say, “Please pick up the pieces of paper” and we would receive a stern warning if our classroom was in disarray. We would clean our classrooms every afternoon; a group of cleaners were assigned per day.
The Benedictine sisters were serious about labor. We had endless theme writing, from “Our Summer Vacation” to “My Ambition in Life” – this training honed our skills in organising our thoughts, perfecting our grammar, and reflecting on our daily lives. And it improved our handwriting. Believe us, our handwriting was graded.
But more so, these formidable sisters, with the German culture in their very veins, taught us prayer. On my way back to the grade school building from my piano lessons in the Music Department, I would visit the chapel and hear the sisters praying and singing the Divine Office. Prayer had been a constant part of the Benedictine life.
My mom who graduated from St. Agnes in the 50s passed on the importance of faith and devotion to her family. Praying the rosary regularly before bedtime marked our family evenings. But she made it clear that not everything should be just prayer, “You have to work on your desires too.” That to me is the Benedictine’s tenet: Ora et Labora. Pray and Work.
This, I believe, is what the homecoming is all about. What we actually celebrate is who we are and what we have become.