The Plaza Benavides during the Tricentennial of UST. The Benavides statue that students now see on campus used to stand in Intramuros. Photo courtesy of UST archivesEIGHT months was all it took.

UST has long been preparing for its quadricentennial celebration in 2011, but did you know that a century ago, such a grand celebration did not take years of planning and organization?

It all started with what seemed to be a wild idea from then Rector Fr. Jose Noval, O.P. after his morning mass on April 28, 1911, the anniversary of UST’s foundation. He immediately asked a council of professors if the University should celebrate its 300th year. The vote was unanimous. The feast was set on the second week of December that year.

Nine committees headed by professors and Dominican priests were quickly organized. Some of them were the committees of Propaganda (media), Cooperación Escolar (cooperation among schools), and Funciones Religiosas (religious functions). The priority was to look for funding.

The first fund-raising campaign was the issuance of commemorative postage stamps sold at two centavos each. It was however canceled by the postmaster-general, with only 3,000 pieces sold. Thus, only P164 was raised.

But thanks to the help of some UST alumni who donated their salaries for the whole year, “eventually, money didn’t become a problem,” said historian Jose Victor Torres, formerly with the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

Pope Pius X gave his blessing to the project on October 16. Invitations and announcements were sent to provinces nationwide.

In the morning of Dec. 16, 1911, a parade greeted Manila, marking the beginning of the five-day tricentennial celebration. A memorial Mass for the founder of University, Fr. Miguel de Benavides, was held after the parade at the Manila Cathedral. In the afternoon, a grand scholastic parade boasted of floats from different colleges. It ended in Luneta, where short speeches were delivered by Vice Governor General Newton Gilbert, Luzon Commandant General Franklin Bell, and Liceo de Manila President Dr. Alejandro Albert.

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An academic banquet was attended by top government officials at the end of the fourth day. Among those present were Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano, Sergio Osmeña, Manila Archbishop Jeremiah James Harty, and Governor General William Cameron Forbes, who all paid tribute to UST.

But the event was not just about banquets and parades, it was also an avenue for charity.

A Mass for the poor was celebrated on December 17, after which food was given to attendees.

The five-day event culminated with a mini-Olympics where winners were given a special commemorative coin by Thomasian engraver Crispulo Zamora.

The tricentennial was supposed to be a celebration of heritage “since a large part of the University’s history is connected with Philippine history,” Torres said.

The tone was set by then Rector Noval who told professors more than a century ago: “There was no notable person in the Philippines, no one in a government or magisterial position, nor civil, nor ecclesiastical nor of social class nor of good family who had not achieved a beneficial influence … [who was not] taught with excellence from this institution — the Royal Pontifical University of Santo Tomas.” Alphonsus Luigi E. Alfonso

References:

Torres, Jose Victor (2007) El Tricentenario: The Story of the 300th Year Foundation Celebration of the University of Santo Tomas (1911). Ad Veritatem. Volume 6, No. 2, 401-425.

Torres, Jose Victor (2007) In Transition: The University of Santo Tomas during the American Colonial Period (1898-1935). Manila: UST Publishing House.

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