Illustration by Carla T. Gamalinda

WHAT the University of Santo Tomas has become now is akin to the parable of the mustard seed found in the Gospel of Matthew.

From a personal library and an endowment of 1,500 Spanish pesos bequeathed by Msgr. Miguel de Benavides, O.P., UST founder and third archbishop of Manila, the institution—originally a “seminary-college” to prepare young men for the priesthood—has, at present, become of a major player in building the Philippine nation, the Universal Church and the Christian family. It has become, as Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales has said during the Jubilee Mass last January 24, “the world’s largest Catholic university.”

In its four centuries of existence, UST has not only distinguished herself in the sacred disciplines and ecclesiastical service, producing several theologians and bishops who made their mark on the Church here and abroad; it has also spawned the founders of the Philippine nation—Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Jacinto, and nearly all of the framers of the Malolos Constitiution—that enabled the Philippines to become the first republic in Asia. Not only did UST alumni found the Philippine republic: they have consolidated it and continued to sustain it, as shown by four Philippine presidents (Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio S. Osmeña, Jose P. Laurel and Diosdado P. Macapagal) who were trained in UST, several chief justices of the Supreme Court, countless jurists, legislators and public servants, as well as writers, humanists, educators, scientists, architects, engineers, physicians and other health professionals, and others who contribute to the vitality and vibrancy of the Filipino nation.

Thomasians were also there on the streets during the tumultuous times of a wounded nation, marching and calling for the ouster of two presidents who betrayed the nation.

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With its primary mission of providing affordable education, UST has been a haven for middle-class families who want good education. That mission continues with UST’s expansion in Santa Rosa, Laguna and General Santos City in Mindanao. As Father Rector Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., said in a press conference when a reporter asked about the development of the UST Sta. Rosa, Laguna, “We are just waiting for more middle-class families to [live in the area.] You know that UST caters to the middle class.”

UST caters to all classes of young people who want to be nurtured in Thomasian education. While this move is sometimes criticized as “mediocrity”—a purely baseless notion from an elitist view—the University has been consistently dominating state licensure exams set by the Professional Regulation Commission, making it the best private university in the country in terms of the number of professional produced every year. Among private schools, too, it has the highest number of programs declared as Centers of Excellence and Centers of Development by the Commission on Higher Education.

The University has also succeeded in building the family and the community. UST has been rehabilitating the Aeta communities in Central Luzon. UST has trained “pseudo-teachers” for the education of our brothers and sisters in the mountains whose remote location did not hinder Thomasians to render community service. An Aeta woman once declared during the annual Rector’s Report program in 2009, “Ipinagmamalaki kong ako’y isang Aetang Tomasino!”

UST’s commitment to community service could also be seen through its Quadricentennial centerpiece project, Simbahayan, where UST will rehabilitate 400 villages through medical, literacy, community and peace “interventions.” But needless to say, as long as UST is existing, its commitment to community service and nation-building will be beyond the construction of the 400 villages. For example, the UST Medical Mission has been giving medical services for the needy since its foundation 50 years ago.

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UST, a bastion of Catholicism, has also made a huge contribution in the moral and spiritual formation of Filipinos.

UST Central Seminary has produced countless priests, bishops and church leaders who have played crucial roles in building the church and the propagation of faith not only in the country but in Asia and the rest of the world as well. UST alumni bishops and clergy are devoted vanguards of Catholic faith and have unwaveringly opposed the Reprowductive Health Bill because it is fundamentally an anti-life, anti-poor measure, a Stalinist social-engineering bill masquerading as a health legislation .

It should also be noted that the UST Hospital Clinical Division is the biggest private charity ward in the country, purely subsidized by the UST Hospital to render medical services to the poor.

UST’s contribution in the science, arts and humanities cannot be denied; it has produced the best scientists, writers and artists in the country. Many of them have been named National Scientists and National Artists.

Thomasians have also led in the building of Philippine business and economy. Thomasians Washington Sycip and Alfredo Velayo built the first international accounting firm in Asia. UST Engineering alumnus Francisco Eizmendi led San Miguel Corporation to become Southeast Asia’s biggest food and beverage firm. Tony Tan Cak Tiong built Jollibee and made it a Philippine fast-food export to rival McDonald’s. UST Pharmacy alumna Vivian Que-Azcona led Mercury Drug to be the paragon in retail drug excellence.

The University at present is the largest Catholic University in the world in terms of student population. It sports the grandest appellations. It is the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, the Catholic University of the Philippines.

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To some extent, the University, like the proverbial mustard seed, has become the Kingdom of Heaven, a reflection, yet ineffable admittedly but emerging more evidently as the centuries go by, of the greater glory that awaits those who accept the faith and labor to the full realization of the reign of faith, hope and love in the universe. Truly, UST, 400 years old and counting, has been the beneficiary and the source of unending grace.

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