THOMASIANS are no strangers to visits by the Spanish royalty.

Nearly four decades ago, the husband of Queen Sofia, then Prince Juan Carlos de Borbon, set foot on UST where he was conferred the title Royal Patron and doctor of laws honoris causa.

Memories of that momentous affair on Feb. 19, 1974 remain fresh in historian and former UST archivist Fr. Fidel Villarroel, O.P. The experience was surreal, filling UST with a sense of “satisfaction and pride,” the Dominican recalled.

Rite of conferment

The arrival of the royal guests was met with cheers and the waving of numerous Filipino and Spanish flags. Military honors were accorded the visitors by the UST ROTC composite model battalion.

Almost a thousand faculty members in full academic regalia turned up for a procession from the Main Building to the Medicine Auditorium where the grand conferment rites took place. Accompanied by his wife, then Princess Sofia, the Prince greeted them with a warm smile and hand shakes.

Then first lady Imelda Marcos joined Archbishop Bruno Torpigliani, then the apostolic nuncio, church dignitaries and university officials led by then rector Fr. Leonardo Legaspi, O.P. and vice grand chancellor, Fr. Bernabe Alonso, O.P. in welcoming the royal couple.

At the conferment ceremony, Legaspi read the formal response of accession to the petition addressed by Prof. Luis Feria, former dean of the Faculty of Civil Law. Feria recounted the long preparation and training the Prince had for the exalted position he was then occupying. Legaspi presented the scarlet hood of civil laws degree, followed by the slipping of the academic ring on his finger by Princess Sofia. The rector also said the prince joined not only the University’s Claustro de Profesores or the university faculty, but also a distinguished family of personalities who had received honorary degrees from UST, including President Manuel Quezon and General Douglas MacArthur.

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He was also offered the royal patronage of the university, a revival of the practice dating back to 1680 when King Charles II was named the first patron. But, the title conferred was honorary, in recognition of his family’s concern with the university from the year of UST’s foundation in 1611 up to 1898.

In his address of acceptance, the Prince said the conferment of honorary degree and the title Royal Patron marked an important stage in his life. He said that the foundation of UST by Fr. Benavides in 1611 was the fulfillment of the primary aims of Spain to the Philippines—to educate and to Christianize.

He then mentioned his special devotion to St. Thomas, the Patron Saint of the University. “The perfect logic, energetic, and architectural equilibrium and solidity of his doctrine has profoundly influenced the life of this country so that it can be said that the heart of the Philippines beats with the blood of the University.”

After the conferment of the honorary degree, the Prince was bestowed the Silver Royal Patron medallion which was made from old Spanish coins kept in the UST Museum.

In response, Juan Carlos I heaped praises on the Filipino people “because the Philippines was for my country a dream and a hope.”


  1. I remember this occassion vividly. I was a sophomore at the College of Commerce and I was among the throng who welcomed the motorcade that was preceded by the arrival of Mrs. Marcos and then the Royal couple. It was a festive occassion and I’m glad that I was there…one of my fond memories of my UST days!


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