I spent eleven years of my life – that is, from age 12 to 23 – inside the seminary. Four years in high school or minor seminary, four years in college or Philosophy studies, and three years in Theologate. I went out on my penultimate year of priestly formation.
For this piece, I’d like to peer – as it were, like journeying back in time – through the years I spent, in particular, in the minor and college seminary in Palo, Leyte. The seminary was originally run by SVD German priests in the 50’s and 60’s, until it was turned over to the local diocesan priests in the late 60’s or early 70’s for its administration.
Generally, our old seminary life consisted mainly of PRAYER, STUDY, WORK, and PLAY. The typical daily schedule would run, thus: rising at 5:30 a.,m. morning prayer and meditation; Mass; breakfast; classes; housework (opus or manualia); recreation; showers; Rosary; evening prayer; study period; supper; night prayer; retire and lights off at 9 p.m. PM. Saturdays and Sundays were of different schedule.
The activities and regulations were determined and encapsulated by the student handbook, Vade Mecum, the all-pervading Book of Rules, of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt nots.”
But I’m not about, for this piece, to deal with or exalt the fullness of seminary life. I’m not out to provide a reminiscence of the “transcendent character,” so to speak, of the lofty values which emanated from our old seminary formation.
Rather, on a lighter mode, I’d like to peer through the informal or off-the-cuff memories, the unforgettable vignettes – “puerile infractions” or so it were – that have remained in the memory of us, alumni, both the “chosen” (those who were ordained priests) and the “unchosen” (who didn’t make it to the priesthood) ones.
Let me try to recount some of them.
First, this one concerns a former contemporary of mine, some 4 years my senior, whom I would just refer here as “Rod” (not his real name). Obviously, among other “thou shalt nots” in the seminary, alcoholic beverages were a no-no for us back then. But, out of puerile adventurism, seminarians would always find a way of beating this rule. During our time, we were allowed to fetch hot water from the kitchen on a thermos and bring it to our dormitory to make a cup of milk or chocolate drink before sleeping in the evening.
The story goes that Rod, my senior contemporary, tried to sneak into his thermos tumbler, instead of hot water, some Rhum (alcoholic beverage) and bring the same to the dormitory. However, on his way to the dorm, Rod was approached by our Father Rector (apparently tipped off about Rod’s illicit stuff) and was asked, “What is it in your thermos?” “Hot water, Father, for my choco-milk,” Rod answered. Father Rector further insisted, “Can I taste it?”—and, voila, Father Rector found out the real content of the thermos.
But, Rod quickly retorted,
“Oh Father, it’s a MIRACLE! A while ago it was hot water, now it’s wine!”
Hahaha, this delightful story, contrived or not, keeps reverberating even to this day.
Another form of puerile infraction was turubakon – the generic name given by the seminarians for “eatables,” especially those that did not come from the seminary’s cookhouse.
According to the Seminary Rules, we were not allowed to store food – be it canned goods or cookies brought by loved ones – by ourselves, but we were bound to deposit them with the Father Prefect.
In his article “1963...The Longest Secret Romance Inside SHS” in Jubilate, our seminary’s Golden Jubilee Book, Ciriaco Cinco, Jr. fondly justifies the exigency of turubakon:
“In our time, turubakon was gold. And why not? Each of us received for snacks just a little piece of bread, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, everyday. Many times the snack was that small you wished for a re-enactment of the Miracle of the Bread. On the other hand, the meals almost always seemed either kulang, or terrible, or both. But what can you expect from hard-playing boys with growing appetites.”
So, Cinco continued, “Most of us ‘smuggled’ in and kept to ourselves our turubakons, to eat as we please, that is, if they don’t get stolen first by the naughtier ones.”
Then, when turubakons couldn’t last until the next supply, or one could not afford it regularly, the seminary’s fruit-bearing trees became the object of forage for adventurous seminarians.
“We made it a favorite pastime to go by groups on a forage around the seminary’s fruit-abundant surroundings. There we could pick guavas and papayas year-round. We made do with coconuts, young and mature ones alike. And the seasonal fruits, like avocados and nangka, were special treats. On these forays, we PLAYED A LOT OF HIDE-AND-SEEK WITH THE ALL-WISE FATHERS (underscoring mine). Not a few times we crossed paths with snakes, including dreaded cobras. However, we didn’t find apples or Eve.”
Then, in the aspect of study, Latin remained a perennial quest among us seminarians. Emil Justimbaste, in his Jubilate article, “1959...Pieces from Broken Glass,” recalls:
“Latin appeared simple enough at the start. Agricola arat. Acilla laborat. Puella cantat. Every freshman went through the routine. No point racking one’s brains over these. As one progressed through the years however, Latin conjugations and declensions became more and more complex. Some of us preferred to escape into the world of the Hardy Boys and Zane Gray which were a lot easier and more enjoyable. When the works of the Roman poet Ovid was offered in our fourth year, the silly adventure of Icarus flying with wings made of wax had us laughing. But in Cicero’s kilometric statements, just locating the subject and predicates was a torment. I told myself, if this is how philosophy is going to be, priesthood was not for me.”
And, one last unforgettable vignette I have of my old seminary life. We had the penchant – or so it was, as an unwritten rule – of calling everyone by his surname. I noticed the peculiarity of this practice in our Palo (Leyte) seminary when I hopped to a Manila seminary for my theology studies, where we were calling each other by our first name, if not nickname.
Fr. Gil Canete, in his Jubilate article, “1968...Backward Glances,” writes about this practice of surname calling:
“One peculiar way was calling everyone by his surname. Around you was a De la Cruz, a Reyes or a Gonzales and never a Peter, a John or a Jim. My first acquaintance was someone named Edgar Alberto; he did not mind whether first name or surname, it was all the same for him. How this tradition of surname calling came about puzzled me. Perhaps this was a legacy of the Germans’ penchant for formalities and titles. Or, was it to instill a sense of family? Even the Fathers and the lay teachers were fondly called by their last name – beyond their hearing of course.”
Ah, there’s certainly a wellspring or treasure-trove of vignettes or unforgettable experiences from my old seminary life. But these are all for now – perhaps, some others could come in my future columns.
Suffice it to note, for now, that these experiences were priceless, timeless, and profoundly rich in meaning and significance – and will forever be remembered.
Fr. Gil Canete aptly wrote:
“The (Sacred Heart) Seminary, whose business has everything to do with the Transcendent, can go on riding Time’s winged chariot and like Elijah, will never, never die.”