Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fr. Bonoan Memories

(R) Fr. Raul J. Bonoan, S.J. [3 July 1935 - 6 April 1999]
with (L) Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus

[Photo credit: Toots Rugeria]

A post on the Ika, ano an naroromduman mo sa Ateneo de Naga?* Facebook page reminded me that it was Fr. Raul J. Bonoan's eleventh death anniversary yesterday. He was the school president of Ateneo de Naga during my high school years there, as well as the first president when it finally became a university. I am ill-equipped to write an earthshaking profile of that beloved Jesuit—such a task is best left in more capable hands—but I deem it apropos to share a personal anecdote or two about him.

First, a disclaimer: I didn't know know Fr. Bonoan. He was never my teacher; what limited interaction we had didn't go beyond that which is usual between a school president and an ordinary student. Truth to tell, I was already in college when I discovered that he was a former Dean of what used to be known as the Ateneo de Manila University School of Arts and Sciences, or that he was a preeminent Rizal scholar. The extent our relationship can be summed up by the fact that unlike some people, I've never been comfortable enough to refer to him as "Fr. Rolly."

In 1996, though, I had two notable encounters with the great man. The first was when I was summoned to his office soon after the release of the ADMU College Entrance Test results, but before our high school graduation day. There were eleven of us who passed, easily beating the previous batch, and Fr. Bonoan met with all of us individually.

I don't remember now how our conversation went exactly, but I do recall Fr. Bonoan asking whether I was going to ADMU, and whether I needed educational assistance. In response to the first question I said that I was still undecided; to the second, if it were possible to have the financial aid that ADMU offered be increased from 75% tuition and fees to a full scholarship with allowances. I did not hesitate with my request because I was confident that if anyone had the pull with ADMU, it would be the president of another Ateneo.

Eventually, of course, I decided to go to ADMU. Even if my request was denied—I did not have that much pull with Fr. Bonoan, heh—I never dwelt on it. I was too ecstatic to have been accepted to a great institution.

A few months after that meeting, Fr. Bonoan visited us eleven to check how we were coping with life in the big pond. He treated us to dinner at the Shakey's branch along Katipunan Avenue opposite ADMU and let me tell you, he was not pleased to see the majority of us now sporting earrings.

Summertime three years later, he passed away. I went to the wake at the James J. O'Brien, S.J. Library but I couldn't bring myself to approach the coffin—it could not have been the occasion Fr. Bonoan had in mind when, in his speech during our high school graduation, he exhorted us, "Come home to Bicol."

*Loosely translated, "What do you remember about Ateneo de Naga?"


  1. I have never met Fr. Rolly Bonoan, S. J., because he was assigned to alma mater Ateneo de Naga years after I was gone from the campus.

    But we attended a nephew's high-school graduation there. Fr. Rolly was speaking. Can't recall if he was referring to Jose Rizal, but to illustrate his point, he, singled out our nephew that the hero was about the same height as the lad. Something to do with size not mattering.

    The Jesuit was quick and resourceful in driving home his point. Hopefully we all are alert to and aware of our surroundings so we use what we have locally in achieving success.

    Pete Guballa

  2. Thanks for the visit and the wise words, Sir Pete.

    If it were me I would've hated being singled out during such a big occasion. Baka mas lalo akong magsaradit, ha ha.


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