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  • Flowers for the living: five special teachers

    By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    Saturday, October 5th, 2013

    What does one remember of one’s teachers? Certainly not the lectures they made for these were not always brilliant or memorable, not the tedious rote drills for these were meaningless and mechanical, but, rather, the sundry incidents, even mere fleeting encounters with them, that showed how valued they made you feel. How they empowered you as a learner, the glimpses of their humanity and frailties they allowed you to discover, the life lessons they did not directly mean to teach but left you richer and wiser, nonetheless.

    I am embarrassed that it has taken a National Teacher’s Month declaration again for me to remember all the tireless high school teachers who made a difference in this student’s life. It is never too late, and yet this does come rather late, 50 years after. I have resolved to express this today while these Benedictine mentors are still around to read what I am saying.

    It is hard to believe that Sr. Frideswida Ick, OSB, has just celebrated her 80th birthday, considering her youthful countenance and the physical setback she is successfully battling, which has prevented her from returning to Peramiho, Tanzania, where she had been happily doing missionary work after she left Manila. Who remembers anything from her chemistry classes? But I remember the work ethic, her gentleness, and the caring and nurturing ways that I always associated with her—and, these days, her fearless and optimistic attitude toward life, her gratefulness for every day, and her openness to what tomorrow brings.

    Sr. Josefina Nepomuceno, OSB, was a young and pretty Sister Lourdes when she was my literature teacher. I do not remember much of what I learned but distinctly remember how she taught the Charles Lamb essay, “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig,” which details how the delicacy of pig crackling was an accidental discovery. We were not a class to remember as far as she was concerned—I hope that means we were relatively well-behaved—and I am sure she does not know how she impressed the class with an early love for well-written words.

    To this day, we tease Sr. Andy Collantes, OSB, our Filipino (Pilipino it was then) teacher, for allowing us to write our compositions partially in English whenever our Filipino vocabulary faltered, which was more often than permissible. We like to tell her that no thanks to her leniency, we never gained fluency in a national language we have rediscovered and been proud of long after school. Over the years, as we achieved peer status as comfortable old friends rather than the distinct hierarchy of teacher-student, she would confess that although she hails from Tanauan, Batangas, she was a novice teacher then, a true neophyte who was herself uncertain of her own Filipino.
    Sister Andy would also reveal, before her mind began to play tricks on her, that because of our demanding to spend after-class time with her on the campus grounds, she was always reprimanded by her superior for returning to the clausura frequently tardy. She redeemed herself in the other subject she taught—history of western civilization. She left us in awe about “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” so that on our early trips to Europe, she was the one teacher we had in mind.

    Sr. Mary Bernard Lansang, OSB, was our teacher in biology, a subject we adolescents were curious about. How she disappointed us by not going beyond the life cycle and reproductive system of the frog. And we got “curiouser and curiouser” by the intensity of her blush with every leading question that the more daring among us asked. Of course, it was also virgin (pun deliberate) territory for her, again on a new assignment as a greenhorn nun-teacher.

    Today, when we visit Sister Berns at St. Benedict Home in St. Scholastica Marikina, despite her difficulty with walking she actively plays the organ, takes the lead in singing our favorite Scholastican hymns, and even facilitates meditation sessions for our class. It is a class that made her initial years of teaching and cloistered life particularly trying, but one that has endeared itself to her. She has outlived her “frog” reputation for, she says, going by the population growth statistics of our class, we have not done too badly. And perhaps neither has she as biology teacher.

    Sr. Angelica Leviste, OSB, was never my teacher, but what a constant presence in my life she was, a keeper of my girlhood secrets and sentimental memorabilia. We hero-worshipped her as a campus figure and stage actress in the school’s anticommunist drama of the 1950s, “Bamboo Cross,” directed by Daisy H. Avellana. So, we felt we had known her forever even as a young nun. We loved the melodious way she spoke, the gentleness and warmth she always exuded. And what strength and grace she demonstrated in adversity, especially with the recent losses of three brothers, one after another, leaving her the only surviving sibling.

    What a singular blessing to have known these five women who fortunately continue to be part of my world.

    Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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