01 September 2017

The Story of How De la Salle Came to Open a School in Lipa City Back in 1962

The facade of La Salle High School in Lipa City back in 1963.
Back in 1987, then-DLSL Principal Brother Jaime Dalumpines asked me to write down the first-ever history of the school. I did, albeit at the time, I was young and wrote in a flippant and very unhistorical style. The finished product I published in the Stallion of 1988. Now that I come to think about it, I wish I had written that first school history in a more formal style.

At any rate, to get me started, Brother Jaime provided me with a box of dusty, yellowed documents. The information contained in these was patchy at best. However, from recollections of this information and bits of trivia I was able to accumulate over the years, I am now able to better reconstruct how the De la Salle Christian Brothers came to build a school in Lipa.

First, we go all the way back to 1955 when Brother Hyacinth Gabriel Connon was on the lookout for a property where a novitiate could be built. At the time, the Christian Brothers of the Philippines were a sub-district of San Francisco in the United States West Coast, and Brother Gabriel was its Auxiliary Brother Visitor1.

He was also the Corporation Sole, as the late Brother Rafael Donato used to tell me often enough, the legal entity2 of the Christian Brothers’ presence in the Philippines and in whose name transactions were conducted.

The Brothers, in fact, already had a property in Baguio since 1951 which doubled as a novitiate and a vacation house for them. In one of the documents that I was given, it was stated that the Brothers were looking to close this property because there “was a problem with water.” In a recent online conversation, I was told by former DLSL President Brother Manuel “Mawel” Pajarillo that there were also things that “went bump in the night” at this Baguio novitiate.

Brother Gabriel’s preference for a new location was somewhere similarly upland. Tagaytay, much closer to Manila than Baguio, was the preference. However, public infrastructure was still underdeveloped there at the time and it also had the very same “problem with water” that was supposedly the reason for the Brothers wanting to close the Baguio property in the first place.

Thus, Brother Gabriel turned his attention to finding a property in Lipa. In the document that I was shown, there was just this cryptic one liner that said he sought the help of a Mrs. Katigbak in securing the Silva property.

It would be decades before I finally discovered who that Mrs. Katigbak was. Her surname was an immediate giveaway that she was from Lipa. Apparently, she was Lilia Katigbak, originally from Lipa but who also owned a house right across Taft Avenue from what was then De la Salle College.

From her daughter, the former Beth Katigbak, I learned that she was a good friend of Brother Gabriel and that she had invited the latter to visit Lipa. From this visit, he apparently fell in love with the place and set his eyes on finding a property.

Fortuitously, Lilia Katigbak would soon hear of the availability for sale of this Silva property in Paninsingin, a coconut plantation at the time. Graduates of the sixties will recall that the football field-cum-oval used to be surrounded by coconut trees, while graduates as recently as the nineties will recall that the original red-bricked wings used to be lined with the same.

The property was subsequently acquired, but as readers will recall, it was intended for a novitiate. That a school would also be opened was a different matter altogether.

Coincidentally, the Maryknoll Sisters, who were operating the Our Lady of the Rosary Academy (OLRA) adjacent to the Cathedral of San Sebastian, were due to leave the city. When the then-Bishop of Lipa Alejandro Olalia learned that the Christian Brothers had bought a property in the city, he invited them to put up a school in anticipation of the Maryknoll Sisters’ departure3.

The original arrangement, which was common knowledge even among students of OLRA in the sixties, was that when the Maryknoll Sisters left, the boys of OLRA’s high school would go to La Salle while the girls would remain with the school, the operation of which was to be taken over by the Canossian Sisters.

In January of 1962, the stakes for the construction of the original three red-bricked wings would be planted. By June of the same year, the school would open its doors to high school boys of the city and nearby areas. It had to operate that initial school year as the Boys’ Department of OLRA, and a permit to operate as La Salle High School would not be acquired until the following year.

I would not learn this until many years later when I was already in administration of the same school, but the new school was being constructed over half of the property that was originally acquired by Brother Gabriel. As a high school student in the same school back in the seventies, I and my classmates never really discovered who owned the coconut grove to the west and separated from the school by a barbed wire fence.

Back in the seventies, we did not really know that the coconut grove west of the school (behind the hut in the picture above) was also owned by the Brothers.
The other half would continue to be the property of the Christian Brothers until it was purchased by the school during the Presidency of the late Brother Rafael in the late nineties. Excepting the part of this property which had been leased out to Caltex (or Chevron) Corporation, this was where Brother Rafael would build edifices for the administration and the rapidly growing college department starting in the latter half of the nineties.

As fascinating as the confluence of events that brought De la Salle to Lipa is the fact that the former Beth Katigbak, whose mother was instrumental in the Brothers’ obtaining a property in the city, would marry one Juan Lozano who was among the school’s incorporators in the early eighties, serve as a member of the Board of Trustees for many years and become Executive Vice-President and later Chancellor in the new millennium.

Notes and references:
1Hyacinth Gabriel Connon,” Wikipedia.
2Corporation Sole,” Wikipedia.
3 To my knowledge, the Christian Brothers build schools only upon the invitation of the Bishop or Archbishop.

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