FIELDNOTES: Fr. Bautista and Those Interesting Jesuits of Yore and Youth

October 18, 2018

 

Tito Genova Valiente
titovaliente@yahoo.com


From Jesuit News came this terse head: Fr. Antonio B. Bautista, SJ (1924-1928). Joe de Jesus also shared the link and posted this line: In Memoriam, Fr. Tony Bautista was assigned to ADNU from 1966 to 1975 as Theology Professor and Librarian. He also headed the Dept. of Theology.

There are not many persons who would call Fr. Bautista by his first name. In fact, there are not many generation of Ateneans or Nagueños who would have tender memories of the said Jesuit. It is not that he was not good; Fr. Bautista was a different kind of Jesuit.

The photos of Blue and Gold are testament to the Jesuits of the 60s and the 7os – perhaps before the declaration of Martial Law – who would go out of what was then a college and be with the communities outside. There are pictures of them in parties and there are documents of them travelling far in the region.

An old and rare photo shows Fr. Eusebio Salvador, the first Filipino rector (there was no President then) in San Jose saying a mass on the feast day of Christ the King. The story of how the term “An Maogmang Lugar” can be found in one of the many introductions written by Fr. James O’Brien. He was on a trip then with some Jesuits using the old Ateneo car when the vehicle conked out. They were somewhere in Albay when the incident took place. Soon, people by the roadside noticed this and they were invited to their home. Merienda was prepared and the reception given to them was short of festive. To this, Fr. O’B, as he was fondly called, was inspired to call the place – from that area up to Naga – as the “Happy Place.”

When Fr William Klintworth was not anymore in Naga, people in Camaligan kept looking – and anticipating – when that “handsome, tall” priest would come to their village. We would always see Fr. Klintworth walking then from Ateneo campus in his signature gray khaki pants. No one really knew where he was going. It was only when he was gone that we were told the story, almost a mythic tale really, of how he would walk up to the town of Camaligan and stop by a huge tree, sit down under its shed, and rest. I am certain he was praying.

Fr. Klintworth was both stern and shy in campus. You could greet him and he would smile but it’s only up to that. The coeds (for the female students were called then) would never stop because, they say, they couldn’t get tired looking if so briefly at those blue-grey eyes and the most delicate aquiline nose this side of the Christian moon. Students who had been in his Theology class would remember how Fr. Klintworth would insist on the shortest answer to his question. In other words, if the answer is “Christ,” you could write “Xt” and that would be perfect. And yet, he was an engaging storyteller, capturing in very brief (again) narratives dramatic essences in our faith. He told us, one afternoon, about the “Umbrella Procession” in a small Irish village. The place was known for being rained out and one Sunday, the rains came on strong. The priest was not expecting much attendance. But, he looked out and from afar, he saw the longest procession of umbrellas! Nothing could stop his parishioners from attending a feastday of a saint.

As for those nearly impossible demand for the shortest answer, it is only now that I have become a writer and editor that I know what I learned from him: a clarity of thought. Everytime, I tell students and would-be writers to remove their long introduction, I would go back to those afternoons when our exams for Fr. Klintworth would be composed on ½ sheet of ruled paper, crosswise.

When Fr. Klintworth passed away last year, I saw for the first time the gentle, gentle Jesuit addressed as “Bill.”

I was not in any Theology Class of Fr. Bautista. I believe I had been forewarned by a generation of Ateneans. People called him “eccentric but intelligent,” – a combined modifier that would terrify any 17 or 18-year old college student.

We heard stories about how he criticized the game basketball: a silly game of grown-ups fighting for a single ball. His solution: give all the players each a ball so they would not be fighting over one ball!

One afternoon, students in his Theology class, were sweltering inside one of the wooden rooms behind the Four Pillars. Fr. Bautista apparently ordered the beadle or some students to close all the windows so that the minds of those attending his session would not escape out of the classroom.

It would take years before the eminent actor John Houseman portraying the terror Harvard Law professor in “Paper Chase” would histrionically urge his class terrified out of their wits: “Fill this room with your intelligence.” Obviously, the students in Fr. Bautista’s class could not share anything and thus, the Jesuit demanded that all outlets be sealed so that all what the good mind could express would stay in the room. Fr. Bautista, he was an original.

I did not have direct engagement with Fr. Bautista except when our organization called SP2ASM held several symposia on Erich Fromm, Religion and Existentialism.

Martial Law was well into its second year. Only one organization was allowed and that was SPsASM (an acronym that stood for Symposium, Production, Promotion, Arts, Survey and Music). Under Symposium, two very young Philosophy teachers, Mel Regis and Myrna Nocos organized those talks and trained us in contents.  Rudy Alano, a mean English speaker himself, tutored us in the delivery and presentation. Some of us were sophomores but we had the guts to move from classroom to classroom speaking on Kierkegaard and Sartre. This activity reached Fr. Bautista who, it was relayed to us, fumed and said:  “Who are these upstarts?”

I do not remember now what our reaction then was. Our mentors were as daring as us and we really did not care.

In his long stay in ADEN, as ADNU was called then, I never got to greet him or smile at him. I remember him though, a bit stoop and very lean, pacing back and forth on the balcony of the Jesuit House, praying.

Now, I look at this message of memoriam and I suddenly miss those good Jesuits and the most interesting of them, Fr Bautista. I wish I had the chance to call him “Fr. Tony Bautista.” But, I guess he would not have allowed that. Calling him that would have diminished the true character of this splendid thinker.




 

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