The CICM Missionary Nuns

The CICM Missionary Nuns ran a tight ship

The CICM Missionary Nuns ran a tight ship

Above is a photo of members of the first wave of missionary nuns to arrive in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. Hardy and not afraid to roll up their sleeves, they ran a tight ship St Augustine School (SAS). They were a no-nonsense bunch of very pious, saintly, and hard working sisters of the Immaculati Cordis Mariae – ICM Congregation or Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (CICM).

A long time ago, SAS ran as a gender-segregated school. The Boys Department buildings were separate and removed from the Girls Department buildings. The only places where the boys could catch a glimpse of the girls were the Church during afternoon prayers and singing, and on the basketball court when a game would be played. SAS had a championship basketball team during those days – but that is another story. Other than these two common areas, the boys had to be satisfied with casting perfunctory glances at the girls as they walked home after school.

We didn’t address the nuns “Sister;” we addressed them “Mother”. Mother Anatole, a tall, willowy, blue-eyed, bespectacled Belgian nun with acne problems took care of leading the church singing during the afternoon prayer service. With her podium positioned in front of the girl’s pews away from the men’s pews, Mother Anatole stood tall as the powerful symbol of discipline, reverence and rules of acceptable behavior. No hanky-panky in church, like, passing little notes on paper to the girls. No side glances at the girls.

I craned my neck just to be able to see her hand movements as she led the singing. In the afternoon heat and humidity the sonorous chanting sounds and sweet church music transported me to a different zone. I remember Mother Anatole’s dainty hands sticking out of her nun’s gartered habit sleeves. From where I sat, her hands looked like the heads of two swans dressed in white and cloaked in black. She moved them in an undulating, oscillating, pecking forward and again pulling backward motions in time with the music. The fluid motions of her hands were hypnotic and rhythmic.

To this day I could never understand why Mother Anatole just didn’t sway her arms with abandon just like other musical, or choir conductors did. I have seen Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn, and even Henry Mancini conduct their orchestras and man they do move those arms. But not Mother Anatole. Instead, she kept her hands close to her habit sleeves, pulling out from time to time the garter ends of her sleeves to cover her wrists, as if trying to decrease how much of her arm could be overexposed to the public gaze and heaven forbid to the wandering eyes of the men sitting on the other side of the girl’s pews.


A Success Story

Jonel Leal

Jonel Leal (center) shows his certificate of recognition award, flanked by his Mom Mrs Monica Leal (left) and the Field Team Director, Mr Albert D Bunoan

The Field Team was at the Leal residence back in 2010 talking to Mrs Monica Leal and Jonel Leal about the scholarship program. It’s been a long, hot day and their trek to Ambalayat, where the Leals live, was long and tiring. The pre-qualifying process progressed slowly but they persevered and are they glad they did.

Today, Jonel Leal is an outstanding student at SAS high school going into his fourth and senior year.

During the first interview Jonel appeared too quiet, shy and even timid. The Field Team took a break to compare notes. Of the three Field Team reps, a couple gave Jonel an average rating. One remained high on Jonel. He observed that Mrs Monica Leal leaned heavily on her son, encouraging him to be more animated.

Jonel is a quiet young man who goes into deep thought when asked a question. He is not given to flashy exhibitions of flamboyance and open cockiness. He took his time answering questions. Sometimes going into a trance-like phase Jonel took his time giving cogent and well articulated answers.

When the Field Team politely asked Mrs Leal to leave them alone with her son, Jonel seemed to come alive. He appeared liberated, even emancipated. The Field Team left the Leal home late in the afternoon united in recommending him for the scholarship program. That was three years ago.

SAS Ai is so glad we gave Jonel an opportunity to attend high school with the scholarship program. He shows and typifies a SAS Ai scholar – in intelligence and in persistence.


Mr Charles Wilson Comes Thru With His Support for 2013

Charles Wilson

Mr Charles Wilson, SAS Ai supporter

Mr Charles Wilson is a quiet man, a soft-spoken, kind, gentle soul who would rather smile than say anything derogatory about anyone. About two months ago during a casual conversation, Mr Charles asked me, “How are the SAS Ai scholars doing in school?”

His question jolted me back quickly to about a year ago. I vividly remember him handing me a $540 dollar check he wrote to the SAS Ai scholarship fund. Yes indeed, I thought. Mr Wilson sincerely wants to know how the kids are doing.

“Let me tell ya, we placed seven of them in the honor roll,” I was almost out of breath. The pause that lapsed before I answered him concerned me. Mr Wilson is an accountant by profession and he deals with precision, accuracy and speed. Any hint of hesitation on my part to answer him wouldn’t bode well.

His face brightened as his joy became palpable. “That’s great,” he said. “How many kids did we sponsor last year?”

“We sponsored four of the brightest and neediest among 10 finalists,” I said proudly. “That was all the money we could raise for the scholarship fund. We wanted to sponsor 5 – but we fell short on the funding.”

“How about this year 2013, how many do you plan to sponsor?” Mr Wilson continued to query.

“Four of the brightest and neediest kids. We don’t know yet how many finalists we will have. Four seems easier to shepherd, care for, and service from purely a management standpoint.” I  paused and waited for his reaction.

Mr Wilson supports the SAS Ai mission. Why else would he be asking so many questions… I thought to myself.

“Good talking to you. I’ll see what I can do come April.” He got in his car and drove off. That was two months ago.

This last Sunday, Mr Wilson approached me in the church parking lot. He smiled and brimmed with excitement. His eyes couldn’t hide his being pleased. “Hey there Mr SAS Ai,” he said waving at me. “Got something for you.” He walked briskly toward me.

I stood by my pick up truck’s open door. Mr Wilson handed me another $540 dollar check written to the SAS Ai scholarship fund.

“For 2013,” he said. “Let’s help the kids get launched!”

“Thanks Mr Wilson,” I said, my eyes misting. “Education is Freedom!”

“Amen,” he said. When I looked up he was gone.

He Heard and Listened to the Clarion Call


Clarion Call – “Education is Freedom”

I know of a man who heard and listened to the clarion call. Since the beginning he knew only of spartan surroundings, growing up in a large family of modest means. All his brothers and sisters competed for honors in school. Not to be ignored he earned his fair share of achievement medals and academic awards.

His mother worked hard as the family’s primary bread-winner. His father’s waning health and strength bound him to the wheelchair. This young man, who was once faintly recognizable amongst siblings heaped atop one another, survived the ever-changing family dynamic to emerge a success in his own right.

He heard and listened to the clarion call. An inner voice cried out:  Education is Freedom! Come away, come away. Set sail for distant shores and cast your net in the deep waters. After graduating from Santo Tomas University with his Chemical Engineering degree he landed in Chicago where he set the world literally on fire. Feverishly working his way up the ranks, he earned patents on several chemical concoctions bearing his signature. He ascended the leadership ladder steadily and became the Director of Research and Development at L’Oreal, the perfume giant, until his retirement.


Engineer Apolonio Villanueva III (BSEChem)

Meet Engr Apolonio Villanueva III. He and his lovely wife Emilie (Nee Valdez) originally from Baguio City live in Chicago, he having happily retired from industry and she from the medical field. Engr Polon (as we fondly call him) thinks very highly of SAS Ai’s mission to help bright and promising kids who come from poor families get a good high school education at SAS thru financial aid. So much so that he supports the scholarship fund for these kids. And we thank him for his donations.

Today, many former SAS graduates work, live, and have retired all over the world. Many are doctors of medicine, engineers, accountants, government workers, teachers and politicians. They heard the clarion call and listened to it. More importantly they acted on it.

The clarion call rings out once again. Listen. Education is Freedom… come away and help send these bright kids to high school with your donation to the scholarship fund. Every bit helps. Surely, with your gift you are making one child feel most fortunate attending high school.

Meet Mike and Karen Sobiecki, SAS Ai Sponsors

Karen and Mike Sobiecki

Karen and her husband Mike Sobiecki think highly of SAS Ai’s effort at helping bright kids who come from poor families get a good high school education, They sponsor SAS Ai scholars,

He led a crack platoon of skilled military men while serving in the US Army during the Vietnam War. She worked for a law firm as executive assistant. Finishing his stint in the US Army, Mr Michael Sobiecki worked for Chrysler Motors and rose to Regional Director of Executive Marketing and Sales.

After Mass last Sunday I asked him if he’d already retired. “Too young to retire,” he quipped with a big grin on his face.

Mrs Karen Sobiecki is the more thoughtful, demure one. She smiled brightly and told me, “Don’t believe everything he says,” she winked. “I think he should go back to work.”

I thought, “Hmmm… so Mr Mike is hanging out at home… by himself most of the time… hmm….” I called him up later in the week and asked if I could drop by to talk to him about something.

He said, “Yeah sure. Come on by and I will have a cold one ready for you.”

Mr Mike and I talked about SAS Alumni International’s mission of helping bright kids who come from poor families get a good high school education at SAS thru financial aid. I explained to him what “poor” meant, and what “bright” meant: A gross annual family income of $1167 USD or less and a GPA of 85% and above .

Mr Sobiecki looked absorbed and very interested; he said nothing and remained motionless. I thought I had bored him stiff with my presentation.

Breaking the silence he said, “Yes, I recall having to stay overnight in Olongapo City in the Philippines during the ‘Nam war. I slept in a hut but the folks were super-hospitable. Did you know they offered for me to sleep on the only cot bed in the house?”

“That’s Filipino hospitality for you,” I proudly beamed.

“I’ll never forget that gesture of kindness,” he continued. “In the morning they prepared for me some eggs, garlic rice, and marinated fish. That fish was sure bony! Hot dang, but it was good! How could they eat that kind of fish, bones and all.” The smile on his face registered pleasant memories.

“They don’t chew it,” I gave my smarty pants reply.

After a couple of cold ones, I stood up to leave. “Nice talking to you buddy,” he said shaking my hand. “Drop in anytime. Hey – see ya in Church Sunday!”

As I cleared the foyer and out the front door, I heard him following me close by. Halfway down the walkway I heard him say, “How much does it cost to sponsor a bright student? I think Karen and I just might sponsor a bright scholar!”

The rest is history. Mr and Mrs Michael Sobiecki are proud sponsors of SAS Ai scholars. They have never regretted their decision. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their generosity and support. We need more folks like the Sobiecki’s.

Living Free… really?


The man’s in need, the dog’s for feed – but the cat, look out, she’s into over-acting!

It was at the airport that I saw this display of an excellently choreographed  begging technique. The cat caught my eye. She’s flat on her back, feet splayed, paws outstretched, her facial expression unmistakably of deep hunger. Not a single passer-by failed to stop, notice, smile, grin, admire, and give.

While this ensemble may amuse and entertain, what really lies behind this life of begging? An investigation followed and found out that:

  • The man was down and out of his luck, was homeless with no family.
  • He and his pets are on the move and have run out of funds temporarily.
  • The man is happy with his life – no responsibilities, no bills, no financial obligations, no taxes, and they can move freely when and wherever
  • On a good day all three members of the begging team can come up with $500, with the cat fetching the tidiest sum of $200-$250, followed by the dog at $150-$175 and the man at $120-$150.

What a life, eh? Living free, or free-living, or living for free isn’t for everybody. What do you think – would you consider this kind of lifestyle?

Personally, I prefer responsibility, the daily challenge of making it by hard work, prudence, competitiveness, and accountability. I need the satisfaction brought by making it through the day with a minimum of hassle, the least amount of self-inflicted mistakes and mental errors. I need my daily triumph over life’s many challenges.

Nightfall finds me in the comfort of my dwelling and with faith bursting out of my heart I gratefully lay my head on a soft pillow, sleep through the night, secure and confident that God will wake me up in the morning in time to enjoy my cup of fresh hot coffee, ready to face life once more – and win.

Luncheon Meeting


SAS Ai Field Team

The SAS Ai Field Team with Estrellita G Purugganan, Treasurer (Seated L-R) Hely Somera, Albert Bunoan, Mariano Taay, Eden Dungan, Estrell’s Sister, Estrellita G Purugganan, Aleli Mae Villaros, Remy Sagun, Louella Bayan, and Annie Nasog. (Standing L-R) Michelle Costales, and Hermes Purugganan

Estrellita G Purugganan, SAS Ai Treasurer, visited with the Field Team about a year ago and hosted a luncheon meeting. According to the report she filed, she and members of the Field Team covered an agenda that included the following topics:

  1. Requisitioning school supplies and accounting for the cost
  2. Pre-testing applicants before they fill out a formal application for financial aid
  3. Streamlining the recruitment process to save on transportation expenses
  4. Petty Cash account and its use, replenishment of same
  5. Annual financial reports and updating registration costs

Members of the Field Team actively listened and joined in the discussion. Today, most of the topics discussed during Estrell’s visit are now part of the company Procedures, Policies and Guidelines (PPG). Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers we now ably use resources more effectively.

Congratulations to all.