March 26 was a most normal Saturday – so it seemed ! We went to the morning Mass as usual and by 10:00 a.m. I had the time to go around the campus. Our maintenance staff gathered at the covered court preparing the place for the high school graduation. I talked to the Physical Plant personnel about some details to be proposed at the Construction Committee meeting to be held this coming Tuesday. (We are currently constructing additional classrooms for the grade school.) On my way back to the convent, the beautiful bougainvilleas along the pre-school wing caught my admiration. The direct sunlight hitting them made all the contrasting colors look really wonderful. It felt so good to have an easy Saturday and to look forward to a rare quiet weekend !
At 4:00 pm, S. Marianne Eulalia and I were seated at the community room waiting for the others to come for our Saturday common reading. Suddenly, there were shouts from some teachers working in the HS faculty room asking us to vacate the convent. There was fire ! The black smoke was already entering our kitchen and it was hard to breathe. Each one tried to take as fast as we could what was possible to save. I managed to go up to my room to take the laptop containing all my files for East Africa as well as for our San Simon community and for my work here. With my vows in my pocket, I picked up my 3 volumes of the breviary on my way down. I asked Silvia to take care of the Blessed Sacrament. I told all the sisters to put in the van whatever was important for them before I drove it away from the buildings. Our security guards have already called up the fire department. Meanwhile, about 12-15 tricycle drivers who saw from the road how the fire started and who immediately alerted our security guards, stayed and helped put off the fire with pails, garden hose and all the available fire extinguishers. They were so given ! But the fire was much stronger and by the time the first fire truck arrived, we already had a conflagration. The fire which started from the former Faculty Room (“Bahay Kubo”) had already crossed over to the wing housing the pre-school and the science laboratory moving towards the convent on the right and towards the creativity hall on the opposite side. I started calling up all the members of the Administrative Team to help us call other towns for more fire trucks. I called up S. Marjo and in just a few minutes, the whole province was with us in prayers ! I called up Ambassador B. Tan (Chairman of the MRMF BOT) and Sallie Naguiat (MRMF President) who was actually on her way to San Fernando. She immediately came with her husband and their son and stayed until the fire was under control. They saw how the campus was immediately filled with people from the wider community and nearby towns : our parents, alumni, local government officials with their policemen and ambulance, our teachers and staff, students and friends. Suddenly there were bottles of drinking water being distributed all around. Our San Simon mayor sent word that packed dinner would be available even for the firemen. The flow of people coming in to help move filing cabinets, computers, office equipment, etc continued until evening. By the time the fire was completely put off, we have had 8 fire trucks sent to our rescue from different towns. With their help, the fire stopped just before it got to the convent and the administration building as well as to the Creativity Hall and the clinic at the opposite end. Facing the whole length of the burned structure and the bougainvilleas now turned black, I could not but thank God that the fire stopped where it stopped, that nobody died and not one hurt.
The 6:00 a.m. Sunday Mass the following day gathered all our prayers of gratitude for blessings after blessings despite the sad calamity. The whole community stopped on our way home to thank the tricycle drivers who were bubbling with stories to recount. We were all grateful that God protected us from greater harm but begging heavens too that there be no more such disaster ever again.
Sunday morning brought us more students and faculty members who gathered at the chapel before starting any work to thank God for having kept us safe. It could have been worse ! What a blessing that it happened when the children were not around, that it was during the day…and that people were still around working in the campus. The morning was short yet with so many hands putting order all over the place, it was unbelievable that before noontime, nobody would think something grave happened the evening before !
The influx of visitors the whole day was very consoling ! Each came with food to share with those who were working, asking what we would need right away to get started, and assuring us of prayers. The day was filled with members of the MRMF Board, our San Lorenzo, Mandaluyong and Antipolo communities, ATHS graduates, friends of the Assumption, and in the evening when we were about to retire – even the Archbishop ! He just told us stories to make us laugh and gave us updates on the lighter side of the reality in the archdiocese. After an hour he told us that our tension was less and so he was going home so we could sleep. The visit picked us up and we felt good having such a kind and thoughtful shepherd.
The week is as regular as scheduled despite the tragedy we are still trying to cope with. Prayerful rereading is going on by sectors, the grade six legacy mass is an inspirational peak moment for our first graduates, and the rite of our high school juniors taking on the responsibility to assume leadership from the graduating seniors is marked by some inner strength as they promise their older brothers and sisters to take care of our school. In between these activities, we manage to share little voices heard from our alumni giving up reunion parties to save and contribute in rebuilding Assumpta ; from our students continuing their significant act, “Piso para sa Pope’s School” with “Piso para sa Pre-School” and from our lay teachers encouraging each other to all the more give their best in starting anew. Our ex-Mayor who stayed with us to the end last Saturday night said Assumptans or non-Assumptans, many people will help. Our present mayor, an alumna, immediately pledged P100,000.00 and committed herself to approach all the other mayors to extend us their help too. Recognizing the impact of Assumpta to the province and to the archdiocese all these 40 years, those who came to support us as well as those who communicated via email and internet repeatedly said it is time for the Assumpta family and friends to help us pick up the pieces together and rise again from ashes.
Even as I write this sharing your text messages, telephone calls and emails keep coming in, bringing us God’s tremendous love. Your amazing thoughtfulness and generosity will mark deeply this second stage in the life of San Simon. Thank you very much. May God bless you in ways only He can perfectly do.
- Sr. Josefina Maria Magat
Sr. Josefina Maria Magat, r.a.
In the name
of the San Simon Community
of Lay and Religious