SMU at 94: Tapestry of Mission and Excellence
A colorful tapestry unfolds the growing hope of education as the clock strikes twelve along the corners of Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, on December 8, 2022.
After the two-year hiatus of a tradition held back by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Marian community once again celebrates, face-to-face, the year of its founding with the theme “Devoted to Mission and Excellence toward the Centennial.” The celebration commemorates the university’s achievements since its establishment in 1928 and how it has pioneered education in the last 94 years. Since then, it has become a brooding ground of professionals instilled with God’s wisdom and the Passion for Christ’s Mission.
SMU, an education apostolate of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (from the Latin Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae or CICM) in Nueva Vizcaya, is one of the six CICM schools in the Philippines, namely St. Louis University in Baguio City, St. Louis College in Cebu, St. Louis College of San Fernando in La Union, University of Saint Louis in Tuguegarao City, and Maryhill School of Theology in Quezon City. CICM is a Belgian Roman Catholic missionary congregation established in 1862 by the priest Theophile Verbist.
SMU as an institution goes back to the hands of Msgr. Constant Jurgens, CICM – one of the earliest missionaries to arrive in the Philippines. The institution began as a dream that shaped his mission to establish a school for the Christian education of the parishioners’ children. In June 1928, the CICM mission was woven into the inauguration of Saint Mary’s Elementary School. It stretched further, and by 1934, the High School Department was opened under the leadership of Rev. Fr. Godfrey Lambrecht, CICM.
In 1947, Saint Mary’s College was established. In 1994, the University Building, now known as the Constant Jurgens Building, was built to mark the elevation of Saint Mary’s College to university status, naming the institution as Saint Mary’s University with Rev. Fr. John Van Bauwel, CICM, as the first university president.
On September 9, 2019, after a lengthy history of CICM priests serving as SMU’s top administrators, Dr. John Octavious S. Palina was appointed as the fifth University President of SMU, making him the first-ever lay university president. Over the years, the university has strived for excellence. The university attained different levels of accreditation for its programs through the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU). It received numerous awards for its competence through its service in the national and global scene. SMU remains a center of excellence for teacher education and centers of development for civil engineering and information technology. It generates a high percentage of board passers and even top notchers in many of its board courses.
During the opening program marking its 94th year on December 8, University President John Octavious Palina looked back at the challenges and successes of SMU over the years. Drawing inspiration from this milestone, he encouraged all stakeholders to continue working together as a team. “May we continue to work together as a team, as one community inspired by our mission to serve and always driven by excellence,” he said, alluding to the university tagline, “inspired by mission, driven by excellence.”
As part of the celebration, the whole Marian community participated in a parade around town at 7 a.m., followed by a Eucharistic Celebration, flash mob dance performances, and conferment of the Golden Rose Awards. Moreover, the annual Gawad Maria event was held in the afternoon to recognize the invaluable service of academic teaching and non-teaching personnel from basic education to college.
The tapestry of hope was manifested into missions that eventually formed as threads of service, communion, and excellence. These threads may tangle along challenges, but they will never break—it shall remain as a hopeful tapestry attached to the past looms. It only returns to the realization that how the university began is how it continues. As generations come and weave their strings through the fabric of time, the tapestry of hope continues at the shared space where SMU embraces us.
Contributed Photos: Relly Jose, Miguel James, Christian Joebert Agcaoili, Johnloyd Misolas