Of Plaid Skirts, Tarts and Purple Habits: The Assumption Convent

Maria Regina Seal of the Assumption (Taken by the author from a past visit to the San Lorenzo campus)

Today’s feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Lady reminds me of one tangible thing that has something to do with “assumption” and that’s none other than the Assumption, particularly, Assumption San Lorenzo. Almost all of my female cousins at my father’s side of the family went to that exclusive, all-girls school and, likewise, almost all of my closest girl friends hail from that institution. It’s time we look back into history and remember the glory days of what used to be known as Assumption Convent.

Mere Marie Eugénie de Jésus Milleret de Brou (Foundress of the Religious of the Assumption) -image taken from Wikipedia

Saint (formerly  Mere) Marie Eugénie de Jésus (born Marie Eugénie Milleret de Brou) founded the Religious of the Assumption on 30 April 1839, starting a religious congregation for women whichwould be eventually known for their various apostolates. When the first group of Assumption nuns arrived in Manila at the behest of the Reina Regente (Queen Regent) Cristina of Spain in 1892, the RA nuns would be famous in Manila from then on for their educational institutions Throughout Europe, especially France, they were known as the second mothers of the children of noble, aristocratic families. In fact, they also put up orphanages for victims of the anti-elite movements in France that massacred families of the nobility and aristocracy.

If there would be one school known to be a product of the work of Assumption nuns in the Philippines, it would be none other than the Assumption Convent, a Catholic school exclusive for girls that has ceased to exist for thirty years now. Its successors are Assumption Antipolo and Assumption San Lorenzo.

The sisters with their \”Notre Mere\” or \”Our Mother\” —taken from Assumption Religious website

The Assumption Convent school was established in 1904, years after the pioneer nuns returned to Spain due to the revolution against the Mother Land. Pope Pius X sent a group of English-speaking nuns to the Philippines to continue the work of educating the girls of the capital. However, the once small school of the Assumption nuns would eventually be more known for one thing — the education of the daughters of the country’s elite.

The school’s original location was at the corner of Calle Herran and Calle Dakota, now known as Pedro Gil and Adriatico, respectively. A vast and stately school with manicured gardens, the Assumption Convent of lore possessed, according to Gizela Gonzales’ Growing Up Convent in “The Manila We Knew”, “leisurely confidence, born perhaps of the conviction that they were spacious enough to contain everything necessary for the education of young ladies…” The former campus had high-ceilinged and arcaded school buildings in the neo-Gothic style, lush plants, numerous trees and infamous higads that caused itchiness among the Island’s richest girls. Possessing a very French, feminine aura, the convent school sported arched windows and corridors, partly hidden floral medallions, specifically the Fleur de Lis common to Saint Paul (Assumption and St. Paul are the two French girls’ schools of the country), and even a lake with boats! The girls lived not in an environment of grandeur but rather, of gracefulness.

There was, of course, a sense of orderliness, decorum and cleanliness that pervaded. With its very name suggesting that nuns were the big bosses around, Assumption Convent school was a place filled not only with the sounds of lectures, it was also a place of delicate, soft sounds: the demure laughter of little girls, Sisters singing hymns, the melody produced by the wind rustling with tall branches and the lake’s ripples. Alas, if Assumption girls of Herran were known for something, it would be their tempered dispositions — eloquent but prudent, skilled but humble, fun-loving but balanced.

The old Assumption also featured one of the best school chapels in Manila. Neo-Gothic in design, the chapel featured arched, stained-glass windows and a comparatively small Gothic main altar. Students of the Herran campus still reached the point in the history of the Catholic Church when students were taught and REQUIRED to genuflect upon entering any place where the Blessed Sacrament was kept. In those days, students also signed for 15-minutes of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in Chapel; they would be excused from the class that would be eaten up by that time for adoration. In the afternoons, the students would fill the chapel, all with white veils on their heads, for adoration and end the day with the singing of the Tantum Ergo. Of course, this was also the venue of the singing of the Latin hymn to the Assumption, the Assumpta est Maria, sung in three voices.

The Assumption Tarts tin container —from Market Manila

There were also the very distinct things done within the walls of the school that through the decades would have the virtual label of “Assumption”. There were the Assumption tarts, triangular tarts topped with guava jelly, and the Assumption siomai, beloved by students because of how it tasted like Ma Mon Luk. There was also the Assumption cottage pie, ground meat topped with mashed potatoes served at the refectory — the convent term for cafeteria. Students played a French-named ball game of bataille and wore the distinct Assumption plaid skirts, the fabric, as I was told, originally brought in from France. The sailor-collared uniforms were pinned with a gold-colored seal of the Assumption. The lace-filled immaculately white uniforms called gala dress were reserved for important occasions such as Mass and Graduation Rites. Visiting guests had to contend themselves of speaking with the students in a parlor. These things made the girls of Assumption Herran unique and original, pioneers in Assumption culture and identity.

Taught to curtsy before nuns and call the Mother Superior as “Notre Mere”, the school resembled very much the renowned girls’ schools of France and the rest of Europe. It became the favorite among Manila’s rich but also, intelligent families.

The beloved Mother Rosa Maria de L\’Enfant Jesus, RA who later became affectionately known as Mother Rose soon as the once Spanish-speaking majority of students were replaced by English-speaking ones

However, if there was one lasting hallmark of an “Old Girl” (term they use for alumnae), it would be the conspicuous Assumption Script/Penmanship. The first time I saw my cousins’ handwriting, I remember commenting “How pointy!” Yes, those long letters with sharp elongated points. It was a precise cursive, with flourished capital letters and jagged tails. It was a source of pride, according to Gizela Gonzales’ essay from “The Manila We Knew”, and a way of immediately identifying an Assumptionista of Herran.

Formerly found in the genteel enclave of Ermita, it was located beside the old Ateneo de Manila of Padre Faura, where the brothers of the Assumption girls would most likely be studying. It was from this time when the so-called “Ateneo-Assumption” families would be born, with entire clans going to only either schools. With big, shady trees, the Assumption Convent in Herran was a place of top-caliber education, offering subjects such as Spanish, French, Language, Reading, Arithmetic, and Religion as well as Manners and Penmanship. From its doors, girls left after being taught the sublime values of fidelity to duty, charity, sacrifice and responsibility. It was a school for the alta de sociedad and there was no other value more emphasized than the French phrase “noblesse oblige” that basically says “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

Now, with the nuns sporting shorter purple habits, and the girls (I was told) no longer required to write with the Assumption script, things are left for history to judge. Is it still the same Assumption, the convent school that produced countless women of substance and character when it was still in Herran? Many have said, like in any change, that the latter batch spoil the untarnished name of an institution. In fact, it is a sad truth and if there’s anything constant in this world, it is change. Who would ever imagine that “famous” Assumption products would now be on the front covers of sexy, adult magazines? Or would end up hosting variety lunch shows or starring in awfully shallow movies? But then again – there are also questions of alumnae being tangled in err, shady business deals or political moves. History, or for us believers, will be the judge. Tignan na lang natin.

Change for the sake of change is fruitless and shallow. For many Catholic schools for girls, what used to be damned is now the norm and what used to be accepted is now frowned. It’s funny how Vatican II wanted clerics and religious to be more “visible” or “one with the community”. Well, what happened? A steep decline in vocations, an erosion of Catholic virtues and even a disintegration of the quality of education!

As nuns removed their habits, now they seem to have disappeared! You no longer can distinguish a nun from a lay woman. When nuns used to teach subjects like Home Economics, French, Spanish or even Math or Science, now, they’re all just teaching Catechism or have administrative roles. Indeed, with minimal interactions or encounters with students, how will women religious attract newer (and quality) vocations?

Have we seen the last of de buena familia girls becoming religious sisters? How do schools like Assumption attract girls who practically have everything to abandon their possessions and leave their families to become nuns?

In the old days, girls, before going to their Wedding Rites, would stop by the convents of their schools – Assumption, Sta. Scholastica, Holy Ghost, St. Paul’s, Sta. Teresa’s, etc – and would seek their teacher-nuns’ blessings. Sometimes even, the nuns would be invited to the weddings! Now, do we see that kind of friendship between the students and nuns? Today, after “Vatican II”, after allowing “the winds of change” to enter the Church, do we still see that strong, formidable friendship between religious educators and their students?

Speaking of the physical space, the congested and sinful city has taken over the spot of the old, quiet and civilized space of old Ermita. Replacing the mansions and schools are places of ill repute, travel agencies and a despicable Robinsons mall.

The Assumption of Herran is now gone, replaced by two, more populated schools – one in Makati and the other in Antipolo. But the challenge and spirit of gracious Herran remains because until the time comes when the very name “Assumption” is forgotten, the values, triumphs and graces long associated with the Assumption institution due to her students from Herran will always serve as guide posts.

Assumption Nuns smiling as they walk down the driveway. Imagine how things were before. How were students edified by these scenes of nuns chatting, walking in full-habits? Here in this photo, taken from a batch album of Old Girls in Picasa, we see Sor Rosa (eventually known as Mo. Rose) and the Mother General visiting the PHL

Assumption Nuns smiling as they walk down the driveway. Imagine how things were before. How were students edified by these scenes of nuns chatting, walking in full-habits? Here in this photo, taken from a batch album of Old Girls in Picasa, we see Sor Rosa (eventually known as Mo. Rose) and the Mother General visiting the PHL

Until the last “Old Girl” of Herran walks the face of the planet, the memory of a real place of affection will remain to haunt, remind or inspire others who share the same Assumption heritage. Though there still remains the tangible traces such as the white gala dresses with flamboyant laces, the sailor-collared uniforms and the plaid skirts, and of course, the tarts, there remains, always, the challenge of measuring to the values, which the Old Assumption used to proudly share and live through its illustrious students who have become gracious ladies of conviction and stature.

If ever (good heavens) I would ever have a daughter, this would be the school I would send her to, trusting not only in tradition but also the long-lasting friendships I have fostered with Assumption alumnae.

The Assumption that set the tone and proved the true ideals of St. Marie Eugene Milleret hecho ayer.

About hechoayer

Things made yesterday still influence us until today. Things made today will influence us tomorrow. Things of the essence such as faith, culture, food, music and values should never disappear nor eroded by the times. Instead, these must be recorded, lived and shared. Something made yesterday - hecho ayer - can be tomorrow's saving grace. Never ignore the past.
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45 Responses to Of Plaid Skirts, Tarts and Purple Habits: The Assumption Convent

  1. Cindy G. says:

    I miss eating assumption tartssss🙂 i wanna get some soon🙂

  2. Gianni Fields Tee says:

    I love that book!!! I remember their headdresses!

  3. Anna says:

    For three generations, the women of my family were schooled at the Assumption. You have captured the essence of the Assumption spirit. For that I offer a heartfelt thank you!

    • hechoayer says:

      Please continue praying for our Catholic schools here in Manila, and in the rest of the country. Many of them are losing their prestige, traditions, high standards (both academic and moral) and are being filled with kids from families who seem to be rearing them with an exaggerated sense of privilege.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Thank you so much for posting this blog. I’m an Assumption Convent, Herran alumnae. I attended school there from kindergarten until I graduated in high school, 1973. We were the last high school group to graduate in Herran before the school finally closed. It was very sad to see our Alma mater disappear before our eyes. I’ve recently reconnected with all my high school friends on facebook and have been reminiscing the good old days at Herran. We can’t tell you enough how much we miss the place where we all grew up to be what we are now…

    • hechoayer says:

      Please continue reading and supporting my blog. I might be young but my love for culture and heritage has always inspired me to write about the many beautiful things (e.g. institutions, practices, recipes, movies,etc.) people forget.

  5. Darwin says:

    what a good read about the good old convent schools of a bygone era! I remember my grandma used to tell us kids “where is your convent school breeding?” whenever we boys got rowdy. I along with my brothers went to St. Paul’s (COED) in Tuguegarao. The teaching sisters were really strict, we were still taught the Paulinian Handwriting, genuflection before the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament. I will never forget how the sisters taught us very clearly about the truths of the Catholic Faith. God bless the sisters.!! And sadly it is very true on how you write about the lowering of quality of Catholic education these days.

  6. A very nice article! I actually stumbled upon this in a friend’s Facebook Wall.

    You see, I currently study in the College of the Holy Spirit Manila (formely Holy Ghost College), taking up Religious Education. I am blessed that for nearly 100 years (we’ll be celebrating it this coming 2013) the old edifice of our institution is well-reserved. You can’t really demolish German engineering with its thick walls and beautiful art-noveau form. Our chapel has been renovated from its old retablo (which was actually preserved in the Motherhouse of the Holy Spirit Sisters in QC) to the present form. This is so because of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

    A lot also has changed not only in the edifice of our school but also in the culture of our institution. The old blue-and white habit of the sisters are now replaced with shorter habits. The younger, more progressive nuns did not don any habit but opted for lay clothes, reasoning out that nuns are also ordinary people and hence should also wear ordinary clothes. We still have the white uniform for college, the brown-and-white uniform for the High School and the White Gala Uniform for masses and graduations. Organizations such as the Sodality of Mary, Catechists’ Guild, Homemakers’ Club and the like are now defunct and a part of the memory of the old alumnae.

    But the most evident in all the changes is the fact that girls from Holy Ghost College were the “it” girls of the period. Boys from San Beda, Don Bosco, Angelicum, UST, and even San Carlos seminary would die just to hold the immaculate hands of the HGC girls. These girls were known to be smart, disciplined, modest, well-mannered girls who were taught that there should be order and discipline in all things, even the way they sit, stand, walk, dress, eat and pray. Nowadays, trying to be an HGC girl will gain you the scorn of your classmates for being like “Maria Clara”: so conservative and tight.

    I guess it’s because of the loss of the sense of the sacred why things like these are now a part of a bygone era. We are taught by the Church that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we ought to do everything to guard these temples against the occasions of sin, lest the immaculate temple will be soiled with sin of imprudence and intemperance. I always believe that during the time when these things are the norm, people would really strive hard to maintain a certain finesse in things such as education. There exist a culture of being “Catholic”. Now don’t get me wrong when I say “a culture of being ‘Catholic'”. Convent schools like Assumption and HGC are perfect breeding grounds for good Catholic women which I believe are models of what a woman should be: modest, well-tempered, intelligent, in a word or two, a woman of righteousness before God. and these are stressed in the presence of religious women; Nuns. Nuns teach the girls of their convent schools to be righteous women, worthy in the eyes of God.

    I always wish that schools like the Assumption of old and Holy Ghost College be revived and spread everywhere. In our generation today, we need more righteous and empowered women to be mothers, teachers, religious, lawyers, and professionals. As the scripture says: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)

    (PS: I always told myself that if ever I would have a girlfriend – which I never had – I would opt for a girl like that of the Assumption of old.)

    • hechoayer says:

      Thank you very much for you well-thought-of response. It is very heartwarming, and I do admit I agree with you on many of the things you said. Let us continue praying for our Catholic educational institutions.

  7. Anna-Maria Llamas-Dizon says:

    I enjoyed reading your site and put me back to years at Assumption, Herran where I schooled from Gr. 1 to 2nd Yr. High….Although I didn’t graduate there, I still have years of Assumption values and friends who continued to school there through College, while I left for the USA. We still keep in touch and we are the Old Girls now…..in our senior years! I have yet to attend a Reunion in Manila….although I always attend our annual August 15 Mass/Merienda here in Cebu. I heard there is a gathering again in Manila this October month…if you have any information, would love that. Please email to the contact nos. below. Thank you!! Anna-Marie Llamas-Dizon

    • hechoayer says:

      Dearest Anna, thank you for visiting my blog! I wouldn’t know of the official (or even small) reunions but I do hope you can schedule a trip back during the annual Velada. I am sure you will enjoy Old Girls’ Day.

    • Neny Francisco Marasigan says:

      The Old Girls’ Day/Velada is held every third Sunday of October, fyi.

      My family has three generations of Assumptionistas, from my mom and her sisters, to me my 5 sisters, and my titas’ daughters, to my 4 daughters and my siblings’ and cousins’ daughters! We all have the cursive Assumption penmanship!

  8. marites leo says:

    Gracias HechoAyer. Am an OldGirl from 60’s. You have written of my pleasant memories. I have been trying to obtain photos of the Herran property before it was sold. Mother Angela r.a. commissioned photos to be taken around 1964(?) and invited students to order copies for posterity/mementoes.
    Would dearly love to obtain copies if anyone can assist.
    And yes, the buildings and grounds were gggorgeous-how does one describe a serene sweet safe place?

    • hechoayer says:

      Estimadíssima Marites: I offer nothing but prayers for our old convent schools to return, where nuns and students had healthy, friendly relationships and where Christ was the very center of their school lives. We can only have people like Sor Rosa r.a. to thank as well as the beautiful article written by Gizela Madrigal Gonzalez (The Manila We Knew) for keeping the memory of the Old Assumption alive

  9. Rod Cruz says:

    Great post. I just read a book called “Manila: A Memoir of Love and Loss” by Purita Echevarria de Gonzalez. I’m sure you’ve read it, seeing your deep link to old Manila and writings of. An Assumptionista herself, her pride in her school was pretty evident in the book. Reading your post made me remember these “soirees” we used to go to between Ateneo and Assumption, and how the mere thought of those plaid skirts would send my mind wandering. Good times indeed. I hope Assumption (and for that matter, our other Catholic schools) doesn’t get too caught up in modernization that it forgets its roots and what made this school what it was to begin with…or is it already too late?

  10. Greetings Ma’am! I am a student from Assumption and I came across this blog of yours and I can say that I am truly blessed to be a part of this wonderful institution. I will try my best to live out the values that this school has instilled in me once I get out of Assumption next year.

    • hechoayer says:

      Hola Anna! First and foremost, I’m a guy. Haha Secondly, yes, do live out the Assumption heritage! Do you still have sessions in Penmanship? This article cites much from Gisela Gonzalez’ accounts of Old Assumption from the book “The Manila We Knew” published by Anvil. I suggest you get a copy of that book too.

  11. Botch & Nana says:

    Do you know of any photos of the buildings pre-war? I just found some pictures my dad took in Manila after 1945 and I wonder if one of them is of the convent. I posted it on the Manila Nostalgia Facebook page. Gracias!

  12. karen kelly says:

    just found this blog..very interesting. where can I find the books about the assumption convent and school? i’d really like to read them. thanks karen

  13. Hola! To answer your question about the penmanship classes we no longer have that sadly but they taught us how to write in Assumption script during my time. I am sorry for calling you ma’am hehe..and yes I shall try to find that book. Thank you sir🙂

  14. Myles Garcia says:

    It is with great nostalgia that I read this article. Although I never had any sisters, so my memories of Ah-sumption are both through all my girl-cousins from my dad’s side who were Assumptionistas thru and thru; my neighbors (the Limgencos, another Ateneo-Assumption family); and my own experiences with Assumption-San Lo when I was one of the male cast members recruited for the Mother Esperanza-Fr. Reuter extravaganza of MY FAIR LADY in 1965. Of course, Ah-sumption too was the only college in Manila that had the carnaval called the Kermesse! I wonder if there’s a computer app where one can text in the Assumption cursive style??? I was always so ticked by that.

  15. I remember the higads in Herran during the year I was there. I was originally from Sanlo. I will always love the siomai, Assumption Tarts, the nuns, the hymns, the quiet afternoons in the chapel. Whenever there is trouble, the first thing I say is: “let’s pray”. Assumption has taught me this.

  16. Enid Sevilla says:

    Awesome job. Will forward to the nuns and other Old Girls. Thanks Marisa Batacan for sharing this with me.

    Enid Sevilla

  17. eyemom says:

    Thank you for this lovely article. I studied in Assumption Herran from Prep to Grade 3, then moved to Antipolo the following year when the school transferred there. I miss the beautiful campus, which I think is second to none here. Regarding your question about Penmanship classes, they still have those in Assumption Antipolo.

  18. Thank you for posting this, even if this was done some years BA k! The sentiments are still there and that is what makes for the Assumption Spirit! Now that I am based here in the U S, particularly in Philadelphia, I see the importance of ‘connecting’ with the ‘old girls’ and somehow make them know that they are as remembered now as when they were students! For this purpose, we have created a website called Friends of the Assumption which I would like to link and share with you! It is http://oneassumption.weebly.com/
    This might find a resonance not only among ‘old girls’ but friends and families of ‘old girls’ who want to grow in their assumption spirit!
    Keep up, hecho ayer!

  19. Victoria says:

    But you forgot Assumption Convent – Iloilo which is much older than San Lorenzo and Antipolo. We celebrated our centennial last 2010. And when I was teaching at San Lorenzon in the late 80s I taught writing in Grade II and we had cut out models with saying of St. Marie Eugenie to follow.

  20. Reblogged this on Judica me, Deus and commented:
    Friends,

    You see that I have given up my reblogging “vice” for a few days before this reblog from a wonderful blog. But happily it is now back, at least for this time.

    Neopelagianus

  21. DuMar says:

    Thank you for your wonderful historical account of the Assumption. This school has become like a tradition to my family. My sister, nieces and I are all alumnae of Assumption Antipolo, and this is also where my daughter and another niece will also graduate. For years it has been inculcated in us to live a life of simplicity and with genuine concern for the less fortunate. These are the values that I have grown up with, which I aslo see emulated in the lives of the young ladies in our family.

    Note: Yes, we had penmanship classes in the ’90s, and my daughter had it also from 3rd to 4th grade.

  22. Rochelle says:

    Hello! I really enjoyed reading your article, being able to have a glimpse of Assumption Heran was truly amazing! After hearing countless of stories about it from the sisters! I am too an Assumptionist, from Assumption Antipolo, currently in High School. We still have the Penmanship subject for Grades 1 to Grade 4 although we don’t anymore have the Manners subject like before it is incorporated in different subjects even in Music! The Antipolo campus is filled with greenery complete with the Assumpta Theater and Eco Park! The Assumption values are still emphasized, the nuns are still there always sharing their stories with us, and the plaid skirt and gala uniform is still alive.

    • hechoayer says:

      This is very nice to hear Rochelle! Continue to do well with your studies, and live up to the noble values of the Assumption especially that of being faithful to duty!

  23. Enid Sevilla says:

    This is beautiful! An awesome tribute! Thanks for sharing. I would like to share this with the Assumption world as well!

  24. Connie Iguidez-Haigh says:

    You did not mention Assumption Iloilo, which, i believe was the first Assumption established in the Philippines. Thank you for this very nostalgic piece. I studied in Assumption, Iloilo from Kindergarten to College (HS Class ’68; College ). I remember the nuns in their old habits, how we used to curtsy to Notre Mere, the Lecture of Notes, Adoration, Benediction, “Assumpta Est”; and everything so uniquely Assumption! Them were the days! “Though nothing can bring back the days of splendour in the grass of glory in the flower, we will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind”(William Wordsworth)….

  25. Kreehz says:

    you forgot Assumption Convent Iloilo established in 1910… Assumption San Lorenzo, Antipolo and Iloilo are the only main Campuses of Assumption.. I think you should research more…

  26. Erlinda Jocson Manzanero (Class 49 ) says:

    Thank you so much for posting the above narration re the old Assumption. It brought a lot of memories re my grade school, high school , and college days as a boarder and extern. It is true that present girls now are different in the good old days. The daily talk every morning by the mistress of class had a lot of good influence after I left school till now in my old age. I owe it to the nuns for their guidance.

  27. I greatly enjoyed reading this! Who wrote it? I studied from grade 1 to 4th year at Assumption Herran, and am proud to belong to HS
    batch 55!

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