THE title appears amusing considering that the Augustinian Recollects had been engaged in apostolate since their foundation in 1588. They are the reformists from the Augustinian hermit friars who followed the Rule of St. Augustine. Both orders, Augustinians and Recollects, had been in Negros, the former since 1575 and the later in 1627, and still are. They wear the same habit – white cassock with black belts and a head cowl or hood – and distinguished only by initials after their names – OAR for the Recollects and OSA for the Augustinians.

Of the Catholic religious congregations I had written considerably about the Recollects and their apostolate in Negros that went beyond catechism and administering the Sacraments. They are credited, and with solid reasons, for many of the developments in Negros, from opening of land for development, founding towns and barrios and defining their boundaries, fighting government corruption, carving roads and constructing bridges. The history of Negros in the early days revolved around their work, spiritual and temporal.

Last February 26, the Recollect Fathers of the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos inaugurated a four-level building for its expanding student population for the Integrated School under the K-12 program. The date is memorable because for the first time the youth of the University was placed under the patronage of the Blessed Mother under the title of Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health).

This title is invoked in the Litany of the Holy Rosary as “Health of the Sick” but people have no idea how she looked like nor is there a popular devotion to her in this title. I wrote about this a year or so ago when her petite statue dressed in black was brought to the Parish of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Talisay City. She is less known although her statue was brought here in the Philippines in 1634. She is there now in Talisay; during the Mass last February 26, her feast day, she was in UNO-R.

There were lots of background materials distributed, all very informative on the history of the university and its guiding Augustinian philosophy and the vision of UNO-R. Of great interest are the Core Values that define and translate in the concrete the university’s Latin motto, Caritas (love) and Scientia (knowledge).

There were several speakers and enlightening inspiring messages, including the congratulatory words from the Recollect Prior General who came all the way from Rome to witness this historic moment. Other Recollects from the Philippine Province and their other schools and institutions were there and shared their thoughts on the importance and significance of the new IS building. Also witnessing the event were guests from the field of education, government and parents and former UNO-R administrators who conceptualized and made possible the construction of the edifice.

But in the midst of all these lofty words, what struck me most was an innocuous phrase, said almost in passing by one of the speakers – apostolate in education. This phrase is derived from the Latin, apostolus,a person sent forth for a mission and in this case was sent out to educate.

The inauguration of the IS Building is therefore just another page in the long history of the Recollect apostolate in Negros. They were the first to establish catechetical schools, then grammar or convent schools and the first secondary school in the island, Colegio de San Jose in Bacolod. The revolution of 1898 aborted the growth of that school when the Recollects, except for four of them, left the island. Into the vacuum, the government opened public schools supervised by Protestant ministers and this disturbed the Catholics.

In 1919, the Recollect parish priest of Bacolod, Fr. Francisco Vega who had campaigned for a Catholic school since 1909, yielded his large convent (now the Bishop’s House) to encourage the Augustinian sisters to accept the offer of Msgr. James McCloskey, vicar general of Jaro, to open a school in Bacolod. The sisters had abandonedtheir school in Antique due to Aglipayan hostility. Thus Colegio de la NuestraSeñora de la Consolacion was founded. Fr. Vega bought a small house nearby because his convent was converted into classrooms and the sisters’ cloister.

The Recollects opened two more schools in San Carlos but their purchase of the Occidental Negros Institute (renamed University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos) caps their apostolate in education in Negros.