The year 1912 saw the great need for a Catholic school in Albay. Rev. Fr. Juan J. Calleja, the parish priest then, was running a convent school for girls with the help of two ladies. In order to improve and expand what they had started, Rev. Calleja appealed for help to His Excellency, Most Rev. John B. MacGinley, D.D., then Bishop of Nueva Caceres.
Bishop MacGinley was a man of indomitable courage and great foresight. His enthusiasm for uplifting the cultural, moral, spiritual, and religious life of the Bicolanos motivated him to call on the Benedictine Sisters of Manila to take charge of the school. While on board a ship to Manila, Msgr. MacGinley met Sr. Ferdinanda Hoelzer, OSB who had just returned from the United States. Bishop MacGinley urged her to start a school in his diocese. His great determination paid off when the Benedictine Congregation responded to the Bishop’s call.
After they left Manila in May 28, 1912, the first Benedictine Sisters arrived in the port of Legazpi. The pioneering group were Sr. Ferdinanda Hoelzer, OSB, Sr. Alexis Rudenauer, OSB, and Sr. Edilburgis Fischer, OSB. In no time, the Sisters started the work on converting the old convent as they attended to the needs of starting a new school. Bishop MacGinley’s aunt, Agnes, promised to help in this endeavor. Thus, in her honor, and as a token of gratitude, Father Calleja changed the name of the school from “Academia de Sta. Ines” to “St. Agnes Academy, Inc.”
On July 1, 1912 the primary classes started with an enrolment of 47 pupils. The Academy grew despite the forces that threatened her existence: the strong typhoons that destroyed the physical structure of the school, the eruption of Mayon Volcano in 1928 and World War II that claimed the lives of three (3) pioneering Benedictine Sisters: Mother Clodesindis Lucken, OSB, Sister Edilburgis, OSB and Sister Gertrude, OSB, an oblate.
Amidst trials and difficulties, SAA’s spirit became stronger, and indomitable courage pulled her through. The seeming setbacks spawned greater strength that accelerated growth. A free school was opened for the poor. Vocational courses were incorporated with the academics in the early 1940’s. Not to be overlooked was the Music Department which started in 1921.
From the debris of typhoons and from the ashes of eruption and war rose a formidable institution. The sister’s determination to educate the young Bicolanos survived the turbulent years. The sixth decade of SAA’s historical milestones was the age of school competitions and recognition of St. Agnes Academy, Inc. as a school that would not settle for anything short of excellence. On January 1974, SAA’s Grade School Department was granted accreditation by the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools Colleges and Universities (PAASCU), the first in the Bicol region and the fifth in the country to be accredited. In March 1983, the High School Department was also accredited, the second in Legazpi City. On that same year, the High School Department became co-educational, primarily to provide a more integrated education for the young.
The gradual increase in enrolment in the High School Department necessitated rearrangement and improvement of existing facilities. The school continued to keep alive the tradition of excellence established by her forbears, for her growing number of students.
Keeping pace with the changes of modern society, SAA found it necessary to become involved in a wider program of activities. More and more the school tried to reach out to the poor through its socio-pastoral apostolate to give maximum service to its students and to the larger community as a whole. The Agnesian family – students, parents, teachers, administrators, office and general services personnel – involved themselves in many different activities. Ecological drives, medical and dental missions, catechetical instructions and community workshops formed part of the school’s effort to keep in touch with present-day realities.
In 2006 as SAA prepared herself for the PAASCU re-accreditation, a string of natural calamities led to its postponement. The impending eruption of Mayon Volcano caused delays and the super typhoons Milenyo and Reming damaged the school’s infrastructure and destroyed all her preparation that brought it to its knees. But despite all these setbacks, the morale of the school community remained strong and the spirit of volunteerism and cooperation pushed her to start anew.
In school year 2008-2009 the PAASCU visits of the Grade School and High School departments pushed through. On May 26, 2009, the PAASCU results were received. The Grade School and High School departments were both granted re-accreditation for five years.
In school year 2009-2010 the school celebrated her 97th year of foundation. It was during this year that many physical facilities and equipment development projects were accomplished. The chapel was renovated, the high school faculty room was relocated and air conditioned, a lounging room for the teachers was provided, offices for the middle administrators were repositioned for accessibility, the high school stage area in the quadrangle was tiled, and the comfort rooms at Gate 1 were renovated.
Alongside the many improvements in physical facilities, the school intensified and restructured its Social Involvement Program (SIP)/Outreach Program. Parish and diocesan linkages were renewed and strengthened; program thrusts and services were refined. Sponsorship of Masses on the 3rd and 4th Sundays of the month by the Grade School and High School departments respectively, was revived. While the High School Seniors and Grade School club members did Cathedral clean-up as part of their SIP/outreach work, the Sisters got themselves involved in diocesan and AWRIL (Association of Women and Religious in Legazpi) programs and activities. The highlight of the school year was the launching of the school web site: www.saa.edu.ph.
The following school year, 2010-2011 with the celebration of her 98th year of foundation, additional improvements in physical facilities were undertaken. The Grade School and High School Computer laboratories were renovated and the computer units were upgraded, the Grade School and High School faculty rooms and administrative offices were improved, the General Services and Office personnel were provided with a lounging room. The school’s wiring system was rehabilitated to accommodate the growing energy requirements of the additional facilities, and the gymnasium was redesigned and rebuilt.
The need to keep up with these changes necessitated a revisit of the school’s Vision-Mission. A re-statement of the institution’s vision and mission followed and school policies were refined and revised where needed.
In school year 2011-2012, as St. Agnes Academy, Inc. prepared for the launching of the centennial celebration, various activities involving the entire community were undertaken. Medical and dental missions to the poor in the locality and the school’s partner communities were organized and conducted in coordination with the alumni and parents. Former teachers, office and general services personnel were “asked to come back home” to SAA in an afternoon of festive reminiscing.
The school resonated with the voices of the students as they sang the centennial hymn composed especially for the occasion. The centennial logo and prayer along with an assortment of memorabilia items served as added highlights to commemorate the same.
Meanwhile, the school continued with her physical facilities improvements. The clinic was renovated, the High School Speech laboratory was put up, a new Grade school AVR was built, a conference room and a greenhouse were provided in the Grade School department, and the water plumbing system was rehabilitated. An Archives Museum was conceived and put up in order to see, look back and appreciate the school’s history.
The school opened herself to more involvements in the local community as well as in the Benedictine communities nationwide. She hosted the Association of Benedictine Schools’ (ABS) Leadership Training Seminars of the Grade School and the High School departments, and the Treasurers and Business Office Staff seminar-workshop. She also hosted the Catholic Educational Association of Legazpi (CEAL) Youth Camp and was an active participant in the Diocesan Pastoral Assembly that reviewed, reset and refined the directions of the diocese. In addition, she readily accepted the task of serving as a pilot school in the City’s Earth Savers’ Program, the only private school in the City to do so. During the year-long Centennial Calendar, the school launched her Centennial Commemorative stamps, in coordination with the Philippine Postal Corporation.
On her 100th (Centennial) year, in school year 2012-2013, further improvements of the physical facilities and equipment were effected. The Grade School Science Laboratory, the High School Campus Ministry and the Social Involvement Program (SIP) Offices were renovated. Additional food booths in the canteen were provided and the eating area for the teachers and personnel was improved. The Grade School Administrative offices, as well as the faculty lounging area, were enhanced, and the High School Physical Education Play Area was cemented. In both departments, floors were tiled to improve aesthetics.
More events were held to celebrate the centennial year. Cultural and variety shows that traced the school’s history served as happy reminders of a wonderful past. People who were part of this past: Superiors, Directresses, Board of Trustees Chairpersons, Alumni Association Presidents were paid tribute, in grateful appreciation for their contributions to the school’s advancement.
The centennial year saw St. Agnes Academy, Inc. playing host to various religious assemblies and conferences: the AWRIL Assembly, the National Conference for Youth Ministers and the First Diocesan Clergy and Religious Encounter, among others. In addition, the school also sponsored the diocesan Farewell Mass for St. Pedro Calungsod at the Albay Cathedral.
Various programs, relevant and socially-oriented to meet the needs of the school community, were implemented. To facilitate postings and communications, the school opened an official SAA Facebook (FB) Account. It also embarked on a program to denounce harassment with its “Agnesian Ako, Peacemaker: I SAY NO TO BULLYING” campaigns and adopted the government-mandated K to 12 Educational Reform, beginning with the Kindergarten classes and the Grade 7 students.
The search for 100 Outstanding Agnesians embodying SAA’s ideals, and symbolizing her one hundred years of existence culminated in an awards night, held during the grand Alumni Homecoming in May 2012. Not to be eclipsed was the honoring of more than a hundred alumni priests and religious to pay special recognition to the “workers in God’s vineyard”.
SAA’s one hundred years of fruitful existence, her numerous achievements and countless contributions to the community, earned recognition through the various awards conferred on her: a Centennial Service Award from the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), Service to the Church Award by the Diocese of Legazpi and the Bishop Jorge Barlin Service Award from the Ateneo de Naga University (ADNU). The school has also been cited officially as a historical landmark by the National Historical Institute (NHI), the Province of Albay and the City of Legazpi .
Today, SAA lifts her hands in praise of God’s unending blessings, even as she soars high and stands proud of her achievements. As another century unfolds, the school continues to commit herself to building and nurturing a living, loving and learning community, as she responds to the challenges of today’s realities- new evangelization, family evangelization, ecological consciousness and preservation of the environment, justice and peace, for positive social transformation.
THAT IN ALL THINGS GOD MAY BE GLORIFIED!