As the Battle of Manila raged on with bombings and killings happening around the city, some people sought refuge at the campus of what was then known as the De La Salle College. Throughout the war, the school was allowed to operate despite the fact that a portion of the campus has been taken over by Japanese forces, thanks in part to its location which at that time was already considered the city outskirts, away from the activity going on in Intramuros and Downtown Manila. It also helped that some of the Christian Brothers were of German nationality, whose country is allied with Japan, giving them and the school a safe pass.
When the battle first began, the Christian Brothers (the Catholic teaching congregation that runs De La Salle) gladly took in some families who hoped that being in the campus would insulate them from the bloodshed and destruction going on outside. They, as well as the Christian Brothers, believed then that given the free rein the Japanese gave to De La Salle throughout the war, the campus and the people taking refuge there would not be touched. Sadly, that would not be the case.
On February 12, 1945, a group of 21 Japanese soldiers made their way in to the campus forcibly. At that time, De La Salle was home to about 70 people, including 30 females, 16 Christian Brothers from Europe, as well as the school chaplain Fr. Francis Cosgrave. The arrival of the Japanese brought some justified fear. Three days earlier, Japanese soldiers hauled away the De La Salle College Director, Brother Egbert Xavier FSC and a companion, Judge Jose Carlos. They would never be seen again.
The Japanese, feeling suspicious that the people there were secretly helping the Americans and perhaps the psychological toil the war was causing on them, swiftly proceeded to kill everyone in the campus, even the women and children who were staying there.
The killing proceeded even in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel where some Christian Brothers and other civilians fled to.
At the end of the day, bodies were piled on top of each other throughout the campus. The chapel was littered with so many dead bodies as the chapel floor and walls were soaked in blood. In fact, it is said that the blood seen on the wall was so great that it was not easy to remove it and faint traces of it remained underneath the current paint.
About 41 civilians and 16 Christian Brothers died on what has been by some as the “De La Salle Massacre.” Those who survived, Fr. Cosgrave among them, had to lie low in the campus for fear of the Japanese who might come back and kill any survivors there until the Americans finally came to free the area around the campus from Japanese control on Valentine’s Day.
To this day, the events of February 12, 1945 remain as a dark chapter in the history of De La Salle, which has since became a university. In the memory of the Christian Brothers and the civilians who died that day, the school has held masses in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel every February 12 in their memory.
A marker has been placed near the chapel entrance immortalizing the names of the Christian Brothers who lost their lives during the Battle of Manila.
In addition, a statue by sculptor Peter de Guzman (who is also the sculptor behind the monuments in the Makati CBD) was built in the campus grounds to honor the memory of the Christian Brothers showing a Christian Brother laying wounded and dying in the arms of Fr. Cosgrave.