As far as women’s education is concerned, St. Paul University Manila is considered one of the pioneers. Despite the many changes over the years, including it being converted into a co-ed school in 2005, it is still known as a respected institution for young Catholic women.
The History of St. Paul Manila
First established in 1911 as a novitiate where women would be trained to become nuns under the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, what would become St. Paul University Manila officially was born in 1912 as the St. Paul Institution, when a kindergarten department was opened. The following year, the school opened an elementary department and in 1924, the school offered secondary education as well. Eventually the novitiate moved out to its new home in Quezon City, where another St. Paul school would rise shortly, but that’s another story. Meanwhile, St. Paul Institution opened its college department in 1936; 4 years later the school would be renamed as St. Paul College Manila.
The period of St. Paul Manila’s formative years coincided with the growth of what was the old educational hub in prewar south Manila. Along what was once Herran Street, St. Paul counted as its neighbors the University of the Philippines (which still has its Manila campus to this day), Ateneo de Manila, and Assumption College.
However, World War II happened. The St. Paul Manila campus was occupied by Japanese troops in 1942 during the Japanese occupation. Three years later, the Battle of Manila happened, and the school would bear witness to one of the most horrifying atrocities committed during the Battle of Manila.
History and Tragedy in the Chapel
The story goes that the Japanese soldiers rounded up more than 120 prisoners and imprisoned them inside the school chapel, the Chapel of the Crucified Christ originally built in 1927 and designed by Juan Luna’s architect son, Andres Luna de San Pedro. Once the prisoners were locked inside, the Japanese proceeded to bomb and burn the chapel. The chapel was burned down and none of the chapel prisoners managed to survive. The only one that survived by the end of the war was the chapel facade, one of the few structures that were left standing in Herran.
The Sisters of St. Paul proceeded to rebuild St. Paul Manila after the war and quickly resumed operations. The chapel was eventually rebuilt in 1948 and, owing to its history and architectural significance, has become the school’s most cherished and most significant landmark.
The “Broadway of Herran”
As was mentioned earlier, St. Paul Manila decided to continue its operations in its original location, defying a postwar trend among former Manila-based institutions that decided to relocate outside the city proper. In fact, it managed to thrive on after the war, retaining its spot as a premier academic institution for women.
Nothing symbolized this optimism and vigor felt in the campus better than its other beloved landmark that was built in 1957, the Fleur de Lis Theater. Behind this contemporary architectural structure are 2 men from Angono, Rizal: Jose Reynoso who was the architect of the building and future National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco, who made a painting found in the theater’s lobby titled “The Evolution of Philippine Culture.”
The Fleur de Lis Theater would become known to be the place to be for musical theater presentations, where future artists and entertainers like Cecille Guidote, Charo Santos, Celeste Legaspi, June Keithley, and the Revilla sisters would get to hone their craft. The theater would eventually earn the monicker “the Broadway of Herran.”
St. Paul Manila would later be elevated as a university in its own right in 2004 as part of the St. Paul University System, the first university system recognized by the Commission on Higher Education.
Despite the growing commercialization of the area in recent decades (not to mention a street name change to what is now Pedro Gil), St. Paul University Manila has remains not only as a landmark but as a remnant of Manila of old.
Acknowledgements as well to St. Paul University Manila