"Niña, we always remember you in our prayers. Tomorrow we will offer mass for you. Be strong and pray and God will take care of the rest." (Msgr. Jim/May 31,2007)
Many knew him as Rt. Rev. Msgr. Jaime M. San Andres, NPS school director, the head of the premier Catholic school for boys in Caceres. I knew him like a father, a confidante, and a boss-exactly in that order.
Long before I first met him, his image was already painted in my mind. An icon of strong character with a very high regard when it comes to discipline. The first meeting was remote from what I expected. It was a witty bantering of words with the director known for being serious asking me about the meaning of my name which was according to him, "little girl".
During my first year in NPS, I lost my father due to cancer. It happened six days before Christmas and four days before his birthday. Msgr. did not only sympathize but made me understand the whole meaning of death. He constantly assured me, Papa was already free from sufferings and pain.
For him, discipline was such a big deal. I remember the time when he asked me how I define it. Without much qualms, I told him that being discipline means doing the right things even without the presence of others. After that, whenever we talked he would ask me about my views and suggestions on how to improve discipline of the students. I was inspired by his ways that I really made it a point to live up with his expectations by doing my best in implementing rules and regulations.
There was this moment also that I found myself crying with the "tough" director when I was beseeched with weariness due to pressures. Candidly, he showered me with advice saying that I didn't need to keep on looking for approval from everyone. He further said that being a leader means being ready to criticism since we would never please everybody. He told me to keep things in perspective and loosen up myself. I left his office feeling enlightened and encouraged.
The best moments were the intelligent discussions I had with him. He was a person who didn't make decisions easily. I learned by heart that whenever I would seek his approval in any project, I needed to rationalize my reasons. Opportunely, I never went out of his office disappointed.
I was blessed also to experience humbling moments with the director. There was a time that I was presenting to him a TV commercial which unfortunately, did not work in his computer. Msgr. without thinking twice went to my office (quite far from his office) to view the cd in my computer.
He listened countless times to my ideas and respected my ability to do things. I guess in one way or another he was instrumental in making me more confident with my job.
During competitions, Msgr. would constantly challenge us to bring home the bacon. He instilled to the students that Parochialites are good so it's only normal to reap achievements. Msgr. would then bless them for guidance during the contests. He was known to purge the best out of teachers and pupils. It was not a surprise really why Parochialites continue to reap awards in various competitions.
Three years ago, I accepted his challenge to bring home first place in the Regional Presscon. I never thought that it would be myself who would receive the honor. It was through him that I got inspiration to work hard for the attainment of my goal.
When I decided to file one year leave of absence because of some inevitable circumstances, I had difficulty requesting for his approval. He assured me that I would be given two whole months of rest without any hassle of work but I didn't need to leave for a year. Eventually, he agreed to grant my request but not until I submitted a letter promising to return after a year.
Msgr. Jim was one of those people who flooded me with prayers when almost seven months ago, I became seriously ill. An hour before my operation, he texted me though he had difficulty because of shaking hands (which was the effect of his heart surgery) giving me an assurance that despite of the malady that inflicted me everything would be fine and I just needed to have faith. He was right. After the surgery, I've never been healthier in my whole life.
The paradox of life is hard to grasp at times. My source of strength several months ago bid his final farewell last night. It was after a whole day of party that I received the message informing me of his death. I could almost taste the bitterness of what his death brings to his family and the whole NPS community- grief, tears, melancholic feelings.
Coincidently, papa died in the same month also during a party. Again, the tapestry of forlorn feelings was repeated. I lost a surrogate father, a friend, a confidante, and an intelligent mentor.
Regrettably, he would not be able to keep his promise anymore to celebrate my wedding. He told me once that when I find the right man, he would be the one to officiate the mass for me.
I could enumerate the wonderful memories I had with him but I don't think my lifetime would be enough to finish it. Now, as my heart mourn his death, I would just remember what he told me five years ago, "Death is the heaven's ticket of the life lived fully in bliss."
The familiar twinge of longing and emptiness is back after five years of losing Papa. I miss Msgr. and his ways of explaining things full of wisdom. For sure, the man considered as the institution of NPS would be a great loss to the whole NPS community.
Last night, while reading his text messages he sent me when I was sick, I couldn't help when a sigh of mourn escaped from my lips. Msgr. Jim would always be remembered by all of us...
To Our Dear Msgr. Jim:
Life has brought you many challenges many struggles and many hardships. The years left their marks as lines on your face and gray-hues colored your hair. Though the signs of life ebbed away, your legacies would forever live in our hearts. We pray for you a peaceful death, a death of days gone by. For you to slip away without pain and find a blissful rest in a different realm. Our dear Msgr. Jim, we will surely miss you this Christmas.