Several months ago, while I was looking for old photos and newspaper clippings in my collection, I saw the picture of our wedding cake decoration( see bottom of page). It reminded me of my college years, my UPSCAN years, Fr John Delaney and the Chapel of Holy Sacrifice in Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines and also my 21st birthday. The Chapel of Holy Sacrifice was declared a national historical landmark and a cultural treasure in architecture several decades ago. Attached is an update and an excerpt from Chapter 4 of my autobiography with an update of PUSH ON UP at bottom of page.
The first circular church and first thin-shell concrete dome in the Philippines
The first mass and blessing of the chapel by Archbishop Rufino Santos was held on December 20, 1955, also my 21st birthday. It was attended by an overflowing crowd of UP students and faculty members including most of the "1000" whose names were in the chapel foundation.
I am proud to remember, that my name is one of the 1000 names buried in the Foundation of the Chapel for completing the requirement of daily mass and communion for one year and pledging 5% of my student allowance to the building fund.
The following article by Paulo Alcazaren( City Sense, STAR) written about eleven years ago brought pleasant memories of my college years and my first job as an Instructor in Chemistry at the University of the Philippines, Department of Chemistry (1952-1959).
This article also reminded me of the war and struggle to control student government and campus life between the UPSCANS and the Fraternities/ Sororities. I was an UPSCAN then and one of the faithful disciples of Fr. John Patrick Delaney. Fr. John has a lot of influence on my life from that time and even today. His words of wisdom, charisma and encouragement still rings in my 82 years old body. I love you, Fr. John! May you rest in Peace eternally!
Here's an excerpt from Paulo Alcazaren article published in the Star dated December 21, 2005.
CHAPEL OF SACRIFICE
UP, DILIMAN, December 21, 2005 (STAR) CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren - My first memory of the University of the Philippines was in 1965. My father had bought me a toy rocket ship and we launched it from one of the many open green spaces set within the lush campus landscape. I thought at the time that it was cool that we were the first to bring the space age to the UP. I was wrong. I found out later that it had come much earlier – in 1955 – with the completion of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice, affectionately known as Diliman’s "flying saucer."
Less than 10 years after that rocket launch, I found myself enrolled at the UP and painting that domed chapel in watercolor for a class in architectural rendering. That prompted my first visit and the experience was profound. I had never been in a circular church before and it felt strange to see the altar in the center. Nevertheless, I was drawn to it. Despite its small scale (only a hundred feet across), the space had an impact and a focus few structures here could match then, and that holds true even today.
The Interior and Central Altar
The interior space was enhanced with artwork – a two-sided crucifix above showing the tortured, then the risen Lord, an abstracted river of life in a terrazzo-patterned floor below and 15 striking murals (Stations of the Cross) between the dome’s 32 columns – and added to the whole effect of embracing the visitor spatially and spiritually. The chapel was wonderfully open, blending the interior with the green outside. Finally, the setting – a simple, green lawn rising gently from the road – completed the postcard-pretty scene.
A Priest, Four Artists & Two Engineers
Fr. John Delaney, the controversial but charismatic Jesuit chaplain assigned to the campus, orchestrated the project. National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin cut his teeth designing it. Dean Alfredo Juinio of the UP College of Engineering came up with the innovative thin-shell approach which a young David Consunji implemented to perfection using the simplest of machinery and lots of guts.
Finally, three cutting-edge artists – Napoleon Abueva, Arturo Luz and Vincente Manansala – created the crucifix, floor and murals respectively, which started them on the road to national artist status. (Another national artist, in music this time, Jose Maceda, would premier his concert "Pagsamba" there in 1968 and repeat it regularly in the same venue.) One renowned religious leader, four national artists and two giants in Philippine engineering and construction make for a really special structure …and a compelling story of how it got built.
The UP transferred to Diliman in 1949. It was meant to do so in 1942 as part of a massive transfer of civic structures that included a new capitol complex at the elliptical circle. The war intervened. Immediately after, the future campus was commandeered by the American Armed Forces as their headquarters. The two Juan Arellano-designed structures built in 1941 meant for the colleges of law and education became military offices. Around it rose dozens of quonset huts and a chapel of wood, galvanized iron roofing, bamboo and sawali that had a distinctive vernacular-inspired roof (my suspicion is that it was also Arellano-designed because of some references in the literature to his experimentation in pitch-roofed silhouettes for the state university’s architecture).
Unstable Architecture And A Troubled Up
That chapel deteriorated into stables towards the end of the UP’s military term. It was in shambles when Fr. Delaney found it but he quickly went to work to clean it up, aided by an ever growing flock of students, faculty and residents. After the patch-up, the UP chapel became the religious center of the campus. In the early ‘50s it was shared with the Protestant and Aglipayan congregations reflecting the open spirit of community in UP then.
The growing population of students and residents in the 493-hectare campus, however, took its toll and Fr. Delaney, as well as the Protestant church leaders, finally decided it was time to build new and separate chapels. Under UP president Vidal Tan, the campus also accommodated requests and allocated parcels in the non-academic north section of the university for both.
Those were trying years for Delaney, president Tan and the university. Issues of academic freedom, the threat of sectarianism (fueled by Fr. Delany’s extremely pro-active involvement in campus life and the growing political clout of the Delaney-mentored UP Student Catholic Action organization), and fraternity and sorority violence (which the chaplain tried his best to solve) made for a more complicated narrative, whose total complexion colored the entire decade.
It was in the middle of this maelstrom that the idea for the "saucer" started. In May 1954 the Protestant chapel was first to start construction. The modern structure, by university architect Cesar Concio, was completed a year later. The Protestant Chapel of the Risen Lord was funded by donations from America. The Catholic congregation was not so lucky and had to scrounge and scrape, egged on by the tireless Fr. Delaney to "give till it hurt." Fr. Delaney also did not want to sell out to corporate sponsorship or be beholden to endowments from the rich. Almost all of the P150,000 it took (remember, the peso was 2:1 back then) was raised by the UP congregation. Students missed their lunches and faculty donated portions of their salary to the fund. No wonder the chapel was named The Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice!
Financially Contrite But Creative
It was more than sacrifice that added to the value of the chapel, it was the creative resource and risk Fr. Delaney took in the team that he selected to build it. He probably also felt the pressure to deliver to his flock a structure as modern as the neighboring Protestant Chapel. The saddle-shaped structure cut a handsome sight and his congregation would settle for no less.
During dinner one night at the home of the Abuevas, he met a 26-year-old architect whose only experience after college was to spend a year designing a radical circular chapel for a sugar magnate in Negros. It was supposed to be a gift to the Don Bosco fathers and meant to symbolize unity and openness. The chapel was never built but Fr. Delaney had almost identical requirements. The loss of the Bosconians (a congregation to which I belong) was UP’s gain.
Fr. Delaney wanted a simple but strong building that would be open to the light, air and space that UP had plenty of back then. He also wanted to maximize the potential of the site allocated by the university, an elevated platform rising slightly above and across the university infirmary and the Protestant chapel.
With the previous client’s permission, Locsin adapted the original design to fit the site. Fr. Delaney then roped in Dean Juinio for the structural design and Jose Segovia for the electrical design. The contractor was a young maverick named David Consunji, the founder of today’s construction powerhouse DMCI. The dean worked hard at fulfilling the requirements to create a dome to float above a thousand worshippers lightly and at the least cost. His answer: a thin shell nine inches at the base and diminishing to only three inches at the top.
When It Rained, They Poured
This type of roof had never been built in the country. It took the ingenuity of Consunji to construct it within the constraints of the meager budget and the lack of equipment needed to pour the shell within the 18-hour window Juinio set. The solution was ingenious and daring – four construction towers and a continuous ramp circling the structure allowed ordinary concrete mixers (churning out high-strength concrete) to supply a squad of workers in buggies rotating to pour the concrete.
The pour date was Aug. 25, 1955. It started to drizzle in the early morning and threatened to wreck the operation (the water would dilute the mix and weaken the concrete). But Fr. Delaney held a prayer vigil with UPSCANs taking turns asking for divine intervention. They got it as the site remained totally dry even as other parts of the large campus were drenched, even the University Theater, where the Nobel Prize winner for literature, William Faulkner, delivered a lecture.
With the dome completed, Locsin and Delaney sought the artists needed to furnish and embellish the structure. They were all given complete artistic freedom (so long as they stayed within the budget). Abueva hung his heavy wooden cross from the oculus (above which Locsin put the chapel’s bells). Luz integrated the symbolism of nature in the "river of life" into the terrazzo floor that connected the interior spaces with the circular lanai, which in turn was the smooth transition to the simple lawn outside. Manansala added color literally to the chapel with his murals of the Way of the Cross (with a 15th panel showing the Risen Lord – an attempt to relate to the neighboring Protestant chapel, perhaps?).
The Chapel And Up’s Current Malaise
At four in the morning on Dec. 20, 1955 the chapel was blessed by Archbishop Rufino J. Santos. Fr. Delaney said the first mass (also the first Christmas mass) to an overflowing crowd. In his sermon, he thanked all those who made sacrifices to see that the chapel would be completed. The mood of the congregation was joyous and it spilled over to January only to be dashed by the news of Delaney’s death from a stroke. The sacrifices and trials he faced in the last few years had taken its toll. His body was brought from the Ateneo to the new chapel for the requiem mass, starting a tradition of honoring those of UP who had made a difference.
The new chapel and the loss of their mentor only spurred UPSCANs to carry on their perceived mission of shaping campus life. In the years that followed they took political control of the student council stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble that ended in the suspension of student political life in UP until a decision by the Supreme Court in the early ‘60s.
The story of the chapel and the university by then was moving at a breakneck speed towards more tumult from the left, right and center (literally). Martial law followed with the neutering of the university’s fustiness's. People Power followed and the UP’s gentle decline caused by financial woes, the indifference of government, physical deterioration of facilities and an inability to maximize its potential and pull itself out of the morass of internal strife and political issues that date back to those unresolved in the 1950s.
A Chapel Choked
I visited the chapel recently and was glad to see that the work of Locsin, Juinio, Consunji, Abueva, Luz and Manansala has stood the test of time. The ceiling is flaking a bit but most of the interiors, artwork and furnishing have stood up well despite five decades of service. The feeling inside is still magnificent and clearly the structure should be declared a national treasure.
I was appalled, however, at the condition of its gardens and the surrounding landscape. The chapel cannot now be appreciated as it was originally intended – a structure that was open and barrier-free. Gone are the visual connections to other buildings and the transparency and friendliness of the 1950s setting. The place has been eaten by the virus of horror vacuii – the fear of empty spaces that politicians with their city halls and parish priests with their churches perennially suffer from. Moreover the circulation of air is compromised because the structure is choked by so much extraneous material.
The chapel’s formerly simple and elegant grounds have been cut up into numerous odd-shaped parcels and "decorated" with themes, awkward fountains, "decorative" odds and ends (although the statuary isn’t bad) along with an over-busy landscaping that obviously cannot be constantly maintained.
I was told that a previous parish priest run amok and turned the grounds into a succession of follies that pushed the bounds of aesthetics and gives meaning to the word "ugly." I would gladly go on a starvation vigil to have all of it removed and the chapel given back its proper and distinguished setting, however humble it may be.
The rest of the campus’ balkanized landscape suffers similar fate. Colleges cage themselves in or surround their buildings with parking lots that are pedestrian-unfriendly. The architecture of new buildings seldom relate to their surroundings while lack of funds is evident in the lack of maintenance for almost every corner of the university. Gone are the days when UP Diliman carried an image of idyllic pursuit of scholarship. Today’s students pursue the next class across unsheltered narrow sidewalks and unsafe stretches of overgrown cogon.
The space age has come and gone for UP. Vestiges of its former glory are seen in structures like the chapel but just barely. The campus seems to have been sacrificed by the gods of macroeconomics at the altar of national belt-tightening. It may also be abandoned by Delaney’s God soon if we do not make the real sacrifices needed to ensure a rational, open-minded, non-sectarian, politics-free and aesthetically-abled future for the university.
Personal Note: In 2009, my wife and I attended mass in the chapel during our annual vacation to the Philippines from US. I was also shock of the appearance and landscaping of the sorrounding area, I started to cry, hiding my tears from wife.
My wife and I have pleasant memories of our participation in the UPSCA choir for three years under the leadership of the Late Professor Antonio Molina. I first met my wife in the old UP Chapel, through her uncle Fr. Constantino Nieva(RIP), who was President of UPSCA in 1952-1953. In 1957, we got married and the decoration of our wedding cake was a 1:1000 miniature scale of the Chapel.
The following video reminds me of my college years in UP. Every time I hear it, it put a smile in my face. Push On, David!