In 1947, the Oblate Fathers took the initiative of setting up a Notre Dame high school in Jolo. Starting with only a handful of students in a small wooden building, the school however made much progress in a short span of time. In fact, it grew so fast that in 1953, Father Emile Bolduc then parish priest of Jolo – suggested to the other Oblate Fathers the idea of putting up a school on the college level. To be sure, the idea was not a new one. The people had been clamoring for years for such a school that could provide college opportunities for students who could not afford to study outside of Jolo. And attempts had been made by other educators to answer this need. But until Father Bolduc came up with his suggestion, no serious and sincere efforts were made to remedy the plight of those unfortunate students. And it was to the greatness of his pioneering spirit that Father Bolduc did more than just make the suggestion; more than anything else, it was his determination and the encouragement he gave which were responsible for transforming the idea into a reality.
For his great work, Father Emile Bolduc is today recognized as the founder of Notre Dame of Jolo College.
Notre Dame of Jolo High School in 1947
Father Emile Bolduc, founder of Notre Dame of Jolo College and Father Francis McSorley.
The Early Years
The Notre Dame of Jolo College opened for classes in June of 1954 with Father Maurice Hemann then head of the Notre Dame High School – as its first director. Fifty- eight students enrolled in the only two courses offered: twenty-nine in secretarial science and an equal number in elementary education. Classes were held from five o’clock in the afternoon to nine o’clock in the evening. Together with the director, Sisters Marie Eustelle and Louise de Notre Dame of the Presentation of Mary and nine lay instructors composed the original teaching staff.
Though the enrollment was insignificant, the new school showed great hope for progress. The next year, another two courses were offered: secondary education and liberal arts. When Father Hemann went south that year to head another Notre Dame there, Father Robert Callahan took over as the college’s second director.
In 1956, Father Charles Prass was appointed during Father Prass’s term that commerce was added to the curriculum. And because of a marked increase in enrollment, the school building was extended for the third time on its south side to house new library and laboratory. Many will still remember that it was in the lecture room of this laboratory that Father Prass introduced his Speech Clinic-a course then so new-fangled that everybody wanted to enroll in it. Mount Carmel School, which until then some unknowing people still identified as a school separate from Notre Dame, became the training department for students taking education courses; it was renamed Notre Dame of Jolo Elementary School.
These were notable events during the early part of Father Prass’s term. And the most significant was yet to take place.
In 1958, the Fathers decided to expand Notre Dame’s physical plant. The enrollment by then had grown to more than three hundred students and it was becoming clear that very soon, not all of them would be accommodated in the only building on the campus. Moreover, age was beginning to tell on the wooden schoolhouse: termites had bored through every board and post, and the whole structure seemed on the dangerous verge of collapsing.
Notre Dame College in 1954
Accordingly, plans were made. In the early part of 1959, work started on the one-storey building along Sanchez Street. Its completion was followed soon afterward by that of the main building, a handsome two storey structure fronting Plaza Rizal. In 1960, as soon as classes had moved into the new classrooms, the old wooden building was torn down to give way for an auditorium. The auditorium, when finally finished, completed the campus quadrangle. Named Bolduc Auditorium in honor of Notre Dame’s founder, it quickly became the pride of the students and the showplace of the school. Incorporating the most modern features of acoustic, light, and sound, the auditorium even drew the admiration of people who have seen better places outside of Jolo.
But it was to be used only once: during the concert given by world-famed Filipino violinist Gilopez Kabayao.
Destruction and Reconstruction
A few days after the Kabayao concert exactly three days after the start of the semestral vacation – the auditorium and the other buildings were in ruins – destroyed by the great fire that swept through Jolo on the morning of October 19, 1960
Students and Fathers alike were left dazed by the sense lessness of the tragedy; for the first time, the spirit was put to a severe test. The damage wrought by the fire was so extensive that thoughts of rehabilitation staggered the imagination of not a few dispirited students. A student who came to view the still smoldering heaps of rubbles was later to write, “…..I thought we would lose Her forever.” This statement might seem a little too maudlin now that Notre Dame has been rebuilt, but it could have very well expressed the feelings of many another student who saw Notre Dame in ruins that morning.
The new building a few days before the fire.
The aftermath of the fire on October 19, 1960
But even as classes for the second semester resumed under the skeletal remains of the ruined buildings, reconstruction work had already been started. Four months after the debacle, the auditorium was rebuilt and ready for the commencement exercises.
Today, Notre Dame continues to serve with devotion the educational needs of the people of Sulu. Every effort is being made to provide only the best for those who come to seek knowledge from her.
Perhaps more than any other educational institution in Sulu, Notre Dame College has single-handedly aroused a consciousness for higher education never felt before among the people of this province. Each year, more and more students enroll in Notre Dame to take advantage of the opportunities being offered. They come from every part of Sulu, and they are as motley a group of young people as one can ever hope to meet. Here are Tausugs, Samals, Visayans, Tagalogs, Arabs, and Chinese; Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and Buddhists.
Leading observers of the so-called “Sulu Problem” believe that education principally will solve the social and eco nomic ills that beset this province. By educating and training these students, Notre Dame is contributing much to the pro gress of Sulu. In turn, by learning to live and work together in an atmosphere of harmony and cooperation, these students of diverse and conflicting backgrounds are, unconsciously, forming themselves into the nucleus of a force that will one day change the course of this province.
The NDJC Main building