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Life and Studies at Ateneo
The Jesuits were considered the best educators of Spain, and perhaps of Europe, and so, when they were permitted to return to the Philippines, although their power to administer parishes was restricted except in the remote regions of Mindanao, the privilege of founding colleges, they had to apply to the City of Manila for subsidies. That is why the college which began to function in the year 1865, was called the Ateneo Municipal. 

To enter the Ateneo a candidate was subjected to an entrance examination on Christian doctrine, reading, writing, grammar, and elementary arithmetic. Jose did not take his entrance examinations Jose did not remain in Manila but returned first to his town to celebrate the fiesta of its patron saint; it was then that his father changed his mind and decided to send him to the Ateneo instead.

Since Mercado, the first surname of the family, had come under suspicion of the authorities because it was the name used by Paciano when he was studying and working with Father Burgos, in whose house he lived, Jose adopted the second surname, Rizal.

Paciano who accompanied Jose, found him a house in Walled City, but Intramuros looked gloomy to Jose, and he later found lodging outside, in the house of a spinster situated on Calle Carballo, district of Santa Cruz. As if chance would furnish him data for his future campaigns, he became acquainted in that house with various mestizos, begotten by friars.

The Jesuitical system of instruction was considered more advanced than that of other colleges in that epoch. Its discipline was rigid and its methods less mechanical. It introduced physical culture as part of its program as well as the cultivation of the arts, such as music, drawing, and painting. It also establishes vocational courses in agriculture, commerce, and mechanics as a religious institute, its principal purpose was to mold the character and the will of the boys to comply more easily with the percepts of the Church. The students heard mass before the beginning of the class, which was opened and closed with prayers.

In the first two terms the classes were divided into groups of interns and externs: the first constituted the Roman Empire and the second, the Carthaginian Empire. In each empire there were five dignitaries: Emperor, Tribune, Decurion, Centurion, and Standard-Bearer. These dignities were won by means of individual competitions in which it was necessary to catch one’s adversary in error three times. The empires considered themselves in perpetual warfare, and when an individual of one empire was caught in error by one belonging to the enemy empire, a point was counted in favor of the latter. At the end of each week or two, the points in favor of each were added and the empire, which obtained more point, was declared winner.

There was a fraternity of Mary and Saint Louis Gonzaga, to which only those who distinguished themselves in the class for their piety and diligence could belong. This fraternity met on Sundays and after mass held public programs in which poems were recited or debates were held. With all these inducements it was only natural that should be a spirit of emulation, a striving to surpass ones colleagues found in the Ateneo.

The first professor Jose had was Fr. Jose Bech, whom he describes as a man of high stature; lean body, bent forward; quick gait; ascetic physiognomy, severe and inspired; small, sunken eyes; sharp Grecian nose; thin lips forming an arch with its sides directed toward the chin." He was somewhat of a lunatic and of an uneven humor; sometimes he was hard and little tolerant and at other times he was gay and playful as a child. Among Jose’s classmates were Peninsulares and sons of Peninsulares; Francisco G. Oliva, very talented but not very studious; Joaquin Garrido, endowed with a poor memory but with much talent and industry; and Gonzalo Marzano, who occupied the throne of Emperor.

From the first days Jose learned to systematize his work; he fixed a program of what he had to do in the twenty-four hours of the day and did not in the least deviate from it. Thus he disciplined his will and subjected it to the commands of his reason. 

As a newcomer, Jose was at first put at the tail of the class, but he was soon promoted and kept on being promoted so that at the end of one month he had attained to the rank of Emperor. At the end of the term he obtained marks of excellent in all the subjects and in the examinations. He had reason to feel proud of his advancement; and so when he went home on vacation that year, he ran alone to see his mother in the prison and tell her the happy news.

He must have uttered this exclamation on learning from his mother that they had played her a mean trick. The judge, who was a blind partisan of the friars having been a domestic of theirs, told her that if she confessed her culpability he would release her at once. With the desire to see her children again, she pleaded guilty; but the judge, instead of releasing her, convicted her. In a few months the judge asked her forgiveness for what he had done because according to him his conscience hurt him, but the case had no remedy because it was already on appeal. 

The second year, Jose had the same professor as in the previous year; but instead of lodging outside the City, he resided at No. 6 Calle Magallanes. At the end of the term he obtained a medal, and upon returning to his town, he again visited his mother in jail alone. This was three months before her release.

The rejoicing that her release produced in his spirit had much influence on the result of his studies in the third year, for he began to win prizes in the quarterly examinations. 

About that time he devoted himself to reading novels, and one of those he enjoyed most was Dumas’ (father) The Count of Monte Cristo. The sufferings of the hero of the twelve years. He also asked his father to buy him a copy of The Universal History by Cesar Cantanu, and according to himself he profited much from its perusal. 

The family, who saw in Jose great aptitude for study, decided to place him as intern or boarding student in the college the following year. In the corner of the dormitory facing the sea and the pier Jose passed his two years of internship.

In the fourth year of his course he had Fr. Francisco Sanchez as professor. Jose describes him as a model of rectitude, a solicitude, and love for the student, and his studied mathematics, rhetoric, and Greek, and he must have progressed much, for at the end of the year he-obtained five medals, which pleased him immensely because with them I could repay my father somewhat for his sacrifices.

His aptitude for poetry revealed itself early, and from that time on he did not cease to cultivate it.

An incident which demonstrates Jose’s independence of character took place at this time. Fr. Leoncio Lopez, parish priest of the town, who was a great friend of his father, also liked Jose as a little friend. He was cultured but at the same time timid and tender. One day Jose’s mother showed Father Lopez a poem of his young friend and that the latter must have copied it from a book. Jose, who heard this, answered the priest violently, for which his mother reprehended him. Afterward Father Lopez came to know from the Jesuits themselves that Jose was a pupil who excelled in poetry; and, in spite of his age, made a trip to Manila expressly to apologize to Jose. That gesture of Father Lopez’ won him Jose’s esteem and they became good friends again, lending each other the books they had.

In the fifth years Jose had other professors: Frs. Vilaclara and Mineves. He studied philosophy, physics, chemistry, and natural history, but his devotion to poetry was such that his professor in philosophy advised him once to leave it, which made him cry. But in his rest hours he continued cultivating the Muses under the direction of his old professor, Father Sanchez. Jose had then written a short story (leyenda), which was only slightly corrected by his professor, and a dialogue, which was enacted at the end of the course, alluding to the collegians’ farewell. However, philosophy, just and serve, inquiring into the wherefores of things, interested him as much as poetry; physics, drawing back the veil that divine drama of nature was enacted, natural history seemed to him somewhat uninteresting although he much liked the shells and sometimes imagined seeing a goddess in each shell he was on the shelf.

Jose was considered small of stature and he tried to correct this defect by applying himself regularly to gymnastics in the college. He also engaged in other physical exercises, such as fencing. After his baccalaureate, he surprised his family with his skill in handling the sword when he gave an exhibition bout with the best swordsman of the town.

He also devoted time to painting and sculpture. In drawing and painting he was under the guidance and direction of the Ateneo professor, the Peninsula Don Augustin Saez, who honored him with his affection and consideration because of his progress. In sculpture his instructor was a Filipino, Romualdo de Jesus, who felt proud in the last years of his life of having had such an excellent pupil. 

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