The life on an outstanding Jesuit

KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) August 28, 2017

The life of an outstanding Jesuit

Jesuit Communications invites everyone to the launching of the book, In the Footsteps of St. Ignatius of Loyola: The Life of Bishop Federico O. Escaler, S,J., D.D. on Thursday, Aug. 31 at 3 p.m. at the Cardinal Sin Center, Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Co-published by Jesuit Communications and Ernest Escaler, the book is designed by Nix Tolentino.

Testimonials will be offered by special guests Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle and Archbishop Antonio Ledesma. Also expected to grace the launch are members of the Escaler family as well as former colleagues and friends of the book’s subject, who passed away on Nov. 28, 2015, at the age of 93.

Interested parties can confirm attendance with Catherine Cardoz at 426-5971 or through Nanette Villanueva at

Full disclosure: I wrote the biography at the behest of Ernest Escaler, a nephew of the Bishop who spent much time with him upon his retirement, leading a party of other young relatives in touring Rome, Lourdes and other European capitals, when “Tito Fredde” or “Bish” was already in his 80s.

Besides Ernest, I got to interview many other relations in the large clan, all of whom had remained proud of Freddie’s accomplishments as a religious luminary, and grateful for his constant presence in their lives, presiding over weddings, christenings, and all other family events.

These interviewees included cousins Mundi Feliciano, Lydia Escaler De Leon, Chita Gamboa Puno, Nena Ocampo Villanueva, Pandot Ocampo, Piluchi Ocampo Fernandez and Sister Tess, nieces Cecilia Puno, Marichi Gana Picasso, Dida Escaler de Leon, Ditas Escaler Khourrie, Nanettte Villanueva, and niece-in-law Ching Escaler.

Interviews were also conducted face-to-face with Bishop Freddie’s early schoolmates, Justice Renato Puno and Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S.J., as well as other fellow Jesuits who enjoyed his friendship in the latter stages of his life. Among these were Fr. Tony Moreno, S.J., provincial superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines, and Fr. Joe Quilongquilong, S.J. 

Interviews by email helped flesh up the biography, with important inputs from Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J, as well as from other religious who had engaged closely with him when he served serially as Bishop of the Kidapawan and Ipil prelatures in Mindanao. We must thank Fr. Jun Viray, S.J., Fr. Sammy Dizon, S.J., Bro. Quips, Sr. Regina Pil, RGS of Cebu City, Leila Rispens, Joel Porras, and Sr. Marjorie J. Guingona, SAC.

Bro. Karl Gaspar, CSsR, who writes for MindaNews, Inc., offerred substantial recollections since first meeting then Fr. Escaler at Ateneo de Davao in 1963. Our research was also beefed up considerably by Toto Gonzalez with his rich trove of documentation on the Ocampo and Escaler lineage and Pampanga lore.

Bishop Escaler drew the national limelight in 1985 when he and some companions were kidnapped by a band of Muslims on the road from Ipil to Zamboanga City. Their three-day ordeal in the wilds was headlined internationally. Then President Marcos later expressed umbrage at how one Jesuit in particular seemed to want to embarrass his government. At the time, Bishop Escaler had already joined other religious notables in standing up to Marcos.

In 1995, Bishop Escaler again figured in a woeful crisis, the heaviest in his episcopal ministry, when Ipil was attacked by a motley group of rebels that introduced Abu Sayyaf notoriety. They razed the market place to the ground, fired indiscriminately at civilians, killed six policemen at their outpost, looted two banks, and left behind 60 or more persons dead. 

Bishop Escaler bravely went around to give solace to the wounded and organized efforts to get the town back on its feet. Two years later, he finally retired at the age of 75, having fulfilled the objectives outlined by the Society of Jesus. He had become a teacher and a professor in the different Ateneos, a catechist and a pastor, and a spiritual guide to generations of Filipinos.

He had served Ateneo as a Minister at San Jose Seminary, then as Executive Assistant to the Rev. Father Provincial, as Director of Retreats of the Province from 1957 to 1961, as Superior of La Ignaciana Retreat House till 1963, as Rector and President of Ateneo de Davao till 1966, as Treasurer of the Philippine Province till 1973, and as Rector and President of Xavier University till 1976.

It was Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J., who had taught him in the Ateneo High School and at the novitiate, who delivered the homily at the episcopal consecration when Federico Escaler was ordained as Bishop on July 31, 1976 at the Manila Cathedral,

In our only interview several months before his demise, he recounted how he was in school on that day in 1933 when Ateneo, then in Intramuros, was engulfed in flames. He was 11 years old and in Grade 6. Of his high school days, he recalled being classmates with Jobo Fernandez, Jess de la Paz and Ricardo Puno. And when he studied in the United States before priesthood, his contemporaries included Roque Ferriols, Jesus Diaz and Catalino Arévalo, who were also of the Novaliches novitate Class of 1941.

At the necrological rites on Dec. 1, 2015 at the Church of the Gesu, it was his lifelong friend Fr. Catalino G. Arévalo, S.J. who delivered the homily, titled “En Todo Amar Y Servir.”

Following are excerpts from the book, parts of Fr. Joe Quilongquilong, S.J.’s recollection of the Escalers’ visit to Rome in 2007 to attend the canonization of Sr. Marie Eugenie.

“(It) rained the whole time, so that after the Gloria, I had to take the Bishop away from St. Peter’s Square because he was already shivering. He was very wet with rain, and I was concerned about his health.

“So I brought him to the Curia while the rest of the family remained in St. Peter’s Square, except for Ernest Escaler who came with us. While waiting for the rest, I suggested to the bishop that we visit the Jesuit archives in the General Curia of the Jesuits.

“… (T)he supreme highlight of that visit was when the archivist showed him what we call ‘The Treasures of the Society.’ We went to another section where we have this vault, and the archivist opened the vault and took out the original diary of St. Ignatius of Loyola. And he asked the Bishop to hold that diary and even open its pages so he could read the handwriting of St. Ignatius. The diary was written in 1538.

“… (H)is visit to Rome was really, in a way, a recalling of his roots as a Jesuit. As a young Jesuit, I was also very moved at seeing him so happy and so consoled. For him it must have felt like an affirmation that his years with the Jesuits were really years of that commitment as a religious. And seeing those original items from the time of St. Ignatius really gave him so much joy.

“He was teary-eyed when he was shown the items. ‘Wow,’ he said, ‘these are all the items of St. Ignatius, his very diary.’ He could not believe that he was holding history right there, from the time of St. Ignatius himself. It was really a connection with the founder.”