Along she goes strutting herself in the stretch of Taft Avenue. A university professor, a separated mother of two, a devout Catholic who does not preach nor dwell on conservatism—the epitome of a modern-day renaissance woman.
I figuratively collide into her on sudden, random times; I ask her for recommendations and academic concerns; I consider her as my second mother—customarily calling her as, Mrs. Paz, or simply Ms. Hope. Maria Paz Esperanza Villacorta-Bayani-Quijano was born on the fourth of November 1961, being an intricate woman of passion, devoutness, and reputation. She is most commonly known as Hope Bayani—her alias name since she was a teenage writer. Having met her as my professor in Technical Writing during my first year as an Information Systems student in La Salle, a similarity in Catholicism ideology—being devotees of Padre Pio da Pietrelcina—is what, though, brought our inclination to be connected vigorously.
During the fourth meeting of my class with her, she mentioned about being a staunch devotee of Padre Pio da Pietrelcina—simply, Saint Pio—a renowned saint and Capuchin priest for having had a stigmata for fifty years of his life, and who possessed other spiritual gifts—the gift of bilocation, levitation, physical and spiritual healing. He has remained our all-time favorite Saint because, in spite of his many spiritual gifts, he maintained his touch with the masses through his gift of giving confession from dusk to night. He knows exactly what your sins are, and what sins you have not yet confessed. He was very loving, but he was also very strict.
All throughout the trimester, Ms. Hope always invoked Padre Pio in her prayers before and after class, as if it would exorcise the evil spirits lurking in our classroom. And I think she did it on purpose to calm her nerves upon entering a class of “Johnny Bravos,” “Britney Spears,” “Tattooed Guys,” “Giggling Girls,” “Fashionistas,” “Geeks,” “Sleepyheads,” “Bora Boys,” “Chatterboxes” and “Grade-Counting Hypocrites.” Apparently, this practice of invoking Padre Pio and Mama Mary, has proved to be effective, for by the end of trimester, we were all learning well in the spirit of intellectual pursuit with fun, camaraderie, goodwill, peppered with snippets of religious “indoctrinations”.
Mrs. Paz is the great, great, great granddaughter of Marcella Agoncillo, one of the three women who created the first flag of the Republic of the Philippines, and Teodoro Agoncillo, one of the renowned Filipino historians of the 20th century in the Philippines, who authored “The History of the Filipino People,” which remains a standard favorite textbook of many universities and colleges. Her grandfathers and uncles on her maternal side, Villacorta-Agoncillos, are mostly physicians and surgeons, deans and diplomats, and historians and nationalists. While on her paternal side, some of her aunties and cousins are summa cum laudes, magna cum laudes, board top notchers, and high-profile lawyers.
She is formerly married to Manuel Wenceslao-Quijano, a lawyer and alumnus of the Ateneo de Manila University, who serves as the legal counsel for renown Philippine government personages like Senator Richard Gordon, Senator Eduardo Angara, Senator Franklin Drillon, and Mayor James Gordon. She has 20-year-old fraternal twins—a male and a female. Her son, Manuel, is a Business Management student in the University of Asia and the Pacific and a former well-loved fraternity head. While her daughter, Angel, willowy at 5’8”, is a Psychology student in De La Salle University and an active Student Government officer. Both siblings are consistent Dean’s listers and sought-after product endorsers. But they have been turning down the talent scouts for they are camera-shy and hates location shootings. According to Ms. Hope, both siblings have lost 80 to 100 lbs. each, which speaks of their sheer determination, discipline, focus, visualization, and a positive outlook in life.
Despite the prominent family background, which she never disclosed, she manages to spend time doing usual chores, like cleaning her high-maintenance condominium unit, feeding her docile and very affectionate black poodle, and dancing vigorously at the age of fifty. In fact, she lives the world with copious dreams, rainbow-like existence, activity-laden days, purpose-driven life, God, and for God.
Having had a consistent, convent education in Saint Theresa’s College, Manila, from kindergarten to high school, Saint Scholastica’s College, Manila for her Bachelor of Arts, major in English Literature, and De La Salle University for her Master of Arts (candidate, double major, Language and Literature), she eminently rocked her career as a writer throughout the span of her professional life. She had served as a correspondent of Times Journal, in which she had published numerous articles that merited front-page by-lines—all being still in archives. From having such prestige to date, she had kept a lifestyle of hectic schedules, sprawling with opportunities day-by-day. She just never seemed to have a hiatus from getting out of work, having taught for 28 years in prestigious academic institutions.
Twist of conservatism
My beloved professor is a study in contrast. Ms. Hope can conduct herself in a very modern way in terms of fashion and lifestyle—one who adheres to making first impressions (because they last). She has made it a point to coordinate her accessories from head to toe. She goes with ethnic jeans during Sunday masses, big diamonds at nights, monochromatic metal on funky days, beady on casual days, pearly on corporate days, minimalist on hippity-hop days (hiphop days), and sporty on golf days—my golf buddy!
She always tells us, her students, in La Salle to be humble, gentle, and patient. But she will not hesitate to engage into a mean, verbal pyrotechnics when she feels she is intentionally slighted or other people being demeaned. With her intrinsic youthful lifestyle, she managed to create this relatable environment with my fellow classmates—well-loved—and well-respected. She is even updated with pop culture!—latest music, jokes, preppy jargons, dance steps, and fashion. In her lifetime, she has danced the boogie and the dougie, and the rumba and the la bamba.
From her issue-oriented being, her stance on some social issues are, indeed, very conservative. She is anti-RH (reproductive health) bill, anti-abortion, anti-mining, anti-drugs, anti-adultery, and last but not the least, anti-trafficking of women and children. She would tell my female classmates to be subservient to their future husbands—to love them and to serve them. On the same light, she also told my female classmates to leave their husbands at the first sign of infidelity and physical abuse. Such proactive concerns for the society and the way she lives her life makes her my candidate for a 21st-century version of a living saint sans the make-up, the bangles and the dangles, and the boots and the bangs.
I am not surprised at all that she is the favorite cover girl of students for their student magazines, and has modeled for several student magazines, for she reminds us of how it is to have grace under pressure, joy in the midst of crisis, and God in the center of her universe… a beauty that never seems to fade.
An intrinsic devotion to Catholic ideologies never failed to amuse my intellectual and spiritual discourses with her. She considers among her best girlfriends Saint Rita of Italy, Saint Philomena of Greece, Saint Scholastica of Nursia, Saint Theresa de Avila of Spain, Saint Therese of Lisieux, and Saint Faustina of the Divine Mercy “3-o’clock” prayer. Among her boyfriends, Padre Pio da Pietrelcina tops the list. Next in line is Saint Benedict (the twin sister of Saint Scholastica of Nursia). Then Saint Jude de Thadeus, Saint Expeditus, and Saint Joseph, the father of her greatest lover, Jesus Christ.
She talks to these boyfriends and girlfriends of her on a first-person basis as if they are seated next to her. In fact, she even converse with Padre Pio while walking to school, and she talks to Saint Therese while cooking, and Saint Rita when praying for her twins. And believe it or not, all her prayers are answered. Factual or not, that is what she believes in, and that is where we agree. For her, it is what is faith is all about, what grace is all about, and what mystery is all about—plain and simple abiding in Christ.
She continuously reads on the lives of the saints, and has probably read more than a hundred books on saints and their lives, and has a collection of more than a hundred rosaries and bags of novenas which she reads depending on her need. Being childless for two years, she “novenaed” to Saint Scholastica, and was given twins—a boy and a girl. It was only a years after that she found out that Saint Scholastica has a twin brother too—Saint Benedict. When her dog poodle, Porkchop, is sick, she prays to Saint Francis (patron saint for animals). For example, when she was pregnant, she “novenaed” to Saint Gerard (patron saint for mothers), when she is finding for something, she chants a rhyme she learned from school,
“Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony,
please come to me,
I’ll find it maybe,
because I’m your baby.”
To expedite a project she is doing, she prays to Saint Expeditus. For desperate cases, she turns to Saint Rita (patron saint for hopeless cases). The list goes on and on, and I find it amusing for a modern lady to be so dependent on prayers and has a child-like faith in God, while others collect signature items (which she has, anyway). She avidly collects small and big religious statues, crucifixes and prayer books.
She credits the powerful saints and her God to be the main reason why she never even has to look for a job. Jobs literally come, knocking on her door, strengthening her faith that God and Jesus Christ are the best job-hunters who has the right connection at the right time and at the right place. Numerous times, she would start working on the same day of her first interview, without any resume and any other requirements. People would say that it is plain and simple luck, but she would say it is God’s hand at work.
Blessings from God
She has no pretensions about being an intellectual giant, unlike the rest of the academia, who brags about their M.A.s and Ph.D.s. She is so secured and confident of herself, and believes that she can do anything under the sun. And guess what, she can. This is where her other side surfaces—she is an avid practitioner of New Age doctrines and practices, such as visualizations, rigorous meditations, and thought magnetisms—and utilizes them for her maximum benefits. For example, she lost weight through sheer determination and visualization (from 200 lbs. to 130 lbs.). She gets any job she likes through auto-suggestion. I am a witness to these: she became an Academic Director for a foreign language center, and she is now a Curriculum Director for Center for Language Excellence (CLE) for an Australian tele-tech company that has a tie-up with the Philippine government. Together with these, she still teaches English in top universities of the world (De La Salle University as one of the 551 to 600 top universities in the world, cited by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings and Asiaweek, in 2011).
In spite of all her achievements, she maintains that all these New Age doctrines are just earthly instruments of the Lord Almighty, and that all the power emanates from God. Thus, her daily mantra is, “Thank you, Jesus,” which she recites softly throughout the day, and which she would patiently message to her students, relatives and colleagues. I am sure her spiritual gurus are smiling because they have succeeded in honing the way a 21st-century, renaissance woman should be.
As I am writing this, I can envision Ms. Hope dancing on stage doing a difficult jazz routine with her rosary in her pocket, uttering, “Thank you, Jesus,” while impishly giving dagger looks to their dance choreographer, and wanting to vociferate… “Crazy, dude!”
Bayani is a Filipino term that means hero. Ms. Hope, being the heroine of her own life and the lives of many of us, her students… her family, friends, and colleagues.
“Hope and Her Bible”
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, One Archers Place, De La Salle University, Taft Avenue
Josh Layson Photography © 2012