My misguided high school self went to the seminary. No shit.
It started out when the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) visited my high school once. My batch’s dudes, I think we were around 50 then, were herded into the school’s AVR to listen to a priest and a novice talk about the wonders of joining the clergy. They talked about themselves as missionaries, which to be fair, was a standard they upheld well. The OMI are sent to some of the poorest or most conflict-ridden areas of the Philippines, bringing the word of God with them. Hearing them talk about it filled my young mind with stories of roughing it, immersing myself in other people’s lives, bringing guidance. It sounded cool.
The talk ended with them asking us if we’d like to try and stay overnight at one of their seminaries in Katipunan. Five guys and I signed up. There, we spent a night hanging out with the novices and the priests, talking about how it is to live a life devoted to God. We ate, played table tennis, watched a movie, and talked until the night grew old about life, our futures, God, missionary work, and how hot wearing a priest’s garb really is. After breakfast the following morning, they asked if we were ready to take the next step: join their two-month summer program to get a real feel of seminary life. Basically, your first step to denouncing pussy for the rest of your life. I signed up for that shit.
Me and a four other boys that I didn’t know were shipped off to Cotabato City a week later, to the OMI’s seminary in Notre Dame University. When I got there, after a flurry of travel, I cried, really hard. It was the first time I was so far away from my family, and I was a bit… well, needy back in those days. Imagine that, 4th year high school and still a wuss. (Still am, actually.) I brought along my laptop to the seminary, and pre-loaded it with a ton of anime and movies (and some porn, cause you know, teenagers need their porn.)
The summer program consisted of over 40 boys, all fresh out of high school, most hailing from Mindanao. There were just 5 of us “Manila boys” and I found it hard to keep up with their conversations, which were mostly held in Ilonggo / Cebuano. They did, however, consider us poor city folk, and soon enough a lot more people have started using Tagalog as the vernacular. Which was cool. I met a lot of interesting people – a scout for the MILF, a farmer, a freediver (I WAS SO JEALOUS OF HIM), a mama’s boy, a village pugilist, and an honor student. Everyone was very interesting, and we all came together, misguided as we were, to try and figure out if this was the life for us. We shall see.
It was an experience, all right. Our mornings would start really early. There was a daily mass, every morning at 5 am. We would wake up to the sound of a bell being rung, and we would shuffle ourselves, more than a little sleep-deprived, to the chapel. Our rector, let’s call him Father John, would preside over the ceremony. After that, it’s breakfast, consisting mostly of fish, a vegetable side, and rice. I was a very picky eater and I didn’t like fish, so what I would do is ask for some oil and soy sauce from the kitchen and I would mix it with my rice, and boom. That’s my food for the day.
After breakfast, we were herded to our classes, summer classes if you will. Our subjects, if I remember right, were basic theology, Maguindanaon, and a computer class (which of course, I would finish up really early and spend the rest of the class playing vidya.) Basic theology was fun. It was less Catholic cathechism and more of a general Philosophy class. We were introduced to those Greeks: Plato, Socrates, Anaximander and more, discussing what it means to be and all that bullshit. We all went through college I presume so I’m gonna skip the particulars. Maguindanaon class was fun, it was a study not just in their language but in their culture as well. Our teacher was a tough-looking man of about 50 years, and he exposed us to the ways and customs of the Maguindanaon, taught us the necessary cusswords, and their beliefs on kulam. He told us not to haggle with them when purchasing a product, lest a hex be cast upon you. I believed that shit.
Usually, after lunch was siesta time. You could choose to take a nap, or you could do your laundry. Enterprising me used to pay a dormmate to wash my clothes for me – it was really cheap as well. Two kilos for 40 pesos + soap? Fuck yeah for a few hours of sleep. Come the afternoon when the sun isn’t too hot, we would be sent out to do our chores, which included maintenance of the grounds, feeding the pigs (we had pigs and we gave them names too,) cleaning our dorms, kitchen duty. Every other day, we did sports. Participation was mandatory, and unathletic me found that I liked volleyball. We played basketball, of course (rest in piece my first pair of Chuck Taylors) and football (which my Chuck Taylors also experienced) oh and softball (in which I was so scared of the ball and the intensity in which a fellow seminarian threw at me with so much force and seriousness.)
Sundays were our only days out. We were allowed three hours out in the town, one of which we would spend attending mass at the local cathedral. The rest we spent in a mall, or the market, picking up essentials and extras. I relished these as these were the only times I could explore Cotabato City. There wasn’t much to see, to be honest, and I spent a lot of time in a computer shop close to the school. I would look voraciously for a snack I fell for, which they called pastel. It was nothing more than rice topped with adobo (chicken or pork, because halal) and wrapped in banana leaves. But I loved that shit, slathered it in soy sauce and garlic and ate it like a burger.
Life there was simple, routinary, and, at times, fun. Most of the time, I would be spending idle hours contemplating about my choices, and my faith. I tried to find internally a desire to stay on this course, and see what happens. But my faith back then was falling behind, to be honest. I started realizing what I didn’t like about Catholicism, and the idea of being a part of a system that I didn’t believe in put me off. Eventually, the two months were over and we were interviewed one-by-one by Father John.
He asked me if I enjoyed my time there, and I honestly said yes. My friends were fun, I liked the routines we had. The college was interesting as well, and it opened communication between Muslims and Catholics, and I was finding their culture very interesting. He asked if I wanted to stay and… well, I just said no. I didn’t know if I wanted to, but I wanted to go home and mull it over. He knew it wasn’t for me, though. He said, plainly: “You won’t be coming back.” Little old me was so afraid to disappoint anyone that I said, “No, I will, I just need to think about it!” Father John just smiled, and dismissed me. And that was that.
That night, it was the last night for the summer program. Apparently, I was the only one in the group who chose to opt out of the actual seminary program. To celebrate, we were allowed by the priests to stay up late and do pretty much all we wanted to. And of course, that meant roughhousing for the boys. Armed with pillows, our dorm invaded other dorms and started whacking the God-loving shit out of our fellow seminarians, which resulted in an all-out pillow fight accross five dorms. It was, and still is, one of the best experiences of my life. I miss those assholes.
I guess I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to work for something I didn’t believe in, but sometimes, I really do miss those days. I had a schedule to follow, and the pressure to do it. I had friends there who didn’t judge me, and we all got along famously. But it just wasn’t for me. However, I’m still very much thankful for the experience, even if I did end up unsubscribing from the religion in the long run. If you asked me if I could go back and do it again, my answer would be yas, many times yas.
But we grow old and move on, and all we have are fond memories of what we used to do.