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Tom Rosario and the Light of Being

I was supposed to write a column to share my reflections on the Gospel reading for the Second Day of Advent. But yesterday, news came of the passage into eternal life of a friend and colleague of nearly 40 years, Professor Tom Rosario of Ateneo de Manila. For a moment, when I heard the news and consumed by grief, Advent seemed so far away. I will write that column for next Tuesday instead.

I first met Tomas G. Rosario in 1978. He was still a graduate student of philosophy in Ateneo de Manila University then, writing a thesis on Saint Thomas Aquinas. We shared a teacher Fr. Francis Reilly who taught us undergraduate philosophy students Metaphysics and Epistemology, introducing us also to Thomistic philosophy. Tom was mentored by Fr. Reilly and would soon be recruited into the philosophy faculty of Ateneo de Manila. Eventually, I would join that faculty and Tom and I would become colleagues for nearly a decade before I moved to Diliman to become a law professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law. Tom, on the other hand, would go on teaching in Ateneo and finish his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Santo Tomas.

Even before Tom and I became fellow travellers in the philosophical enterprise, we became good friends in Cervini Hall. Tom and I were part of a barkada, a group of friends in the Ateneo dormitory, that regularly went out together to eat, drink, and have fun (with Tom, only clean fun was allowed as he would shake his head if anyone suggested something naughty). We even travelled together, do road trips to places like Albay, Sorsogon, Baguio City, and the Ilocos region. We frequently went to Tagaytay City because Francis Tolentino was part of our group. Jay Carlos, Nolly Singca, Dindo Katigbak, Inan Floreindo, Chito Santos, and my brother Pompee were part of that barkada.

Tom became our focal point, our anchor, because even as we all moved on, Tom stayed in Cervini as prefect and in the Loyola campus as philosopher, for four more decades, indeed up to the end of his mortal life. It is only fitting that he will be brought back to the Ateneo Campus on this Friday and be sent off to Pangasinan for burial on Sunday. There will be an 8 p.m. mass, sponsored by the Philosophy Department, on Saturday, Dec. 9.

I think I speak for most of our Cervini barkada when I say that we will miss Tom terribly. Although I have not had a long conversation with him for a while, it was good to know he was around. I thought he will be there forever.

Conversations with Tom were confessional; he was not a priest and could not absolve us of our sins but his advice was always rock-solid, unwavering and principled, consistently practical, but never judgmental. He was a good listener, conveying approval or disapproval if necessary but, for the latter, always kindly. He would just shake his head —affectionately. as contradictory as that seems.

Tom was reliable during happy and sad moments. You could come to him to celebrate and to cry. He was especially good at moral dilemmas. His training in Thomistic thinking came handy for those of us who were in crisis.

Tom kept secrets. In fact, my initial reaction when I saw the news that he passed away was this: Who can I share my secrets to now? How could you, Tom, leave so fast without a final conversation? You go with so many secrets that many of us confided to you. In my case, it’s only you that I told some secrets too, and I have forgotten some of them and especially those whispered to you nearly forty years ago. And when we meet, you would remind me of them! Who would remind me of those secrets now?

Tom of course will also be remembered for his philosophical work. The Philosophy Department of Ateneo de Manila University is one of the best in the world, possibly number one in Asia. The young philosophers in that department, with doctorates from all over the world (including those finishing their degrees), never stops to amaze me. But what we have there now must be credited to our pioneers—the Jesuits of course (only Father Roque Ferriols is with us now) and the lay persons especially Doctors Ramon Reyes, Manny Dy, Leo Garcia, Eddie Calasanz, Tonette Palma-Angeles, and Tom.

Like all philosophers, to the end, Tom had an inquisitive mind. More recently for example, he is said to have been working on Richard Rorty. Aquinas and Rorty—that’s a conversation I would have wanted with Tom during these confusing days of political anomie.

I like very much how Rayvi Sunico, another colleague from the Philosophy Department, described Tom: “After Fr Francis Reilly had gone, Dr Tom Rosario became our resident Thomist at the Philo Department. His smile and great humor added much light to the three rooms of our old office, reminding me often of Plotinus’s light in us that participates in the great glow of Being. Ave atque value, Tom.”

Tom Rosario was best described by his master Saint Thomas Aquinas: “Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.” And definitely, our friendship of four decades is best described also by Aquinas: “Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.”

For those of us who loved Tom and who was graced with his friendship, and to his many philosophy students, especially those who took his undergraduate ethics and philosophy of religion, he was beloved not the least because of his smile. That beatific smile will always be my best memory of Tom Rosario. Such a radiant smile could only come from one who had seen and generously shared to others the light of being.

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