“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
What do I know about Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, OP? I know him as the former Rector of the University of Santo Tomas (UST). I know him as a teacher, preacher, and a historian. I know him for the numerous books and newspaper articles and columns he has written. But after a brief interview with him, I realized that the sum of my ignorance far surpasses my knowledge of him.
Fr. Roland (as I fondly call him) was born on June 27, 1953 in Manila but he practically grew up in Legazpi City. No one would probably think that the young Roland would later become a Catholic priest because of he came from a broken family and his father had been a Mormon elder. Understandably, his father opposed Fr. Roland’s decision to become a Dominican priest. He never once visited and even wrote to Fr. Roland during his formative years; nor did he attend his ordination. It was Fr. Roland’s mother (a devout Catholic) who had supported his dream of becoming a Dominican priest.
He spent his elementary and high school days in Aquinas University in Legazpi City, Albay. After high school he took up Engineering, but he secretly wished to become a Dominican because of his great admiration for Fr. Ramon Salinas, OP, Rector of Aquinas University. When he was in his third year in the University of Santo Tomas, he decided to enter the Dominican Order with the help of Fr. Reynaldo Adalid, OP, who was then the Master of Postulants. Fr. Roland stayed for one year in Letran College where the postulancy was located, without the knowledge of his father. It was Bishop Jose Salazar, OP, who persuaded Fr. Roland’s father to sign the needed parent’s consent so he could proceed to the Novitiate. Prior to this, he was baptized “conditionally” by Fr. Honorato Castigador because all attempts to retrieve the baptismal certificate in the churches mentioned by Fr. Roland’s mother were in vain. He must have been baptized in a non-Catholic rite.
He made his profession to the Order on May 20, 1974 and was ordained priest on April 3, 1982. Although his father was absent during his ordination, he attended Fr. Roland’s Thanksgiving Mass in Legazpi City. Did he convert to the Catholic religion? Fr. Roland said the only indication of his father’s change of heart was that he requested for a priest to listen to his confession before he died.
When it comes to offices and administration, there is so much to say about Fr. Roland. Just a few weeks after his ordination, he was already appointed the second Master of Novices of the Dominican Province of the Philippine, succeeding Fr. Eduardo Alapide, OP. He held this position for two years until he was assigned to the Priory of St. Thomas Aquinas. After serving as Regent of the UST College of Arts and Letter for a year, he obtained a scholarship grant at the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium from 1985 to 1988, through the help of Fr. Frederik Fermin. He obtained two doctorate degrees there in a span of only three years. He came back to the Philippines in 1989 and was appointed Regent of the College of Education Elementary Department, and subsequently Assistant Secretary General. In 1990, he was elected Rector of UST in 1990, perhaps the youngest to ever hold that position. After two terms as Rector, he was elected Prior of the Priory of St. Thomas Aquinas. Upon finishing his term as Prior, he asked the Provincial to allow him to take a respite from all administrative work, but he was appointed instead Rector and President of Colegio de San Juan de Letran-Calamba in 2003.
His rectorship in Letran-Calamba was cut short when the President of the Philippines appointed him Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in 2004. Finding very little support for his many advocacies and educational reforms, and harassed by owners of substandard schools which he had closed, he resigned from this government position in 2005.
After his brief stint in the CHED, he again requested the Provincial to free him from administrative work so could focus on ministries which he considers as specifically Dominican: preaching, writing, teaching, and giving retreats and recollections especially to the clergy and religious. For a while, he got his wish, but in 2007 the Master of the Order came to the country and appointed him Acting Rector of UST. In 2008, he was installed Rector of the university, for the third time, until 2012.
Despite the many problems in UST that the Master asked him to resolve, he still found time to prepare for a grand and unforgettable celebration of the Quadricentennial of the university. It was during his last four years as Rector of the university that the the UST Simbahayan was established; the Quadricentennial Pavilion was constructed as well as the UST Alumni Center, also known as the BGPOP. He also spearheaded the construction of the new Doctors’ Clinics and the foundation of the new UST Hospital.
In 2013, he was tapped by the Master of the Order to be the Director of École Biblique in Jerusalem, and in 2016 he was elected Rector of Angelicum-Rome. He apologetically declined both appointments.
Fr. Roland was assigned in Sto. Domingo Convent on August 27, 2016. During his first days in the convent, I thought that he was just on vacation before moving to Rome. I did not know that he had already declined the office of Rector of Angelicum-Rome.
In all honesty, I was amazed at how simple and down- to-earth, Fr. Roland is. He said that his work as Rector for many years is perhaps the most challenging and nerve-wracking; preaching and writing are the most enjoyable; but giving retreats and recollections to the clergy and religious are the most fulfilling. To date, he has already given clergy retreats to 23 Dioceses. He believes that this is a form of apostolate that can immensely contribute to the renewal of the Church. He said: “The renewal of the Church always begins with the renewal of the clergy and the religious.” He hopes that the Province would establish a team of Dominicans whose main work is giving retreats to the clergy and religious.
When I visited his room which he personally renovated, I was amazed at how he had transformed a once-dilapidated place into a cozy and elegant room. He said that one of his principles in life is “to leave a place much better than he found it.”
His most treasured memories are his brief personal encounters with Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. Photos of them with Fr. Roland hang in his room, but these caught my attention. How many of us has a photo with canonized saints?
Last but not the least, Fr. Roland is a man who loves to study history. Not because he is teaching it, but because he believes that history gives us priceless insight about the present and the future. He thinks many Filipino Dominicans do not appreciate the importance and significance of the Province because they hardly bother to know its past.
“We cannot love what we do not know,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas. How can we love the Province if we are ignorant of its birth and development, its achievements and setbacks? How can we be grateful to the Dominicans who went ahead of us, if we don’t know how much they have done the move the Province forward? And how can we avoid committing the same mistakes that were committed in the past, if we don’t even know what these mistakes were, mistakes that continue to haunt us until now? I saw in Fr. Roland’s room many books either written by him or about him, as well as folders of articles both published and unpublished. True to being a historian, Fr. Roland meticulously keeps a record of all the retreats he had attended since his novitiate year. Notebooks containing his daily gospel reflections, dating back to 1977 are still preserved, written in beautiful penmanship. And so, to my fellow young Dominicans, I believe that it will be a good idea to start honing our historical consciousness. Who knows?… One of us might become the next Fr. Rolando de la Rosa of the Order of Preachers.
By Br. Vince Stanley B. Iñigo, OP