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by: Coylee Gamboa

Cradled on a verdant island in the middle of the Pasig River is Hospicio de San Jose, home to babies, children, adults and elderly persons who have no other home in this world.


For 200 years, this charitable institution has accepted the poorest of the poor and families in crisis, and has sheltered them, fed them, clothed them, educated them, cared for them when they were sick or wounded, and helped them go on in this world. For infants and the children, able and not so able, they found families or restored them to their own whenever possible, and when neither was possible, harbored them for life and buried them when they passed away.


The Daughters of Charity, who have faithfully managed this institution for 145 years, have, in keeping with their Vincentian vows, loved Christ in the needy, for Christ said, "Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do unto me."


Within the walls of Hospicio, a.k.a. the House of St. Joseph, the Daughters of Charity and all who serve alongside them have found not only enough challenges to keep them busy, but also fulfillment in their calling, joy in service and gratitude for the amazing opportunity to see the hand of God at work daily for they live by His Providence.


200 Years of Service to Humanity


The story of Hospicio began in 1778, when Don Francisco Gomez Enriquez and his wife Doña Barbara Verzosa donated P4,000 for a hospice for the poor of Manila in gratitude for his having been cured of a fever. Increasing their original donation, the couple stipulated in their will that the institution be called Hospicio General.


Permission for the founding of the hospice had to be obtained from Spain, which took time. On December 27, 1806, the King Carlos IV of Spain issued a royal decree ordering that a hospice for beggars be set up in Manila. About that time, begging was banned in Manila.


In August 18, 1810, the Governor General of the Philippines, Manuel Gonzalez de Aguilar, formed a Board to govern and direct the hospice, which was named Real Hospicio del Señor San Jose. In December 1810, the royal hospice, located on Arroceros, admitted beggars.


Those were uncertain years for Hospicio. Funds got depleted now and then, the poor had to be transferred to other places, then returned and transferred again. Governor General Mariano Ricafort Palacin y Abarca and the King of Spain themselves solicited donations to keep it going. Hospicio, however, closed its doors in 1832.


Twelve years later, on November 18, 1844, Hospicio reopened in Nagtahan. Within the next three years, it moved to Isla de la Convalescencia, its present site. Six years later, in 1853, Hospicio admitted the insane, becoming the first such asylum in the Philippines.


In 1862, by royal decree, Queen Isabella II of Spain sent the Daughters of Charity to the Philippines. In 1865, the Sisters were asked to take over the management and internal administration of Hospicio. For 145 years, the DC Sisters have provided uninterrupted service to the poorest of poor in this country.


The congregation (through its two oldest institutions, Hospicio and Asilo de San Vicente de Paul) has been recognized as the forerunner of social work in the Philippines. The Sisters have been faithful to the charism of their founders: St. Vincent de Paul (Patron of all Charitable Works) and St. Louise de Marillac (Patroness of Christian Social Workers.)


For over a century, Hospicio has been a veritable community where old and young, able and disabled, poor and paying have been able to interact, providing a wonderful balance for its residents.


The children were the most visible of Hospicio's residents — perhaps because of their sheer number. As early as 1916, Hospicio recorded its highest intake of children — a total of 592. From January 1866 to December 1932, it harbored a total of 14,652 children.


In the olden days, its wards did not have to go far to study because Hospicio provided them with an education that was at least on par with, if not better than, the education given in exclusive schools. Initially, the children were educated until the seventh grade. Classes for boys and for girls were held separately as if there were two schools on the island.


When schools were allowed to dispense with the seventh grade, Hospicianos and Hospicianas moved on to high school elsewhere after the sixth grade. On July 27, 1968, Hospicio offered high school to its girls and the fame of their excellent education and upbringing spread farther — fueled also by the exquisite embroidery that Hospicianas became known for, as well as the skilled performances of both boys and girls in the Rondalla, the Orphan Choir and the dance troupe.


Majority of the children were from destitute families. Through the turning cradle, an untold number of babies were anonymously given to the care of the DC Sisters who always rejoiced with each arrival. And the hand that faithfully penned the entries in a logbook lovingly compressed the story of their young lives. The torno logbook was likely the only record that some of them ever lived or crossed the threshold of Hospicio for, in those days, adoption began in the institution itself.


More than a handful of Hospicio's residents were pagadas who paid for the privilege of being raised, formed and educated by the DC Sisters. Instead of the stigma attached to being from an orphanage school, they wore the distinction as a badge of pride, knowing — as only they truly could — the real value of the privilege they were being accorded.


Other residents were families in crisis that needed a temporary place while they sorted out their difficulties. And still others were wealthy or once-wealthy families forced to seek refuge in Hospicio after a bad turn in their circumstances like the separation of the spouses, the death of a parent, the loss of their fortune or the ravages of war, as many of the alumni recount in their heart-rending stories in another section of this book. While a number of the scions of these refugee families might have been embarrassed by their sudden lack of riches, almost all of them invariably rose to the occasion, showing strength of character and resolve so that their predicament was but momentary and wealth was soon reacquired and distinction soon restored, even surpassed.


On the island, too, were the ancianos and ancianas (the elderly men and women), some of them paying guests because they preferred or had to live in Hospicio instead of with their own kin. They were, as someone had irrepressibly quipped, already in the pre-departure area, waiting for their flight to their final destination. Accompanying and gently assisting them in this stage of their journey were some DC Sisters who were similarly learning for themselves how to go gracefully and fearlessly into the Father's arms.


Also living at Hospicio were the physically and mentally challenged people, more than a handful of them requiring unstinting care from cradle to grave. There, too, were the senile and the insane, perhaps the ones needing the most charity but also the ones bringing the greatest amounts of grace for those who attended to their needs.


Then there were the multitudes of hungry people. The soup kitchens of old gave way to weekly street feeding and the invitations to about 500 people during the big events at Hospicio, among them the feast day of St. Joseph. Someone joked, "Mayaman si Papa Joseph." Indeed, St. Joseph was rich enough to feed so many guests.


Through nearly a century and half, the common thread in all of their stories has been this — they were all lovingly cared for by the Daughters of Charity, in keeping with acceptable practices of their eras and the Vincentian charism of loving Christ in the needy.


In the mid-1970s, winds of change blew in. Social work got professionalized and laws were enacted to govern inter-country adoption here. In 1976, Hospicio was granted a Certificate of Accreditation as a Child-Caring Institution and Child-Placement Agency by the then Social Welfare and Services Department. Hospicio further upgraded its social work unit in the 1990s because of developments in intercountry adoption.


Even bigger changes took place before the turn of the millennium. Responding to new learnings that children were better off being educated in the "real" world rather than within the confines of an institution, Hospicio phased out Colegio de Hospicio de San Jose and concentrated on its charism of caring for the neediest of society, particularly persons with special needs. While Hospicio continued to harbor needy older, able children, it sent them to schools outside.


In late March 2001, the last batch of in-house students graduated from Hospicio's high school. No more would the school bell ring to signify the start of classes….It was the end of an era and the beginning of another as Hospicio evolved to meet the challenges of the times.

Read More - Hospicio in Today's World