In 1948, the Ateneo de Davao University was founded by three Jesuit Fathers — Fr. Theodore Daigler, Fr. Alfredo Paguia, Fr. Grant Quinn — and two Jesuit scholastics — James Donelan and Rudolfo Malasmas. Among these five pioneers, Fr. Rudolfo “Rudy” A. Malasmas, SJ was the last one to pass away. He was the only one among the five pioneers to expire and be laid to rest here in Davao City. Following an episode of cardiac failure, Fr. Rudy peacefully returned to his Creator last July 11 at 6:36 in the evening at Davao Doctors Hospital. He died on a Sunday. When Fr. Rudy’s heart stopped beating, he was surrounded by his Jesuit family, his nieces, a nephew, a grandniece, and some close friends — people he sincerely cared for, and people who sincerely cared for him.
Fr. Rudy was originally from San Pablo, Laguna, but 43 years of his life were spent living and serving in Southern Mindanao, Davao City in particular. Fr. Rudy was such a well-known, well-loved, and witty Jesuit priest. Countless memorable anecdotes can be said about him. Young students may even want to ask teachers, parents, uncles, and aunts, especially if they are alumni of our school, to remember things about Fr. Rudy Malasmas, SJ. I bet you will hear inspiring stories of gratitude, respect and admiration.
In remembering Fr. Rudy, I can think mainly of three things. First, he was a fine Filipino; second, he was a committed Catholic; and third, he was a joyful Jesuit.
First, Fr. Rudy was a fine Filipino. For many years he served his motherland as a pastor, educator, nationalist, marriage counselor, social development worker, and school administrator. He was only 24 when he helped found Ateneo de Davao. He served as principal of Ateneo de Davao High School and he was Ateneo de Manila Grade School’s headmaster from 1964 to 1975. Among the many grade school students during his term were President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, our current Jesuit Provincial Fr. Jose Cecilio “Jojo” Magadia, SJ, and my own two elder brothers, Raymond and Joseph Pineda.
Like many Filipinos, Fr. Rudy loved to laugh and to make people laugh. He was fond of collecting, telling, and re-telling jokes. He sent and received hilarious text messages through his handy cellphone.
An anecdote: a few months before he passed on, Fr. Rudy went to the convent where he regularly said morning Mass. Before the Mass began, the Fr. Rudy surprised the nuns with astonishing news. “Sisters”, he exclaimed, “have you heard that the Pope just allowed priests to marry?” The sisters were shaken, “Really Father? Priests are now allowed to marry?” “Yes,” he replied, “priests are now allowed to marry..but with two conditions.” Fr. Rudy’s eyes sparkled as the nuns became curious, “What are these two conditions, Father?” The 86-year old Fr. Rudy answered with a straight face: “The first condition is…priest must be at least 85 years old. And second, he needs explicit permission from his parents!”
Fr. Rudy suffered his first and major heart attack a little past midnight of the first Friday of July. I remember that afternoon, Fr. Rudy, Mr. Sammy Bartolata, and I were hanging out at the dining area of the Jesuit Residence exchanging jokes. One of the last things Fr. Rudy distinctly told me was “laughter is the best medicine.” So that’s Fr. Rudy, a fine Filipino who personified our unique traits as a people, and a generous gentleman who served his fellow Filipinos faithfully.
Second, Fr. Rudy was a committed Catholic. If he was baptized when he was one or two years old, then he was a Catholic for at least 84 years. But even more importantly, for 56 years long years, he served the Catholic Church as a Jesuit priest and pastor to scores of people.
After Fr. Rudy suffered a heart attack that Friday, he remained comatose for one more week. After he was transferred to a private room, various friends and loved ones visited him. Present was Ana, a fifth grade student at our grade school. Also there was Manong Bert Roncales, now retired, who used to work at the audiovisual room when Fr. Rudy was still headmaster at the grade school. There were the religious sisters, too. Several couples likewise took time to thank Fr. Rudy for saving their marriages. Many more friends — from different classes and backgrounds — went out of their way to pray, shed tears, and express their faith and concern for Fr. Rudy. Their kind acts were all testaments to Fr. Rudy’s all-embracing love. Our school’s founding father was clearly a steadfast Catholic who left a legacy of radical openness to values and various people. As a dedicated man of God, he brought men and women to Christ, and brought Christ to men and women.
Third, Fr. Rudy was a joyful Jesuit for 69 years. He entered the Society of Jesus on May 31, 1941. He lived well one of the most vital aspects of Jesuit identity, that of being sent on a mission. As a true disciple of Christ and son of Ignatius, Fr. Rudy was obedient to this mission to his very last breath.
On that last week, Fr. Rudy was comatose, attached to tubes and ventilators, and wearing a diaper like a baby. This was probably the toughest, most challenging, and most humbling mission of Fr. Rudy’s Jesuit life. One thing I could say about our gallant old-hand knight: he was well prepared for his “mission impossible”, all for the greater glory of God. For a long time, Fr. Rudy was used to performing active tasks, administering, counseling, preaching, and celebrating Mass. However, with miserably damaged internal organs, he was even more helpless than a newborn infant. Instead of giving, he was receiving; instead of helping, he was being helped; instead of leading prayers, people were praying for him.
God could have suddenly and painlessly taken Fr. Rudy away from us as early as the first Friday of July, and Fr. Rudy could have easily given up, gone straight to Heaven, and straightaway enjoyed its comforts. In fact, when he was brought to the hospital, Fr. Rudy no longer had a pulse and heartbeat. Still, God seemed to have other plans since doctors were able to resuscitate Fr. Rudy. God’s obedient son cooperated, and somehow hung on for a little while longer.
Was it probable that our old-hand knight boldly desired to teach us one more final important lesson on love?
We have already heard the expression “pure heart and soul”. But have you ever witnessed a person literally living by “pure heart and soul?” I, together with Fr. Rudy’s other fellow Jesuits, his nieces and nephew, and close friends, did during that vigil! A full week after his debilitating stroke, the doctors confirmed that Fr. Rudy’s other major internal organs – his brain, lungs and kidneys — had already failed. It was just his heart that continued to beat steadily. God had already taken Fr. Rudy’s will, his memory, and understanding, still his heart and soul continued to peacefully absorb presences, prayers, and affections from various visitors.
I firmly believe that our old-hand knight desired to teach us one more final important lesson on love. Fr. Rudy most likely hung on for a week longer to give us just enough space and time to gradually grieve, to convey our words of gratitude, petitions, cries, care, and then, ultimately, to communicate our not-so-easy goodbyes to our “grand old man” of Davao, our very own “John Wayne”, our beloved, witty, and readily available priest. I like to think that Fr. Rudy hung on to remind us once more of the concluding key contemplation in The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: “love consists of mutual giving and receiving between persons.”
Fr. Rudy Malasmas, SJ — Filipino, Catholic, and Jesuit. Do those words sound familiar? If you’ve studied in Ateneo de Davao, they should.
“The Ateneo de Davao University is a Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit University that is inspired by the person and teaching of Jesus, rooted in the spirituality of St. Ignatius, and true to the humanistic tradition of Jesuit education. It is responsive to the challenges and needs of the country today, particularly in southern Philippines, through its work of the educational formation of the young and professionals.”
Fr. Rudy, paalam na po. Maraming maraming salamat, Padre. Mahal namin kayo at hinding hindi naming kayo makakalimutan kailanman. Ayo-ayo!
Fr. Michael I. Pineda, SJ is minister of the Davao Jesuit Community, chaplain of the Ateneo de Davao High School, and Regional Ecclesiastical Assistant of Christian Life Community Davao.