By: Narciso F. Mefragata
FR. GEORG SCHWARZ in the eyes of
MR. NARCISO F. MEFRAGATA
WHO IS FR. GEORG?
Hi! I am NARCISO FANTILANAN MEFRAGATA, a native of Sta. Barbara, Iloilo but landed in Victorias, Negros Occidental due to my father’s business.
Now, who is Fr. Georg Schwarz?
My first contact with Fr. Georg Schwarz was in 1955 when I was in grade 7. He was then the Dean of Discipline of Don Bosco Technical Institute, Victorias, Negros Occidental. I was enrolled in the shoemaking department under Bro. Massi and Bro. Gamba.
In my first year of High School, I became a personal scholar of Fr. Charles Braga, SDB who was then the Rector of the school. I say personal because he paid for my tuition fees and other related expenses from his personal account.
My real contact with Fr. George happened sometime in Oct. 1956 during the lunch break while I was playing football. He simply held me by my collar and told me to get to the chemistry lab and clean the chairs, tables, blackboard etc.
After 30 minutes or so I was back in the football field and played again. Soon after I saw Fr. George approached me at a fast clip and with an irritated voice said “Did I not ask you to clean the chemistry laboratory?”
His voice was bordering anger. I replied “finished,” and he responded “What?” He held me by the hand and said “let us see”. While he walked at a rapid pace, I had to run because his long legs made bigger steps than mine.
When we reached the laboratory, he checked not only the table tops and the arms of the chairs, but also the corners of the seats and even the horizontal wood strips that make up the bottom of the arm chairs. He couldn’t find any dust and he said “Very good! Go back to the field and continue playing.”
That was the beginning. Every Saturday he would require me to come with my friend Rudy Picardal to work in the Physics and Chemistry Laboratories. We cleaned the labs and washed flasks, test tubes and other glasswares. In exchange for the work, he provided us with sandwiches and taught us electronics from the book “Radio Engineering”.
One time, the Salesians, the aspirants and the student boarders went out for an excursion. He left me alone in the lab with an electronic kit and schematic diagrams together with the Radio Engineering book. My assignment was to assemble an amplifier consisting of a transformer, capacitors and 4 radio tubes. At the age of 13, I knew very few English words and could not understand the instructions. My best English words then, were either yes or no. The whole Saturday, I succeeded to make only two soldering connections. Two wires to the filaments of one radio tube.
The following Monday, we met after my classes and told him with apologies about my “unsuccessful” work. He said “very good”. To Him, my failure to do more was a success.
He spent countless hours teaching me radio electronics that I could not understand. I could not easily understand his pronunciation. I think I learned less than 1% of what he was trying to teach me. I patiently did my homework in the Radio Engineering book. Theoretical work shifted to practical work every Saturday (Which I hated because I missed my football and chasing the sugar cane trains). In about a year I assembled my first amplifier (1957) and I was very proud because despite my being a shoemaker – I “made” an amplifier which was on display in the school library. During breaks “my” amplifier played Fr. George’s records from Germany. (Including the marches which I found out only recently were the same marches played by Hitler’s Nazis).
The lesson is: Fr. Georg is passionate in forming young boys no matter what their status in life is.
In my second year at DBTI, Fr. Georg was transferred to another Don Bosco school. I continued with my scholarship under Fr. Braga and was assigned to do all chores under another German priest, Fr. John Rauh, SDB. He tasked me to paint the lower interior walls of the buildings, to mow the lawns, cut the gumamelas, asphalt the perimeter road, and cement basketball courts. Finally I was assigned to help in the registrar’s Office. I dislike the work and soon after I was transferred to the laboratories. I was given the keys to all the lab facilities and I had the freedom to do lots of experiment with chemicals.
It was during these years that Fr. Rauh conducted seminar-workshops for physics teachers of Region VI. I had my first taste of teacher training. They are ignorant when it comes to practical works.
During the summers of 1957 and 1958 I worked in the shop to produce shoes. I was paid a salary of P2/day, which at that time was good enough (50% of the minimum wage). I produced 1 pair of shoes a day had made.
In my 3rd year of High School, I started to accept radio repairs in my neighborhood in Victorias town. All radios sent to me for repair were returned functioning. Not one was not repaired. My friends, especially my classmates in shoemaking were asking “How did I learn radio repair?
The secret was: every Saturday I brought the radios to Bacolod and had them repaired by skilled technicians. Sometimes I profited at other times I lost but on the average I earned and learned radio repair.
In 1959 I enrolled in the newly opened College of Engineering at DBTI Victorias. I was still in charge of the laboratories and worked as assistant chemistry laboratory instructor. I continued experimenting with chemicals. I learned to make electroplating solutions from Fr. Rauh. I made chemicals that can produce artificial scars for stage actors of the operetta. I learned to make explosives; with the help of the Hein’s brothers who had access to chemicals in Victorias Milling Company (VICMICO), we made very powerful “fire crackers”.
One Saturday I was alone in the laboratory. I was attempting to produce transparent soap when my flask exploded and its content splattered on the walls. The content included alcohol and the wall started to singe. One could see the black burned area spread out towards the ceiling. I went for the fire extinguishers which were located in the corridors. The first one did not work and so did the 2nd and 3rd. The flame was a few inches away from the combustible ceiling. Luckily the 4th one worked and the school was saved from getting burned.
While I enjoyed the job and the salary (I was paid the minimum wage) plus some extras from Fr. Rauh for the work I did in the laboratories, my health deteriorated and according to the VICMICO doctors. I should get out of the laboratory and do something else.
Divine Providence has designed my life and willed its events. During the summer of 1960, Fr. Georg had his retreat in DB Victorias. We talked for some time and eventually invited me to teach in Tarlac.
I arrived in Tarlac one week after classes had started. I reached the school at about 10:30 am. The principal gave me a soft drink to cool off, led me to the classroom and said – “Class, this is Mr. Mefragata from Negros, and he will be your teacher in drafting.” I asked myself: drafting? What will I teach them? Drawing of Shoes? He left me and I had no choice but took over and talked about the merits of drawings and being able to draw. As I was explaining the boys were very quiet, some with open mouth, others went to the front, sat on the floor looking at me with awe: I said to myself “Believe sila! College teacher yata ito from Negros”! At that time I had a very high esteem of myself. But, a very BIG BUT, after 2 weeks when the boys became familiar with me, they asked: “Sir, anong language ang ginagamit mo? Parang English pero parang hindi naman?”
My self esteem collapsed like a punctured balloon but I pretended not to mind it.
My first 4 weeks in Tarlac were so nightmarish. I was teaching a subject that I was not prepared to teach and my English was foreign to my students. Luckily, General Science was also assigned to me. My deficiency in oral English was compensated by the activities I gave to my students.
Fr. Georg as my Rector in Don Bosco Tarlac was very supportive but demanding as well. Every night I had to prepare for the next day’s classes. Bro. Remo Bati, now Fr. Remo Bati and Bro. Leonardo Delfin, now a lay individual, were also obliged to do the same.
None of us was spared by Fr. Georg’s ire whenever we failed to perform. Sometimes we were called “stupid donkeys” or “stupid animals”.
It took me more than a month to subdue my pride and to humble myself. For me, humility is the first step in learning. Little by little my employer – employee relationship with Fr. Georg improved and the first important lesson I learned was:
If he asked you to do a task, either say yes or say no. Never, never say “I will try” or “I will see”. And if you have said Yes, then do it whatever it takes to accomplish it within the specified period.
I learned so many things from Fr. Georg. My contemporary, Mr. Arturo Villegas went through the same process and we excelled in our fields.
Don Bosco Academy Tarlac at that time had very little resources, in fact it was about to be sold if not for the protest of Fr. Georg. Oftentimes Mr. Samson, the principal would ask me to borrow a car from the manager of the Phil. Rabbit to be used in soliciting “alms” or donations from prominent people in Tarlac for the salaries of teachers.
In a makeshift workshop we had on the 2nd floor of both sides of the gym, we had a drill press of the inertia type and was hand operated. In 1960 when we finally bought a portable electric drill which cost P45.00, it was a cause for celebration. Despite the scarcity of resources, the school thrived with meaningful and fruitful activities. Through the resourcefulness of Fr. George and the industry of Bro. Bati the Biology lab of DBA turned out to be one of the best in the whole province of Tarlac. Our boys learned better biology by using “toy microscope” which were very difficult to focus.
In general science, in which I was the instructor with a full backing and teaching of Fr. Georg, I performed about 3,000 experiments in one year in the 1st year sections. Mr. Castro the Science Supervisor of Tarlac used to sit in my class. During the first few weeks I was offended by his frequent visit and observation of the conduct of my classes which often lasted for whole periods. So I told the principal about it and the principal said “Let him sit in because he said he is learning from you”. Later on I found out that if he were not in my class, he would be in Bro. Bati’s class.
Our physics and chemistry classes were also at their peaks because of the leadership of Fr. Georg and Mr. Arturo Villegas. Fr. Georg was a servant-leader. (At that time we did not talk about servant leadership nor family spirit) but we have both in the small community of Don Bosco Academy in Tarlac (1960–1965).
Believe it or not he would clean the toilet bowls himself if no janitor was available. While Fr. Georg was rector of Don Bosco Academy he led every teacher and student to do the best in whatever we did. He led us to strive for excellence. In any endeavor or contest he wanted DBA to be the best not just second to the best. In exhibits, we often won the 1st prize.
In 1964 Fr. Georg was assigned in DB Mandaluyong as Rector.
In 1965, it was planned that DBA would be converted to a technical school. Fr. Georg acquired from Germany the funds to provide the school with tools and machineries. Everything was set for the change in curriculum. The new rector however changed plans and sold the earlier acquired machines to DB Mandaluyong. As a consequence I resigned and tried to transfer to Notre Dame in Kidapawan, South Cotabato. I was earlier accepted to teach in that school. On the way to Mindanao, I passed by DB Mandaluyong to say goodbye to Fr. Georg, who at that time was the Rector. He was preparing for a seminar for science teachers of other schools sponsored by Asia Foundation.
He invited me to help him to conduct the seminar and told me that Notre Dame could wait. Anyway there were still 2 more months for the summer vacation. And so we conducted the training for teachers.
Meanwhile a teacher of DB Mandaluyong resigned. I was offered to teach in his place. I right away sent a telegram to Notre Dame to inform them of my change in plans. Anyway, I said you still have plenty of time to get another teacher in my place. And so I stayed in DB Mandaluyong from 1965 to 2002. Never in my dreams did I imagine that I would stay that long in one school – Thirty eight (38) years. At first I served DB Victorias for 2 years and DB Tarlac for 4 years so all together I had served Don Bosco for a total of 44 years. Maybe one of the reasons why I stayed so long because of the various activities.
To boost my posteur and to keep at pace with the high caliber teachers of DB Mandaluyong, Fr. Georg introduced me as an engineer and a capable classroom teacher. At that time I already had 4 years teaching experience in Tarlac and 2 years in DB Victorias. The truth was: I had two years of pre-engineering course in DBTI Victorias and about 30 units in Education from Osias Colleges of Tarlac, Tarlac, nothing more.