West Coast grads form first global Maryknoll-Miriam alumnae chapter
Former Philippine Ambassador to Berlin Millie Santamaria Thomeczek’s rise to the chair of her college alumni board fits right into its new mission to unite graduates and former students around the world.
Thomeczek assumed leadership of the Maryknoll-Miriam College Alumni Association early this year. She joined the board of directors in 2020 when she took on the responsibility of reaching out to fellow “Knollers” everywhere, specifically in the Filipino Diaspora.
The seasoned diplomat who earned a BA in Communication Arts in1974 before embarking on a second career in the Philippines’ Foreign Service drew on her 27-year experience to rally overseas grads to organize in the name of the alma mater. Earliest to respond were alumnae in the United States and Europe.
“Our vision of engagement for expat grads is first to connect so that our links could be strengthened for our ‘Knoller community to grow into a kind of sisterhood wherever we are in the world,” Thomeczek told Inquirer.net.
“Then, according to their objectives, chapters can set themselves into action at their own pace, according to their interests. They can help one another, do projects which they think are important and relevant.”
Washington, California and Texas alums of diverse generations responded enthusiastically.
Southern California-based Saturnina “Nina” de Joya Ablang lost no time in forming the first international MMCAA chapter with Donnaville Ortiz-Zabala and Raphalyn Perez-Santos of Washington State, Katherine Denice De Jesus Aquino of Northern California, Graciela Sin Remolona of Texas, Maria Theresa Velasco-Gonzales of Northern California, and Rea Badillo Alim of Southern California.
Ablang heralded their goals at their induction last month: “(to) unite Knollers to form a safe, supportive, productive, vibrant community; promote the Maryknoll Spirit in line with the Holy Spirit for character and team building, and do good works so as to improve life and environment.”
A cradle Knoller who graduated high school in 1986 shortly before Maryknoll became Miriam College in 1989, Ablang touted her team’s accomplishments just months from formation. She said they have recruited the most members including the first alumnus and first honorary members from MMC faculty, administration and employees — Bernadette Windsor and Sophia Arce. They were the first to elect an overseas board of directors and set a vision, mission statement and goals: “To reflect the fruit of God’s spirit by serving as a catalyst for advancement.” They also were first to gather at a virtual holiday party led by Chapter coordinator Grace Angel.
This month they will launch a project for PCR testing and administering free Pfizer booster shots for Los Angeles-area Knollers, their families and friends under the direction of board director Alim. They may be reached at [email protected].
Thomeczek commended the premier chapter for its enthusiasm in “heeding the call.”
“They are the pioneers. Just as we in Manila navigated the organization of these chapters full of hope, we will certainly face birth pains with birth joys! So we move ahead, full of trust, of hope and joy,” says Thomeczek, who retired in 2018 and occasionally gets involved with the Dept. of Foreign Affairs including helping establish a cooperative for DFA retirees.
Eye on centennial
“Most important… is that we can now have a more formal channel of communication to Knollers abroad. They can be given updates about MC directly. Perhaps they can help promote MC abroad and among their relatives (to boost enrollment). We also want them to be part of MC’s 100th anniversary in 2026,” she adds.
The MMCAA 2022-2023 board convened in January with Thomeczek heading the 15-member team working closely with college president Laura Quiambao-del Rosario, former Ambassador to India and DFA Undersecretary. The College 1968 grad earned an major in English magna cum laude before going on to serve 37 years in the diplomatic corps. Besides their careers, “Lullah,” as she is known to intimates, shares a Triple A (Amazing Alumni Achiever) with Thomeczek.
Organizing international chapters had always been on the drawing boards, Thomeczek had learned when she first joined the MMCAA board two years ago.
“The marching order from newly-installed President Lullah del Rosario and the MC Board was again – set up international chapters. As VP Membership, pursuit of the goal became my challenge. Thanks to technology and Knoller friends abroad we were able to initiate connections. We wanted to introduce the chapters duringthe virtual grand alumni homecoming last September, which we were able to do.”
She called the fulfillment of the mission “timely also because MC is now preparing to celebrate 100 years in 2026. So …gathering all the flock…” is a priority on the agenda.
“The underlying purpose of it all is how President Lullah expressed it: We live out that ChiRho symbol: bringing Christ to the world, as was the original mission of the Maryknoll Sisters; we live out and promote the core values” Thomeczek stressed.
For 2022, the Knollers look forward to naming the new Triple A laureates and preparing for the Virtual Grand Alumni Homecoming in September with the newly minted international chapters. They hope establish a chapter in Asia, Australia and New Zealand before the centennial.
“In the meantime, Miriam is proud to say that it will open a new campus in Porac , Pampanga this year. We already have another one in Nuvali, Laguna,” Thomezeck viewed the expansion of the institution founded in 1926 by the Maryknoll Sisters of New York as Malabon Normal School.
In 1953 the liberal arts school moved to its flagship on Katipunan Road in Loyola Heights in Quezon City. With the new address came a name change to Maryknoll College. By 1977, the progressive school completed transition from the Maryknoll congregation to the Filipino laity initiated in the 1960s.
In 1989 Maryknoll became Miriam College. Everyone who has sung the school hymn calls themselves “Knollers,” however, and abides by the refrain: “Wherever we are, wherever we’ll be, faithful we’ll always be to thee.”