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Alice Montinola Recto

The socialite who gave up everything for love

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published May 11, 2021 5:00 am

She was to the manor and the manner born.

The youngest of the seven children of Aurelio Montinola Sr. and Juliana Javellana Montinola, Alicia “Alice” Montinola Recto, born on Feb. 18, 1935, had led a charmed life. Educated at the Assumption Convent in Manila, Brillanmont in Switzerland and Marymount College in the US, she married Alfonso “Alfie” Recto in 1957.

After working with PNB, Alfie became treasurer of the Montinola-owned Amon Trading, where he eventually became president till the day he died in 1991. Alice and Alfie had seven children – Alfonso (or “Sito”, who passed away in 2017), Angelo, Mona, Andie, Alex, Alan and Arianne.

The Rectos, along with Don Aurelio Montinola’s six other children and their families, lived in a two-hectare compound in Forbes Park. While their house was still being built, Alice hosted in the house of her brother Aurelio Montinola Jr. and his wife Lourdes Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas and his wife.

Our whole family was taken by surprise. Why would the daughter of Aurelio Montinola Sr. want to move from a comfortable life to co-found a simple provincial monastery, together with a group of Christian family movement types? How could this happen?

You see, while studying at Brillanmont, Alice became good friends with Susan Stein, daughter of a Universal Studios mogul. While in the house of the Montinolas, Kirk particularly admired a bulol, and in fact, expressed the desire to have one in his house.

Many years later, Lourdes Montinola and her son Anton were having dinner in New York and Michael Douglas was in the next table. Anton passed Michael a note saying that their family entertained his father Kirk in Manila and Michael rose from his chair to greet them!

Alice Recto passed away on April 25, in a world that was a world away from the life she once knew. She died in a simple home in the Caryana compound in Magalang, Pampanga, without the round-the clock-nurses she had been used to, as was her choice, but surrounded by her children and grandchildren in Magalang.

Andie, during her beloved mother’s ninth day novena Mass last May 3, recalled that though the latter was very religious (she would pray with heart, soul and tears,) she was also cool.

Alcohol was allowed in the house whenever her children had parties. She encouraged her children’s passions, like Andie’s love for sports. She was very kind to her help, never raised her voice at them. She loved her family dearly and like all mothers, wanted to guide them on the right path to heaven.

 The late Alice Recto and her daughter Andie

One day in the ‘70s, she met a priest who changed her life forever. She is said to have helped build the Caryana community in Magalang, Pampanga and encouraged her family to enter it. (According to its website, “The Lay Monastic Community of Caryana is a monastic community patterned after the first early Christian communities, especially the Basiliades of St. Basil. It was the ambiance set up by the early Fathers of the Church wherein the Christian Family may live the fullness of the Gospel together.”)

“It was a shocking, big move,” recalls her eldest nephew, Aurelio “Gigi” Montinola III, of his Tita Alice’s decision to support the Caryana way of life.

“Needless to say, our whole family was taken by surprise,” continues Gigi, the former president of the Bank of the Philippine Islands. “Why would the daughter of Aurelio Montinola Sr. want to move from a comfortable, Amon Trading life to co-found a simple provincial monastery, together with a group of Christian family movement types? How could this happen? To go herself was her personal decision, but why bring half of her family, at a relatively young age, to live a life of non-contact with the modern world? I was in my early twenties then but I remember Manila’s society and even my own extended family forever criticizing and second-guessing Tita Alice.”

Even the Recto family was divided as Alice’s husband Alfie and two sons Sito and Alex stayed out, while five, including my classmate Andie, went in at different times.

 The Rectos in the ‘70s. Photos courtesy of Andie Recto

Gigi recalls seeing his Recto cousins in Magalang during his aunt’s funeral. “All seem incredibly happy and content. So who are we to say that our world is better than theirs?”

According to Fr. Luis Lorenzo, who celebrated Alice’s novena Mass via Zoom last May 3, he had asked those close to Alice why she made that choice to live the simple life in the Caryana compound in Magalang. And he learned it was because of her “great desire to go to heaven,” and along with her, the rest of her family.  She truly believed the life in Magalang was the way.

Andie says her mother deeply loved her family —  “her way.”

Fr. Luis said the “radicality” of Alice Recto’s decision to leave the comforts of her former life reminded him of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Claire, who made had their own “radical” choices to live a life of simplicity.

Alice left Magalang in 2002 after she suffered a stroke and lived with her eldest son Sito and his wife Gretchen, who describes her as “the best mother-in-law.”

But over the years, Andie says she saw her mother slowly preparing herself for the life in Magalang again, “until she could give up all.” She kept a small closet, and depended entirely on her children for her material needs.

“This was the Alice Recto who had always been independent, self- sufficient and self-confident,” says Andie, describing her mother’s willing transformation to a simpler life again.

When I asked her why, she responded that she preferred a simpler life and that she felt at peace there rather than in the hustle and bustle of Makati urban life.

In 2016, after almost 14 years “outside,” Alice made a firm decision to return to Magalang.

Gigi Montinola continues, “When I asked her, ‘Why?’, she responded that she preferred a simpler life and that she felt at peace there rather than in the hustle and bustle of Makati urban life.”

During her 86th birthday last February, Alice asked her family, “Please pray for me that I may eventually die a peaceful death.” She also told Andie she could see that the latter was happy with her choice.

In her 14 years out of Magalang after her stroke, Alice became close to her seven grandchildren who lived in Metro Manila.

In her last few years, she was cared for by some of her grandchildren who were born and raised in Magalang, some of whom she had not seen grow up.

In April, Alice had another stroke. After being admitted to a local hospital, she was adamant that she return to Magalang, where on the feast of the Good Shepherd, she went on her path to heaven, surrounded by family.

Her death united all her six surviving children and her 14 grandchildren, some of whom were just meeting each other for the first time.

“This made me appreciate Tita Alice even more,” says Gigi. “Rest in peace Tita Alice, you clearly lived your life your way.”

Andie has this loving message to her mother, “Mom, you did well. Do not feel bad, I am okay because you taught me to be okay. I will do as much good as you had taught me.”

Fr. Luis said in his homily, “Love is the way to heaven.”

Alice Montinola Recto loved God so much she wanted to serve Him in the best way she knew how, by giving up all she was born with in her quest to behold the face of God.

She loved well.