The Daughters of Charity in Kabikolan
The industrial and commercial development Kabikolan was experiencing in the middle of the nineteenth century coincided with the coming to the region of the Daughters of Charity. The arrival of these brave and dedicated women in God's vineyard ushered a new era in the social and intellectual life of the young women in the region. This did not only give the women hopes to transcend their confinement to the domestic sphere but also set the phase for a new direction they had in society.
Prior to the departure of Gainza and the recruited Sisters who would lay the foundation for the establishment of a diecesan school for girls in Nueva Caceres, the Spanish monarch and the Bishop had already reach an agreement on the fundamental operational principal regarding the educational institution
"The Royal Decree dated 5 November 1867 grants to the Lord Don Fray Francisco Gainza, Bishop of Nueva Caceres, the creation of a school for girls (escuela de niñas) which will be under the care of the Hijas de Caridad"
The Arrival of the Sisters in Bikol
The contingent led by Bishop Gainza and the six Sisters arrived in Manila on April 2, 1868, after three months of sailing. Eager to participate in the Holy Week activities, Gainza and the Sisters hurriedly embarked for the Bikol region. At midnight of April 4, Saturday the group finally arrived at Pasacao Beach. Fr. Vicente Garcia together with the jubilant crowd warmly welcomed the group.
On April 5, Palm Sunday the contingent left for Pamplona then cruised the Bikol River to Camaligan. As the pagoda passed by the numerous riverine all the people lit their fireworks, struck their tamboriles and waved their banners. This huge crowd must have sailed through the canal which led to Gainza then to Camaligan where they were to disembark and to proceed from there to Nueva Caceres.
The six Sisters namely Crisologa Navarro, Ignacia Ostalazas, Juana Morga, Rita Delome, Antonia Novoa, and Sales Montoyo were the first members of any religious order for women ever seen by Bikolanos and certainly the first to establish their apostolate in the region.
The Founding of the Colegio de Santa Isabel and the Escuela Normal
The report of Bishop Gainza to the Superior Goverment in the Manila dated 13 April 1868 showed that the Escuela-Colegio Diocesano de Sta. Isabel was opened on April 12, 1868. The Bishop directed the parish priests of the vicariates to encourage the wealthy families to send young, bright and modes women with irreproachable conduct to receive a certain period of education, who thereafter could return to their respective towns and become the head of their schools.
The Escuela-Colegio consisted not only of escuelas internas but also of externas and thus had the character of a municipal school. The school also had another department which admitted the poor children of the locality. The school therefore had two departments, the Colegio de Niñas Internas y Externas and the Escuela Municipal Para Las Niñas Pobres .
The Construction and Inauguration of the School Building
On 19 July 1868, Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, after celebrating the rites in the church, Bishop Gainza officiated the solemn rite of laying the cornerstone of the school building. Despite the bishop's chronic absence from his diocese, the constuction work went on smoothly and progressed rapidly because of the able administration of Fr. Antonio Santonja, acting Rector of the Diocesan Seminary. Gainza set the 18th of September, also the annual celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Peña de Francia, for the blessing of the permanent edifice of Colegio de Santa Isabel.
The First Normal School
Bishop Gainza believed that only with the establishment of the Escuela Normal where teachers could be properly trained who in return would direct the schools in their respective towns thus effecting a simulatneous, radical, and complete reform in each and every town in the Diocese. He then decided to present to Governor General Carlos M. dela Torre a petition for the elevation of the Colegio de Sta. Isabel in to a normal school for girls.
His long awaited response came on 11 January 1872 when a Royal Decree elevating the Colegio de Santa Isabel to the category of Escuela Normal de Maestras was signed by King Amadeo I of Savoy.
Another development took place in the 14th of March 1972 a Royal Decree was issued confering to the Colegio the faculty to issue titles for teachers.
On June 30, 1875 , Govenor General Malcampo issued a detailed Circular to the chief executives of each of the provinces and districts of the Diocese enjoining each one to take special care and interest in complying with the provisions of a Decree authorizing them to send the pensioned student to the Escuala Normal de Maestras of Nueva Caceres. Having gathered the "priviledged students", the Escuela Normal de Maestras fo Colegio de Sta. Isabel was solemnly inaugurated on September 18, 1875, the Feast of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
Being the first normal school established in the Philippines, the Escuela Normal of Sta. Isabel de Nueva Caceres served as the model for other succeeding schools which the colonial government would establish.
Expansion of the College
The Daughters of Charity saw the pedagogical and religious ideals of their institution, notwithstanding its Hispanic foundation, should remain relevant and necessary.
One of the innovations adopted by the school was the expansion of their academic currucula. On May 31, 1946, Sta. Isabel opened the Junior Normal Course.
A few years later, Sta. Isabel received another milestone in the history of its educational apostolate when it received the permit for the opening of the College of Education and Liberal Arts (A.A.) courses.
Dawn of the Third Millenium
The last half of the century for Sta. Isabel was marked by enormous strides toward development as evidenced in the many buildings which filled up the landscape of the Sta. Isabel campus. The need to keep abreast of the fast changing world also compelled the school to respond to moderm demands, thus new courses were introduced, state-of-the-art technology was acquired and new policies had to be drafted to blaze new directions for the school. All these found meanings in the new status of the school, the University
On August 20, 2011, the Office of the President of the Republic of the Philippines, through the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and in accordance with the provision of Republic Act No. 7722 otherwise known as the "Higher Education Act of 1944" and the virtue of Resolution No. 148 series 2001 of the Commission of en banc, Colegio de Sta. Isabel, Naga City was granted the University Status with all the priviledges, entitlements and responsibilities appurtenant thereto under the name: UNIVESIDAD DE STA. ISABEL. It was on the same date that the Unviersidad was granted Deregulated Status from CHED. The Conferment of University Status with Sr. Justine I. Rosales, DC, as the first University President was held on November 17, 2001.
By July 20, 2002, the USI had a new President - Sr. Ma. Asuncion G. Evidente. Under the leadership of Sr. Asuncion, the University assessed its gains and pursued a five development plan, initiated by a couple of mergers. Other mergers are in the offing. In 2002, the merger of USI and St. Louise de Marillac of Pili campus was planned. Earlier in 1997, the merger of the Colegio de Sta. Isabel and Mother Seton Hospital was established.
On May 20, 2011, Sr. Lourdes L. Albis was appointed as the 3rd University President.