By GEMMA CRUZ ARANETA
The Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic arrived in 1924, a decade after the “pedagogical invasion” of the Thomasites when Leonard Wood, a retired Army general and medical doctor, was the governor of the Philippine Islands. Our country was then a colony of the United States of America, and the Maryknoll sisters were invited by no less than the influential Archbishop of Manila Michael O’Doherty.
Those were turbulent times for the Catholic Church: The clergy (specially its Spanish members) felt discriminated upon and demoralized. The Philippine Independent Church, established by Fr. Gregorio Aglipay at the turn of the 20th century, was fast increasing its membership. At the same time, Protestant sects surged in, on the heels of the Philippine-American War and were picking low-hanging fruits from the Catholic orchard. In fact, Protestant lady missionaries who were eagerly looking for foreign assignments stirred Mother Mary Joseph, the founder of Maryknoll; she felt that Catholic women could be even more committed.
Before coming to the Philippines, Maryknoll sisters were missionaries in South China, Hong Kong, Manchuria, and Hawaii; crossing great oceans, they expanded with vigor to Latin America and Africa. Their primordial objective was to open schools, but they also took on the management of health centers and hospitals. They assisted refugees, the indigent, the politically and culturally oppressed, and the economically marginalized. The Maryknoll Sisters may have looked gossamery, wispy, and delicate, but they certainly had resolve and strength of character. Fr. Miguel Bernad, SJ said they contributed greatly to the revitalization of Catholic life in the Philippines.
For High School ’79, this year’s jubilarians, the Maryknoll sisters entered our lives at the elementary level, in the 1950’s when our elders were rebuilding this country from the ruins of the Second World War. The Grade School was housed in three modest structures on Pennsylvania Street (now Leon Guinto, Sr.). Most of us were sent to Maryknoll to learn English, which the nuns taught with piercing efficiency all throughout high school and our collegiate years. As a result, we adore grammar to this day, we diagram sentences for fun and have never lost our penchant for literature. Sometimes, we lament that our progeny are careless with their grammar; we cringe when they mispronounce words or cannot complete a sentence or write in script. With the Maryknoll sisters, we had endless phonetic drills and oral reading; we staged plays, learned Gregorian chant for High Mass, and were trained to address school assemblies at the drop of a hat.
Certainly, the Maryknoll nuns imparted much more than just language skills and social graces. They were missionaries above all. They taught us how to offer to the Almighty all our thoughts, words, and deeds, to do what is right at all times even when no one is looking, to be detached from material possessions, to be sensitive to the needs of others, and to always help the poor and underprivileged. They ingrained in us consideration for the comfort of those around us even in commonplace things like walking quietly without dragging our heels.
The past always has enduring consequences for the present, so we want to thank the Maryknoll sisters for their infectious missionary zeal, for the discipline, optimism, compassion, and commitment that they instilled in us. We are grateful for their unobtrusive friendship and their democratic ways. Undoubtedly, they helped our parents mold us into resilient, productive, and law-abiding citizens of this country.
Our eternal gratitude goes to Mother Mary Joseph, Sister Miriam Thomas, Sister Catherine Patrice, and the rest of the congregation — Sisters Catherine Therese, Zoe Marie, Elizabeth Mary, James Catherine, Rose Anthony, Agnes Imelda, Miriam Agustine, Joan Cordis, Sienna Marie, Paula Kathleen, Joanna Marie, Anne Marie, Miriam Catherine, and last but never the least, Sister Maria del Carmen.
Hail to the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic! They were our mothers, sisters, and best friends. They are an indelible part of Philippine history.
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