Today is the first Friday of Lent and we are gathered to celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection for Sr. Mary Carmel. Let me quote to you the beginning of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the Lenten Season 2012:
“The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favourable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.”
For all of us, members of the family, the Good Shepherd Congregation, friends of Sr. Carmel, we are anticipating the joy of Easter. Sr. Carmel, we believe is now enjoying the joy of Easter.
When she passed away last Sunday, many were surprised at the suddenness of her death. Her heart gave way at 92 and she is now enjoying everlasting bliss.
You must have read how she came to the decision to be a Good Shepherd Sister. She was strongly attracted to a religious vocation but she could not join because of opposition from her father. She was a teacher and so waited for many years until God’s call became so strong. It was one First Friday, she said when made her final decision. She played a game with God, she took four (4) pieces of paper, wrote the names of four different Congregations and told God she would join any of the Congregation she would pick up. She put the pieces of paper in a jar to draw her lot. She picked the Good Shepherd Congregation! It was the least known to her, yet she went to St. Bridget Academy, now St. Bridget College in Batangas City and began her journey with the Good Shepherd. It was just several years after World War II. She taught for six months in St. Bridget’s and at 30 she was sent to Los Angeles, California for her pre novitiate. On September 8, 1950, the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she was clothed as a Religious of the Good Shepherd, in the term of the time, clothing means the beginning of religious life, when young ladies don their wedding dresses in the novitiate to meet Christ their spouse and change to the religious habit. Two years later, on September 8, 1952 she made her first profession of vows in Los Angeles and on April 24, 1956, the feast of St. Mary Euphrasia, our Mother Foundress, she made her perpetual profession of vows in Quezon City.
She was a newly professed sister when she and three other sisters founded our Good Shepherd Community in Baguio on November 11, 1952 upon the invitation of Bishop William Brasseur CICM. From being the vacation house of our sisters from St. Bridget’s, Baguio opened its doors to girls and women from the Cordillera who needed shepherding. There beginnings of Baguio were marred by poverty as sisters had to go to the market to ask for vegetables so they can feed the girls. Sr. Mary Carmel who learned how to make strawberry jam in Los Angeles, cooked strawberries that abound in Baguio, and sold them to friends with the request to return the bottles. She also prayed before the statue of St. Joseph asking him to help bring customers to buy the jam.
Other Good Shepherd Sisters later added more products to the Mountain Maid Training Center store.
In Baguio, Sr. Mary Carmel was a teacher at the Pelletier Hills School from 1952-1965, and superior, or what we call now local leader, of Baguio Community from 1956-1972.
Sr. Mary Carmel ‘s assignment in Baguio from 1952 to 2012 was interrupted only by a 15 year mission with the Kaunlaran Multipurpose Center in Sta. Ana Manila which was established to help the urban poor, that was 1972, the year of Martial Law. In Sta. Ana, she was a community worker, treasurer, religion teacher and family life worker --counselling women and their families, helping children go to school.
In 1987, only a year after the EDSA revolution, she was missioned again to Baguio as treasurer of Mountain Maid Training Center and stayed there until her death. This year is the 60th year of the foundation of the Good Shepherd Convent in Baguio and the 100th year of establishment of the Good Shepherd Sisters in the Philippines. One of the many blessings of God to our Philippine province is the gift of Sr. Carmel.
In Baguio, she has many friends, those employees from banks, suppliers, customers, MMTC workers students and alumni. She endeared herself to them with her gentle care and to our Sisters, some of whom she would regularly write letters. Being religious kept her close to the family by her prayers and their visits. In her later years, she would be at our Alumni Affairs office to welcome those who would drop by. As it was in the beginning, Sr. Mary Carmel was faithful to her prayers, obedient to her superiors, compassionate to those she meet. She was happy to have spent more time praying of the alumni, the students, our staff, the country, the world. From the alumni she noticed those from among them those who have not visited. She continued following up girls who have been helped to work in hospitals in Australia and who last January had a reunion with them when the Centennial Staff was in Baguio. Sisters know that Sr. Carmel also has her favo. Favorito. Our sisters remembered her kindness in community, her reminders, among them, “Walang retirement sa Good Shepherd Corporation.”
Many were surprised at the suddenness of her death, she was healthy but she was also ready to go. In one of her reminiscences to reflect on her vocation she wrote, “ I tried to recall why God chose for me the Good Shepherd Congregation. As a teacher, I had a strong compassion for my poor students and their families and so much so that I would spend my salary for them. After class hours, I would spend time with my pupils especially those who needed counselling. As I see, God prepared the way, His Way, not mine.”
So Sr. Carmel, from you we learned love for family and our neighbors, value for education whether it be formal or non-formal, attentiveness to the signs of the times, steadfastness, following your heart and being faithful to the Lord, trust—look at her leap of faith- her journey with the Good Shepherd.
We are preparing for Easter, you are now with the Risen Jesus, the Good Shepherd.