Establishment of Religious Sisters in Guam

Religious sisters have been actively working and praying with Guam’s Catholic faith community since 1946. From the classroom to the hospital, the women’s shelter to the senior care home, religious sisters have had a significant presence in people’s lives here in Guam and hold an important place in the island’s history. Many of us have grown up with family members who were religious sisters. At one time, religious sisters were fairly ubiquitous and their distinctive clothing made them easy to spot in a crowd. Though not as numerous as before—and perhaps, even less conspicuous in appearance—these women religious today still play important roles in the Catholic Church, our island and our region. 

Although some may believe religious sisters have been around in Guam as long as the Catholic Church itself (more than 350 years!), the establishment of communities of religious women here actually is a 20th century phenomenon. It was not until the post-World War II era that, under American Bishop Apollinaris Baumgartner, the first orders of religious sisters successfully founded communities on the island. Although attempts had been made prior to the war, these efforts to bring in sisters from abroad were thwarted for one reason or another, usually by the US naval government of Guam, which administered the island from 1898-1941.

The Northern Mariana Islands, on the other hand, had welcomed the Mercedarian Sisters of Berriz, Spain, to Saipan during the 1920s under the Japanese administration. 

By the mid-1950s, Guam had three different orders of religious sisters working among the faithful, and more orders arrived in the decades that followed. Young women entered the convent with hopes and aspirations of living as a religious sister, but in the face of great changes after the war, these women chose a life of service to the Church that both challenged expectations and provided new opportunities for women of Guam.  

What is a religious community?

The religious sisters and priests  in Guam belong to religious orders of the Roman Catholic Church. A religious order refers to a community of individuals who have taken solemn vows to live a “consecrated life” dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Church. They model their lives based on the beliefs and practices of their specific devotion. The Franciscan Order, for example, follows the teachings and traditions instituted by its founder, St. Francis of Assisi. The Jesuit Order or the Society of Jesus was established by St. Ignatius of Loyola and six companions, including St. Francis Xavier. The Religious Sisters of Mercy are committed to carrying on the work of their founder, Mother Mary MacAuley. 

There is much variation among these communities—how they live, where they work, what they do, how they dress—but they share a devotion to Christ and the Holy Church and a desire for a life of service, prayer and love. Individuals who choose religious life have varying reasons or compelling circumstances for doing so, but oftentimes, their decisions are embedded in a deep sense of calling or a vocation to serve Christ and humanity while living in community.

Chamorro women in the Spanish Era church

Before religious orders of women arrived in Guam, women had always been active in the Catholic Church. They participated in the life of the Church through prayers, devotions, nobenas and other rituals. Although they were not ordained like priests and there were no consecrated communities of religious sisters, certain women were techa, or traditional prayer leaders. These women would lead rosaries and other devotional prayers and were respected for their skill and the important role they had in the local Church. Women also participated in Catholic organizations like the Cofradia de Nuestra Señora de la Consolación, or simply, the Cofradia, a society for married women. Girls received religious education as did boys. Church leadership roles, however, were the realm of men. Perhaps because the Marianas were already strongly Catholic there was no push to bring in religious sisters as in the other islands of Micronesia.

In the 1880s, increased efforts to missionize the peoples of Micronesia (and the Pacific in general) led to various Christian groups setting up churches and schools to help carry out their work and spread their faith. Catholics and Protestants “competed for the souls” of native peoples. Women were instrumental in this work but were mostly wives of Protestant missionaries. However, there were religious sisters working in Micronesia, usually affiliated with the orders of priests that also worked in the region. The distance between the tiny islands scattered across open water and the increasing presence of Protestant missionaries made the priests realize they could only do so much on their own to keep the faith alive among their converts. They requested specifically for religious sisters to help them with running their missions and especially for the education of young girls.

First religious sisters in Micronesia

The earliest mention of religious sisters working in Catholic missions in Micronesia were the French Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart (FDNSC) who worked in Kiribati and Nauru in the mid-1890s. The sisters used song and repetition of prayers to create a pleasant atmosphere at the schools and communicate the faith. They also used local i-Kiribati music and dances to liven up the learning process, in stark contrast to the drier presentations of their Protestant counterparts. The missions were exciting but filled with uncertainty and danger for religious sisters. There was much to adjust to living among the islanders; getting used to the nakedness of the people and the inability to communicate and keep people interested were difficult challenges to overcome. 

In 1899, German Sacred Heart priests and brothers were sent to start a mission in the Marshall Islands, followed in 1902 with the first five Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart. The sisters worked in a mission boarding school on Jaluit Island. More sisters arrived to work in schools set up on Likieb and Arno. In Yap in the Caroline Islands, the Spanish Capuchin priests did their best to set up their missions and appealed to Spain to provide religious sisters to help them with their boarding school for girls, to no avail. Instead, several Chamorro/CHamoru women from Guam were brought in to work with the children. When Germany took over the care of the Caroline missions, they requested sisters from Strassburg to assist them, and in 1907, six religious sisters arrived, three of whom stayed in Yap, and the other three arrived in Pohnpei. Two years later, more Franciscan religious sisters arrived to work in Palau.

Overall it was a productive time for Catholic missionaries working in the German territories. There were no public schools and the American missionaries, unable to comply with the German language requirement, shut their schools down. The religious sisters were teaching German language, geography, arithmetic, religion, sewing, needlework, sanitation and other domestic duties to the girls. Eventually, the mission sisters wanted to expand their duties to include nursing. However, the German administration tired of the influence of the Catholic missions and set up public schools and limited the activities of the priests and sisters. World War I had the biggest impact on the German Catholic missions. The missionaries were cut off from the rest of the world and could no longer remain open. By 1919, the Japanese who had taken over the German Micronesian territories, had expelled them all.

The legacy of the religious sisters in Micronesia is embedded in the history of the mission schools in which they performed most of their work. Within the mission schools, the sisters educated as well as brought the Catholic faith to the island’s young people. The mission schools at a broader level, though, were still institutions of colonialism and foreign ideals. They were supported by both Spanish and German colonial administrations because they helped assert control over the native populations. It is likely the islanders they converted had mixed feelings about the missionaries as well. Curious about their appearance and teachings and interested in obtaining the benefits of western education and alliances with the missionaries, they, too, had to navigate and make sense of the new religion and rules of life under different colonizers. Except for the Northern Marianas, religious sisters would be largely absent from Guam and Micronesia until after World War II.

Early efforts to bring religious sisters to the Marianas

Although, historically, missions and colonial governments often worked hand in hand to control native peoples, in the Marianas, the work of Catholic missionaries was limited by the American, German and Japanese administrations. Along with their geographical and political separation, the Mariana Islands were also separated ecclesiastically within the Catholic Church. Until the early 1900s, the mission in Guam was led by priests of the particular order assigned to work here.

Guam was an apostolic vicariate, a form of territorial jurisdiction for a mission that is not a diocese and has no bishop to lead it. In 1911, the Northern Marianas and Guam belonged to separate jurisdictions. The German government brought in German Capuchin missionaries to minister to the Catholics among their Micronesian territories including the northern Marianas, but Guam was placed under the care of the Spanish Capuchins from Catalonia, and the island’s first bishop was of this order. 

The mission schools in Guam in the early 1900s already had a number of teachers on staff including priests and lay people, but in 1899, the American naval governor ordered the removal of all the Spanish Recollect priests, viewing them as an apparent hindrance to the Americanization of the island. The departure of the Recollect priests brought great concern to Padre Jose Palomo, the first (and only, at the time) ordained Chamorro priest. Palomo was already 65 years old and barely able to accommodate the needs of the entire congregation. New laws instituted by the naval government placed restrictions on Catholic ritual practices that were customary for the Chamorro people such as ringing church bells or celebrating saints’ feast days. In addition, non-Catholic missionaries were starting to take an interest in this predominantly Catholic island. 

As the only remaining priest left to minister to the population, Padre Palomo requested help from the Church of Rome, from the Vicariate headquarters in the Philippines, and from the German missions in the Northern Marianas and Pohnpei for priests or religious sisters. Cardinal James Gibbons in Baltimore, Maryland, responded and generated interest from the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart sisters of his city to open a mission  in Guam. Three Catholic teaching sisters arrived in 1905—the first for the island—and opened a school. However, the sisters were pressured by the naval government to assist in the care of patients at the naval hospital. This proved to be overwhelming for the sisters who were also pressured by a lack of sufficient funding, and so they left Guam in 1908. 

In 1914, the Guam mission was placed under the care of another Spanish province, Navarre, and Bishop Joaquín M. Oláiz was appointed as its titular head. Bishop Oláiz, seeking to bring religious sisters to Guam, appealed to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary from Manila, and even got support from the Pope and the Superior General of the Community in Rome. In 1921 he began to prepare for the sisters’ arrival, scheduled for the following year. Bishop Oláiz received word that six missionary sisters were ready to come, but naval Governor Henry B. Price placed several obstacles in the way of the new mission.

First, knowing that the sisters were multinational, he decreed that they must all speak perfect English without a foreign accent. The Franciscan sisters humbly submitted to an examination conducted by the US Navy at Cavite, Philippines. Three of the sisters passed the exam, but the Mother Superior would not permit them to travel by themselves, as their rules required the presence of at least six nuns to found any new religious convents abroad. Bishop Oláiz then widened his search, looking for nuns with “Harvard accents.” However, Governor Price continued to impede entry to the island by any religious sister, this time with a last-minute strict but baseless immigration law. 

The Spanish priests continued to work on the island without the assistance of religious sisters through the 1920s and 1930s. Instead, they introduced new religious organizations for women and girls, including the Third Order of St. Francis for laypeople, and Las Hijas de Maria, or the Daughters of Mary, for the young girls. They also continued Eskuelan Pale’, or the priests’ school, to educate young people in Catholic faith after regular school hours. Much of their work was in the face of naval opposition to Catholicism and the growth of a Protestant community in Guam. Padre Palomo passed away in 1921, but Father Jesus Duenas, who entered the seminary in Cebu, Philippines in 1926, was ordained in 1938, and Father Oscar Calvo was ordained in 1941.

The naval administration, though, wanted to replace the Spanish priests with Americans. Finally, by the late 1930s, American Capuchins from Pennsylvania and Detroit were assigned to Guam. They worked alongside the Spanish missionaries until the 1941 invasion of Guam by the Japanese, who would remove all of them except for the two recently ordained native priests, Pale’ Duenas and Pale’ Calvo. 

In 1935, Capuchin Bishop Miguel Angel Olano de Urteaga became Bishop of Guam. Bishop Olano, like Bishop Oláiz before him, was interested in establishing an order of religious sisters on the island and for providing a place to generate native vocations. While a few Chamorro women had entered convents in the Philippines and the mainland United States, the Bishop ideally wanted to build an academy under the care of American sisters, since he knew the naval government wanted only English-speaking sisters. The Spanish Capuchins had tried to get the Navy’s permission to bring in the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM). The plan, however, never materialized, and the Guam mission had to continue without the help of religious sisters. However, several young women who had expressed a desire to enter the convent were sent by the Capuchins to the Philippines to join the FMM sisters there. One of the women, Maria Perez Franquez from Hagåtña, left Guam in 1933 and became Sister Margarita, FMM.

In the northern Marianas at the turn of the 20th century, there were no religious sisters or convents established on any of the islands. German Capuchins had been assigned to minister to the mixed population of indigenous Chamorros and resident Carolinians on the islands of Saipan and Rota. Although the government was German and the priests were German, relations between them were sometimes less than harmonious. The mission schools on Saipan were eventually turned over to government teachers, and when a government public school was established the missionaries were not allowed to teach there or impart religious instruction.

When World War I began, the Japanese took over the northern Mariana Islands and eventually the rest of the German possessions in Micronesia. As they had done in the Carolines, they removed the German priests from Saipan as prisoners of war, except for one priest who remained on Rota. Before they left, a local Chamorro, Gregorio Sablan, was delegated with the authority to maintain the Church on Saipan by baptizing, assisting the sick and dying, and performing marriages while there were no priests. He continued this ministry until 1921. By then, a formal petition started by the women of the Marianas compelled the Japanese government to negotiate with the Church in Rome to bring missionaries to the islands.  The Japanese government relented, but because there were too few Japanese priests available to serve in the missions, the government sought priests from a neutral nation. Soon, Spanish Jesuit priests from the Province of Andalusia were sent to the Marianas; they arrived in February 1921. Spanish Jesuits were also sent to the Carolines. 

The return of priests to the islands created a new opportunity for religious sisters to return to Micronesia. The sisters that came this time were the Mercedarians, from Berriz, Spain. They would be the first order in Micronesia to establish convents that accepted native girls for vocations in the religious life. The sisters had originally planned to open convents in the Caroline Islands and Japan, but were diverted from the Carolines, and directed to Saipan instead. 

Mercedarians in the Marianas

As early as 1920, there had already been missionary interest for the Mercedarians in the Caroline Islands, largely developed through a relationship with the Spanish Jesuits there who asked for the sisters and their students in Berriz for prayers for their mission. By 1927, the Mercedarians announced plans to establish a mission in Pohnpei. In what was essentially an experimental apostolic missionary endeavor, four Spanish nuns, Maria Loreto Zubia, Maria Teresa Cortazar, Maria Pilar Lorenzo and Inocencia Urizar left Berriz for the Carolines. However, they were delayed in Tokyo awaiting their ship and were soon informed that they would be going to Saipan instead. They arrived in the Marianas on 4 March 1928, whereupon landing, “the sisters knelt and kissed the ground in an act of Thanksgiving to God for having called them to this land so far away.” Indeed, they were the first religious sisters to be seen on Saipan, and the welcome they received from the Chamorro people was both “warm and generous.” 

The Japanese administration supported the Catholic missions and gave them a small subsidy to continue their apostolic works, in addition to providing medical facilities and education programs. However, the opening of a Catholic school was of major importance and a persistent desire of the Catholics of Saipan. For the Chamorros, the presence of the sisters would finally enable the establishment of a Catholic school on their island for their children. Fifteen days after they arrived on Saipan, the nuns opened their school with 12 Chamorro and 12 Carolinian girls, and by October, they opened a convent—the first in the Mariana Islands. One month later, the Mercedarians traveled to the Carolines and were finally able to establish their mission in Pohnpei.

Chamorro women interested in becoming nuns

Since their first encounter with the Mercedarian nuns, several Chamorro women quickly became interested in becoming religious sisters themselves. Ursula Matsunaga and her family soon developed a close relationship with the sisters, and she entered as a postulant in March 1932. It was a day of great celebration on Saipan, as Matsunaga became the first Micronesian and first Chamorro to enter the Mercedarian Missionaries. Indeed, she would pioneer the way for other young women from Micronesia to enter the convent. Matsunaga was sent to Japan for her novitiate formation, and after professing her vows, she was sent with a new group of missionaries from Pohnpei and Saipan to found the first mission in Chuuk on the tiny island of Fefen. One of her companions, Concepcion Bernaola, joked about their lack of money, having spent their single yen on candy for the children. In August 1936, they opened a boarding school with 31 girls.

Wartime misery

One of the most stirring accounts of the experience of World War II by the Chamorros in the Marianas can be found in the writings of a Mercedarian sister, Angélica Salaberría, who was working in Saipan during the war. In her words, it was a time of suffering, loss and agony for the people in Saipan. The Japanese had removed all the priests and although the sisters did not leave, they were looked upon with suspicion and suffered many hardships, as did the local people. Remedios Castro was a young Chamorro woman who helped the sisters during their forced isolation by the Japanese. Castro, indeed, was a Godsend for the nuns.  Bringing them to her family’s farm, she helped them search for food and water and brought them great relief, and even dealt with the police for them. Castro herself entered the convent after the war. 

Though they had lost virtually everything except for their soiled habits, passports and mission Constitution, the Mercedarians continued their work in the Marianas after the war, remaining primarily on Saipan. The American soldiers that took part in the liberation of the islands provided the sisters with a new building in the village of Chalan Kanoa, and with the help of American Catholic chaplains, Maryknoll missionaries from Hawai’i and the local population, the sisters began the rebuilding process. 

Skills needed after WWII

The postwar years brought calls for more nuns to help in the rebuilding of the island, but, as  in Guam, the call was for American sisters. The Marianas had been placed under the control of the US. It became apparent that the Mercedarian sisters from Berriz would need to establish a motherhouse in the US in order for them to continue their work in the Marianas and Micronesia. So, with a promise and help from Fr. Arthur Tighe, the military chaplain who had helped rescue the Mercedarian sisters during the American invasion of Saipan, the order founded their first American motherhouse in Kansas. 

The rebuilding of the Marianas after the war brought new activities and challenges for the sisters. The nuns expanded their school programs and developed a new catechism for the religious formation of youth. Classes were also given to Japanese residents who had married Chamorros and to the children of the American military families stationed on Saipan.

Also, during this time, the former Vicariate was divided, and Saipan became part of the Diocese of Guam (Saipan eventually would be separated from Guam and become the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa in 1985). In 1952, the sisters opened Mt. Carmel School in Chalan Kanoa, which later expanded to include a high school. 

In spite of their trials during the war, or perhaps because of it, vocations to a life of prayer and service flourished in the Marianas and the Carolines. The sisters opened their Aspirancy and Novitiate in Pohnpei as young women were asking to enter the community. The first group of novitiates included Juliana Cruz, Remedios Castro, and Antonia Lizama from Saipan, Elene Ebud and Johanna Tellei from Palau, Perpetua Hallers and Magdalena Narruhn from Chuuk and Rita Amor from Pohnpei.

In 1946 on the way to one of their missions in Micronesia, the Mercedarian sisters passed through Guam. They stayed in the home of local resident Maria Artero because there were still no convents there at the time for the sisters to visit. Twenty years later, in 1966, knowing the sisters’ desire to open a school and a convent  in Guam, Artero had willed them her house and property. Because by this time there were already Mercy and Notre Dame convents and schools, Bishop Baumgartner suggested the Mercedarians open a nursery school. Though the school and convent were destroyed by a typhoon in 1976, they were rebuilt and named for their benefactor, Maria Artero Catholic Preschool and Kindergarten.

The 1960s for the Mercedarians also was a time for expansion of their school programs in Saipan.  The young native aspirants in their order represented different stages of vocational commitment and a cross-section of Micronesia. The first final profession of vows for the new MMB sisters was in February 1964. The sisters decided to increase the educational opportunities for girls from the other Micronesian islands, so they opened an international residence for girls in Chalan Kanoa. The new dormitory allowed students from Belau, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, Ulithi and the Marshalls to reside and attend classes at Mt. Carmel School. 

The next decades, though, brought new directions for the Mercedarian sisters. The sisters ended their administration at Mt. Carmel School, but continued their involvement in the Sr. Remedios Early Childhood Development Center, where several of the younger sisters worked and gained skills in early childhood education. When nationwide, the numbers of new aspirants decreased, the Formation House closed. Eventually, though, the Formation Program reopened when new vocations were received from young women from the Federated States of Micronesia and Belau who came to Saipan to begin their early formation. In these years, the sisters continued to teach CCD, serve in youth ministry, and even produced a weekly radio program. They also became more involved in homebound visitations, and administering the Holy Eucharist to the sick. They also helped staff the local public schools.

Educating young girls continues

Today, the sisters are still very much involved in the education of young girls. In 1976, they opened the Our Lady of Mercy Vocational Training School which provided alternative vocational education to high-school aged girls who were at a disadvantage either economically or intellectually, and offered them a chance to learn life skills. Now, the school is a co-ed, college preparatory high school. The Sisters also run Pohnpei Catholic School, an elementary school in Kolonia, Pohnpei. They also continue to do ministerial work in the Caroline Islands and Belau, and working with the Maris Stella Elementary School and the Mindszenty High School. Their regional center is now located  in Guam, where they serve the community’s needs in various aspects of mission life. The sisters still run Maria Artero preschool, and have had teachers at the Father Duenas Memorial High School for boys and at the University of Guam. Through these experiences local women have been able to be more involved in the Mercedarian Redemptive charism in Micronesia.

The Mercedarian’s “experiment” in missionary activity proved to be very fruitful for the order and long-lasting. Their presence among the Chamorros in Saipan and other Pacific islanders throughout Micronesia set the standard for religious sisters who were to come into the Marianas in the years after the war.  in Guam which had never had the continuing presence of religious sisters, the arrival of the different orders would mark a turning point in the island’s growth as a faith community and its development as an American Archdiocese. Though several different orders eventually left for other missions elsewhere, they all played a part in the rebuilding of the island in the decades after the World War II.

Sisters of Mercy, Notre Dame and Franciscans

After the war, Guam was a vicariate and later elevated to the Diocese of Agana. Bishop Apollinaris W. Baumgartner took over Church leadership and was tasked with rebuilding the island’s churches, reorganizing lay ministries, promoting a native clergy by opening seminaries, building a Catholic medical center, promoting Catholic media and opening a Catholic school system. The last of these objectives coincided well with his plans to finally bring in women religious to Guam.

In the postwar era of the late 1940s and 1950s, the first orders of religious sisters began to establish convent houses  in Guam. Enthusiastically welcomed by the islanders, young girls and women began joining these religious communities and looked to fulfilling their calls to religious vocation awakened in them and opened up to them by the presence of these first religious sisters. Whether the presence of the religious sisters encouraged the sense of the calling or if such ideas of entering the convent would or could have occurred without the arrival of the religious orders is debatable. Clearly, though, there was a small number of Chamorro women who entered convents outside of Guam around this time. 

Mary Essie Underwood, later known as Sister Mary Inez Underwood, RSM, was the first Chamorro woman to enter religious life. She entered the convent of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Belmont, NC, in 1926. Maria Perez Franquez, as mentioned earlier, had joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mercy in the Philippines. Sister Maria Thecla Camacho also had entered the FMM convent just prior to World War II, and of course, Ursula Matsunaga from Saipan had joined the Mercedarian sisters.

But, without the establishment of convents with their affiliated motherhouses in the mainland US, it would have been more of a challenge for young women to travel and pursue religious life. The opening of religious convents  in Guam, therefore, probably allowed more religious vocations to emerge than if the religious sisters had not established convents here at all. 

Religious Sisters of Mercy

When the Sisters of Mercy arrived  in Guam in 1946, it made big news. Reverend Mother Maura Buchheit from the Regional Sisters of Mercy in Belmont, NC, responded to an invitation from Bishop Baumgartner to establish a convent for young women to become religious sisters, and to help in the rebuilding of war-devastated Guam. Bishop Baumgartner had actually appealed to several different religious orders throughout the US, but was rejected. However, the Bishop’s contact with the Mercy Sisters through James Underwood, a native of Gastonia, NC, but a longtime resident of Guam married to a Chamorro, Ana Martinez, was successful. On 5 November 1946, three sisters were sent to the island, including James Underwood’s daughter, Sr. Inez Underwood, to set up the first religious convent  in Guam.

The three women traveled a great distance to the tiny Pacific island, bringing with them their hopes and dreams, a trunkload of personal possessions, and, as remarked upon by Bishop Baumgartner, “a barrel of starch.” Shortly afterward in 1949, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, based in Milwaukee, WI, also at the invitation of Bishop Baumgartner, sent a small contingent of sisters to found a convent and a school. From humble beginnings, these two orders of religious women founded the first novitiates for religious sisters  in Guam that would impact the island and the rest of Micronesia in the years to come.

Although the Bishop himself was unable to meet them, the sisters were well-received by the local Capuchin priests, along with several young women, “handpicked by the bishop to help prepare the sisters’ first convent in Hagåtña,” and word of their arrival spread rapidly. As one of the pioneering sisters recalled:

We shall never forget for example the loyalty of the people, who, despite the fact that we arrived on a weekday, took hours off their work, the children took time out of school and all activities seemed to have stopped while the words ‘The sisters of Mercy are here’ passed from mouth to mouth! We were followed, we were gazed upon, we were spoken of, some of the people who had never before seen a Sister looked at us with awe…We had come to Guam expecting to find very little in the line of material comfort, and so what was our surprise when the first thing that greeted our eyes was a neat little fence surrounding four Quonset huts and above the gateway a huge sign that read: Mercy Convent, Sisters of Mercy, Belmont, NC. We were home again, and a feeling of deep satisfaction came over us—we were no longer strangers to this island, that boasted of a Mercy convent. 

The nuns also began to set up the Academy of Our Lady of Guam, a high school for girls, and the Cathedral Grade School, an elementary school for young children, both of which eventually opened in 1949 in Hagåtña.

Perhaps, like the appearance of the Mercedarians in Saipan, the presence of the new sisters intrigued the young Chamorro girls, and indeed, a number of them became interested in entering the convent. The convent soon became crowded, so the sisters constructed a mission house in Tai, Mangilao, in 1948. Sr. Louise Weisenforth, on returning to Guam in 1981, recounted those early years and of not knowing what to expect:

In the early days we didn’t have much of anything. We only had three chairs, and one of us would have to stand or absent ourselves when a visitor came. Our convent consisted of Quonset huts in Agana. We had to go to the priests’ house for meals because we had no stove. How good they were to us—they faithfully invited us to share three meals a day with me. These were very trying times, but the Bishop made sure that all our needs were met.

Sr. Louise Weisenforth

On 12 December 1946, the Foundation Day of Mercy in Guam, 10 girls became postulants in the new community, and within six months, 10 more girls joined. Continuing, Sr. Louise said:

We were a real family sharing the hard times as well as the less difficult ones. Our days were filled with prayer, work and studies. When the novitiate opened at Tai in 1948, the clearing of the land and having bake sales became part of our regular routine. After Typhoon Karen in [November] 1962, we spent Christmas Eve putting the last coat of paint on the chapel walls. This sounds like a lot of work, but nothing is really work when it is done together and done with love.

In 1949, the convent in Inalåhan was constructed, and the sisters extended their ministry to the southern villages. In 1950, Santa Barbara Convent and Santa Barbara Elementary School were established in Dededo. By 1951, the Tai convent was dedicated as the Motherhouse and Formation House for the Sisters of Mercy and would be the main novitiate on island for years to come.

In the 75 years of service to the people of Guam, the Sisters of Mercy continued to build schools throughout the island, including St. Anthony School in Tamuning, Infant of Prague Nursery and Kindergarten in Tai, and Mercy Heights Nursery and Kindergarten in Oka, Tamuning (presently the site of the Guam Memorial Hospital). Another convent was built in Hagåtña, next to the Academy of Our Lady of Guam High School. 

First professions of vows

The first final professions of vows for the Mercy Sisters  in Guam took place at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral in Hagåtña on 2 July 1952. Beginning in the 1950s under the administration and guidance of Sr. Inez Underwood, the young novitiates were sent off-island for higher education. The different communities throughout the US provided much of the support and care for these young Chamorro women, with many of them receiving four-year scholarships to their affiliated colleges and universities. Many of the new sisters returned to Guam and assumed leadership and teaching positions throughout the community as needed.

By 1957, the Mercy sisters were working on Rota, doing missionary work and teaching catechism to the young children during the summer months. By 1961, they expanded their mission to include the children of military families stationed on Wake Island.

Changes after the Second Vatican Council

The 1960s presented new challenges for the Catholics worldwide, and the Sisters of Mercy, as well, were impacted by the global events surrounding the Second Vatican Council in Rome. In 1960, Sr. Callista Camacho became the first native Chamorro to be named as Superior of the Community. In 1966, the First General Chapter was held in Belmont, NC, and the Mercy Sisters  in Guam sent their own contingent of nuns to the meeting. Of the different changes discussed was the naming of Guam as its own “Region,” and in 1971, Sr. Mary Mark Martinez was appointed the first Regional Superior. This year also marked the celebration of the order’s Silver Jubilee, and when Guam held its First Regional Assembly, Mother Mary Benignus Hoban, Superior of the total Community of Belmont and Guam, and Mother Maura Buccheit, the Superior who had sent the original three sisters to Guam 25 years earlier, were in attendance. 

In the early 1970s the Guam Mercy sisters expanded their work to help with Mt. Carmel School in Saipan. In the 1980s they took over the administration of Bishop Baumgartner High Memorial School when its founding sisters, the Fanciscans, returned to Wisconsin. Around this time, Bishop Tomas Camacho of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, Saipan, asked the Sisters of Mercy to work in the northern Marianas. The sisters took up the invitation and started San Francisco de Borja Elementary School on the island of Rota, and by 1990, they arrived in Saipan. The sisters continued their work in Saipan and Rota, and by the 1990s, at the invitation of the Bishop of the Diocese of Chuuk, Caroline Islands, the Mercy nuns established a new foundation in Micronesia. 

In 1991, the members of more than a dozen US-based Sisters of Mercy congregations merged together to be formally known as the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Ten years in the making, this merged order then joined 16 other Mercy congregations to form the Mercy Institute, making it the largest English-speaking order of the world.

In 2022, there were almost 30 active Sisters of Mercy  in Guam, mostly Chamorro women, but also including Filipina, Micronesian, and other ethnic groups, that work in varying capacities in both private and public schools, in parishes with pastoral, family and youth ministries, in daycare centers, and in hospice and health care.  As Bishop Baumgartner commented 20 years after the first sisters arrived  in Guam with their barrel of starch, his words still ring true:

…While starch has gone out of some habits these days, the starch of fruitful religious observance has remained and has accomplished very much over the years since the coming of the first Sisters of Mercy.

School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND)

The initial success of the Mercy Sisters  in Guam led many people on the island, parents and parish leaders alike, to request for the opening of more Catholic schools. In May 1949, there was word that the School Sisters of Notre Dame had agreed to come to Guam to open a grade school in the village of Yona by the following September. Bishop Baumgartner had been corresponding with the Mother Superior of the SSND in Wisconsin, painting for her a picture of the mission in Guam in the aftermath of war and the conditions of the people and island in general. The school was to “render a civic service” as the Sisters would be following the curriculum and practice of Catholic Schools throughout the US and maintain high educational standards.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame, founded by Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger of Bavaria, Germany, had been working throughout the US, with motherhouses in Baltimore and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On 10 August 1949, seven sisters from Milwaukee arrived in Guam. According to the Mother Superior, Mother Fidelis Krieter, there was so much enthusiasm among the sisters to come to Guam, she did not ask for volunteers, lest some of them would be disappointed at not being chosen.

However, she did invite sisters interested in working in the Guam mission to contact her, and for each sister to discuss the prospect with their parents. Sr. Mary Eric Millitzer, SSND, recalled their arrival 25 years later:

On this date in 1949, I came to the island of Guam, believing that it would be my home until the day I died…I remember how much I loved teaching the children and how much I enjoyed knowing each student…I loved being in Guam because of the spiritual opportunities, challenges and direction it gave to my growth as a religious. I especially love and remember each of the families who gave a daughter to our congregation so that the work we began could flourish through them.

The sisters were warmly received by the priests and people of Hagåtña and Yona, but their convent was not ready to be moved in, so they spent their first night at the St. Francis Church rectory. The sisters found themselves adjusting to life in Guam, with geckos and the sounds of roosters crowing, while the sisters prayed. The Yona community, though poor, was generous, offering food and whatever they could to share with the new arrivals. The SSND nuns opened their convent and St. Francis School in Yona, and by December, the first Chamorro candidates were received: Lourdes Isadora Manibusan, Isabela Cruz Mendiola and Felicita Baza Sudo. They were joined later by Margarita Castro, Trinidad Matanane and Josephina Cepeda. A new candidature building was constructed in 1950 to accommodate the increasing number of young women seeking religious life. Like the Mercy sisters, the SSND sisters sent their aspirants to the continental US, usually Wisconsin, for higher studies. The first local sister to take her final vows as a Notre Dame sister was Sr. Rose Marie Manibusan of Barrigada in July 1959.

The Notre Dame sisters also opened Mt. Carmel School in Hågat and San Vicente School in Barrigada, both of which are elementary and middle schools. The two schools, in addition to St. Francis School in Yona, are now the main feeder schools for Notre Dame High School in Talo’fo’fo. Founded in 1968, Notre Dame High School was originally an all-girls school, but became co-ed in 1995. St. Francis School had to be rebuilt when it was destroyed by Supertyphoon Paka in 1997. 

Because of Guam’s geographical location and cultural differences, the convent  in Guam was given regional status in 1968. The sisters continued to extend their charism to other islands, and in that same year, they opened their mission in Rota, teaching in the school system there. In 1970, the sisters opened a dormitory to accommodate girls from off-island wishing to attend school. 

The Notre Dame nuns also went out into missions in Micronesia. In 1972, two sisters were sent to Ulithi for a missionary journey of eight weeks, the first sisters to work on that island. Although the language barrier made the work challenging, the sisters enjoyed their time among the children and their parents, holding classes under the coconut trees on the beach. The sisters also went to Yap where they worked with the Maryknoll nuns. In these years, more of the native Chamorro sisters were gradually taking on leadership positions and making decisions within their regional organization and schools. In the 1980s and 1990s, the region of Guam extended in response to a call for sisters in Ebeye in the Marshalls and Chuuk in the central Carolines. Today, the convents for the Notre Dame sisters are in Barrigada, Talo’fo’fo, and Hågat, with about 15 sisters living in these residences. The Notre Dame sisters continue to work and devote their efforts throughout Guam and Micronesia.

Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) 

In 1954, another order of religious sisters visited the island at the invitation of Bishop Baumgartner to observe the missions  in Guam, and to possibly establish their own community on the island—the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. This order of Franciscan sisters was founded in Wisconsin in the mid-1800s by a group of Bavarian laywomen who immigrated to the US to establish a religious community. Like other missionary groups around the world, the Franciscans sisters had built and worked at schools, hospitals and clinics. 

In July, the Franciscans agreed to come to Guam, and by August, the first sisters from La Crosse, Wisconsin, arrived on island. The sisters lived in a private home until their convent was built in 1962. In 1955, Catholic leaders in the Diocese built a Catholic medical center in Hagåtña, and it was in this small facility that some of the Franciscans worked with patients. The sisters also opened St. Jude Thaddeus Junior High School (later renamed Bishop Baumgartner Memorial School) in Sinajana. Sister Mary Optata Fries, one of the original FSPA nuns to move to Guam, worked tirelessly to provide a firm foundation for the school. The sisters were active in the classroom, but did other parish work as well, including visiting the sick, administering Holy Communion, visiting the hospital and prison, and coordinating activities for young people. 

It seemed with each new order arriving on the island came new interest among the young Chamorro girls to enter the convent. The first two aspirants for the Franciscan sisters were Antonia Mafnas and Dora Barcinas, who made their way to the motherhouse in La Crosse in August 1956. Soon other young Chamorro women followed and became fully professed sisters.

In the mid-1970s, Bishop Flores and the Diocese of Agana built a new medical facility, the Medical Center of the Marianas, near the Mercy convent in Oka, Tamuning. It was meant to complement the government-run Guam Memorial Hospital (GMH). The Franciscans and Mercy sisters worked at the Medical Center for a few years. The Medical Center, though, proved to be a big financial burden for the Diocese as it competed for patients with GMH. Eventually, the Diocese sold the facility to the Government, and GMH began to move its operations there, until it became known as the new Guam Memorial Hospital, and the old GMH building was abandoned.

In the early 1970s, St. Jude School became a Diocesan school and was renamed Bishop Baumgartner Junior High School. Students in 7th and 8th grades from Cathedral Grade School were transferred there. The Franciscan Sisters continued to work in the school system, hospital and the wider island community in a variety of capacities, but eventually, they were ordered to return to new missions in the mainland US and left Guam in 1986. Sr. Gloria Aguon before retirement was one of the last FSPA sisters to remain  in Guam. The Sisters of Mercy took over Bishop Baumgartner School and eventually merged it with the Cathedral Grade School in the 1990s.

Other religious orders

In addition to the Sisters of Mercy, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, several other orders of religious sisters established communities in Guam over the years, some staying and some moving on as their missions allowed.

In the 1960s, amid the sweeping changes within the Catholic Church around the world and in Guam, a different kind of religious community opened up on the island. The Discalced Carmelite Sisters (OC), founded by St. Teresa of Avila Spain and probably the most well-known of the cloistered orders for women, opened the first contemplative community within the Diocese of Agana. Six Carmelite nuns from Sava, Malaysia arrived in 1966 at the request of Bishop Baumgartner, some 30 years after the first effort to bring in the Carmelites had failed. Interestingly, two Chamorros were already professed Carmelites—the daughters of Guam businesswoman Ignacia Bordallo Butler, Beatrice (Sister Martha of Jesus and Mary) and Dorothy (Sister Carmencita of the Infant of Prague). The Butler sisters had entered the Carmelite Convent in Berkeley, California back in the 1950s. By 1968, the first candidates were accepted into the Guam community. Their monastery was built in Malojloj, Inalåhan, where they supported themselves and lived their lives of prayer. Later, the monastery was moved to Tamuning. The Carmelites remained in Guam until 2016.

The Congregation of Religious Missionaries of St. Dominic, or the Dominican Sisters, made their way to the island in 1979. They established their convent in Barrigada intending to serve the island’s need for a care facility for the elderly and a daycare center for young children. The Dominicans currently operate St. Dominic’s Senior Care facility which they opened in 1986 and Dominican Child Development Center in Ordot. They also opened the Dominican Catholic School in Yigo. 

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd were invited to Guam by Bishop Felixberto Flores in 1972 because of their specialty in caring for troubled youths. They took charge of a residential program for emotionally disturbed teens, which was a growing concern for the island. Eventually, though, the sisters were recalled back to the Philippines with the institution of martial law in that country. Good Shepherd sisters from North American provinces then came out and among other charitable works, they opened the Catholic Social Services  in Guam to help the elderly and needy families and individuals. They also founded the Alee Shelter to help battered women and children of domestic abuse They remained  in Guam until 2003. Though they are no longer active on the island, the Alee Shelter and Catholic Social Services are still open and continue to provide support to Guam’s population.

The Daughters of St. Paul also established a convent  in Guam for a brief period in the 1980s. With their mission of spreading the Gospel through books, recordings and other means of communication, they opened their book and media center in Tamuning. The order left Guam in the early 1990s.

Life in Community

After World War II and the Japanese occupation of Guam, most people were focused on rebuilding the island, their homes and their lives amidst the destruction. The American naval government was reinstated, and schooling had resumed for many young people whose education had been interrupted by the war. Women also entered the work force in greater numbers. For the most part, women looked forward to the typical careers afforded them at this time—secretarial work, nursing or teaching. Indeed, many women who entered the workforce did so while juggling marriage and child-rearing. A few women also had opportunities to travel to the US mainland to pursue college studies. The arrival of religious sisters, though, presented a different kind of opportunity.

By the late 1950s the four main orders of religious sisters in the Marianas—the Sisters of Mercy, the Franciscans, the Notre Dame sisters and the Mercedarians—had more than 202 women involved in one way or another in different stages of the religious life from aspirants, postulants and novices to fully professed sisters. The usual practice was to begin their religious formation on-island first, then to send these young women off-island for training and higher education in mainland colleges and universities, usually affiliated or in some kind of mutual arrangement with the order’s motherhouse. The Notre Dame sisters had opened an aspiranture (a place for exploring firsthand the lifestyle of a religious community)  in Guam, but sent their postulants and novices to the motherhouse in Wisconsin. Likewise, the Franciscans sent novices to their motherhouse in Wisconsin, and the Sisters of Mercy trained a portion of their postulants and novices in North Carolina, and the rest in Guam.

The decision to enter a community was not always easy, even if a young woman had a sense of being drawn to the religious life. A calling to religious life is very personal, as is the decision to answer it. The person who chooses religious life has the desire to specifically live the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in community. Most of the young women who entertained the thought of entering the convent often relied on their families, priests and other advisors to help them understand what they were feeling and to help validate or verify that religious life was for them. Families’ reactions were varied as well—some families welcomed the idea of having a religious sister among them. Others questioned why their daughters would choose such a life, one that did not seem to bring the same kind of fulfilment that marriage and children could provide. 

The novelty of the first sisters was a huge draw for some. A religious sister, born in the 1920s, shared this experience:

Way back when I was in the first grade, I saw three women walking down the street in Hagåtña and I was told that they were nuns—etmanas. I learned that the role of etmanas was purely educational. So I would go home and gather the children and put a towel over my head, and I would pretend that I am an etmana. And ever since then, I knew there was something so mysterious, pulling me to be an etmana…Even before I completed high school I felt that pull. I didn’t want to do my training here in Guam. I wanted to go to North Carolina. There was no Catholic school in my time. I went to the public school. But it was my family that nurtured my vocation the most. I was a faithful Sodalist [member of the Sodality of Mary] in our parish and that was where we went for catechism. When still a very young teenager, I used to teach eskeulan pale’ so that, again, was a help toward my faith life, because I knew I had to study and hand that down to the children…My family was very supportive. All my brothers and sisters, though, used to tease me just to make me mad and I remember one of my brothers said, “Oh you won’t last three weeks, you’ll come right out.” I proved them wrong. Now I’ve been a sister for about 56 years from the time I entered.

Witnessing the presence of those first religious sisters in Guam, so closely interacting with the community, the Catholic education they received in school or eskuelan pale’, and growing up in Catholic households with all its rituals and celebrations were often cited as part of their influences. The recent experience of war which disrupted their youth made them hopeful for something better. But, as young people often do in making life-changing decisions, their uncertainty made them willing to try it out, but they would not stay if they did not like it. Some of them looked to their friends to see if they wanted to enter the convent together. For some, the call to enter the convent was something that touched them deeply and almost immediately, while for others, it took longer to respond and affirm their desire to enter the religious life. Despite the uncertain future and the cost of their former secular lives, they believed the rewards by God would be more than enough.

Another sister who entered the convent in the 1960s relates her experience:

There was a classmate of mine who entered before I did, and some people thought I’d entered because of her. But she left—and I’m still here! So, it wasn’t because of her…There was an attraction to the life, then, I thought, there was a definite calling…It’s not really something easily identifiable as Reasons 1, 2, 3 and 4. It was this calling that attracted me. When I look back, you know, I was so young then, making this decision, and my father was so against it. Oh, my mother was in high heaven because I wanted to enter, but not my father…He used very strong words.

Once entered, life in the convent was not easy. From the outside, the convent was a place of mystery, with walls that shielded them from public view, much like the habits they wore that cloaked their bodies.  As one sister described it,

No one goes in and, you know, they don’t leave the convent. And you go up to visit them; they don’t go home to visit.

The aspiring nuns underwent a formal training process and change in lifestyle that was different from their culture and sometimes took them far from home. Though faithful Catholics, living in community with other religious women, apart from their families, presented hardships and difficulties. One sister described the daily routine when she first entered the convent in the early 1950s: “When I was a young sister, we get up at 5 in the morning, we meditate for a half hour, then we have Mass, we say the Aves, we go to breakfast; after breakfast, we go upstairs to our room, we brush our teeth, make our bed, then we go down and do our duty. My duty was, maybe, to mop the floor, and then to study. Then we have lunch, and then after lunch, you go back to working in the field, outside in the hot sun. Then we say our evening prayer; we say meditation and have our spiritual reading sessions and night prayers, then we go to bed.”

Taking their final vows also meant taking a different name, a different identity. They were “brides of Christ,” and they had vowed to live their lives according to His will and through the charism of their order’s founder. A Notre Dame sister briefly described her progress from candidate to professed sister:

So I entered in 1950, and I went to the States for my formation. I rode out my novitiate in Milwaukee. I was in candidacy for two years, and then I entered the novitiate…You’re segregated from everyone—there are lots of sisters around you, but you only communicate with the sister in charge of you. You don’t really talk to anyone else, you’re learning more about how the religious life is supposed to be. And after a year of canonical seclusion, prayers and learning about our rules and constitution, we have profession of first vows, and that’s when we change our white veil to black. I was professed by 1955. I got my name when I was a novice. They ask you to choose a religious name. We’re not too sure, though, because sometimes at the reception they won’t give you the name you ask for. At the reception they clipped our hair as a sign that we leave the world, since our hair is part of our vanity. Then we were given the wimple for the veil. Back in those days, this is the only thing you see [circles around her face with her fingers]. We were dressed up and given a crown of roses. When my turn came, the Monsignor announced the name I had wanted! I was so happy!

Because the Mercy Sisters, Notre Dame Sisters and the Franciscan Sisters were teaching orders, many of the new nuns went on for further education and to begin their own lives as teachers. Some of the schools they were sent to had never heard of Guam. One sister recalled:

I went to an elementary school to practice teaching, and I would help the fourth grade or was a substitute for the second grade. I was teaching reading and two little boys, both named Tommy, were laughing. They looked up at me and said, “You look like a Chinese.” I told them, “I am not a Chinese, I am a Guamanian, I’m from a little island called Guam.” They looked at me again and said, “Ohh…” [Laughs] What do second graders understand about being from Guam?

After training, the sisters were sent back to Guam to teach in the Catholic Schools. In those years, some of the schools were still Quonset huts. The work was challenging but rewarding, and each sister developed her own way of coping with the needs of different kinds of students. Many of their former students would grow up to be important people in Guam, including leaders in the business community and in government.

Not everyone who entered the convent became sisters, and not all the professed sisters stayed. Some moved on to other professions and found fulfilment back in secular life. But those that remained and lived out their lives as nuns saw many good and bad changes in community life, the island and the Church in general. Some were able to obtain advanced degrees or to do other work besides or in addition to teaching.

As one Mercy Sister expressed:

Community life has changed now…[when] I was told to do this, I did it. Nowadays, in religious life, you’re asked, where do you want to stay? What convent? What is going to be your ministry next year? next school year? next fiscal year? if you want to leave teaching? And usually, they say, if you’re going to leave teaching, you find yourself another job. So, the responsibility is always on the individual, each sister. Because the idea is, we don’t serve God in a cubicle, we serve God in the way we impact the whole world. We serve God not because we are Sisters of Mercy living in a convent. We serve God because we are able to touch the lives of people. We have Sisters who are doctors; we have Sisters who are lawyers; we have Sisters who work in clinics, and we have Sisters who work for justice…You are an individual. You don’t lose your individuality when you enter the convent.

Impacts of religious sisters in postwar Guam

At the end of World War II, the island’s culture was steeped in Catholic traditions as it had been for hundreds of years, and its people still identified themselves largely as Chamorro Catholics. The trauma of the Japanese occupation and the devastation of the landscape did not seem to diminish the religious faith that many had drawn upon during the worst moments of the war. But, there were newer influences—modern, secular, and American—that were pulling people’s attitudes and understandings of themselves in different directions politically, economically and socially in the early postwar years. The presence of religious sisters in Guam in the decades that followed also had an effect on the island community.

The different religious sisters helped change the island’s education and healthcare system. Through their lifestyle, they redefined expected gender roles in Guam and gave Chamorro women new opportunities to leave the island and learn new skills and ideas. They developed for these women a sense of mission and ministry.  Their lives reflected the patterns of social change brought about by postwar development, as well as the struggles over dogma and doctrine within the larger universal Church in light of Vatican II. 

In the Marianas, the sisters were a most welcomed sight for a people still recovering from the ravages of war. As the Mercedarians of Berriz had done on Saipan, the presence of the Mercy and Notre Dame sisters inspired the Chamorro people of Guam, young and old, Catholic and non-Catholic. Parents were excited at the opening of Catholic schools for their children. Young girls eagerly joined the rosters of entrants, moving through the process to become fully professed religious sisters. Indeed, Guam would have one of the largest numbers of entrants into the religious life among the different Micronesian islands. 

The nationwide movement of women into the workforce after the war saw marked growth in jobs often labeled as “women’s work,” such as nursing, secretarial work and education. Like their American counterparts, the Chamorro women sought opportunities for education and for jobs that would help them to sustain themselves and their families within the increasingly more urban island society. For the most part, the young women that celebrated their entry into the convents  in Guam anticipated a life of service as teachers. Certainly, many of those women did become educators  in Guam and in the mainland US. But in the years that followed, service in other capacities emerged for them, including work within the local health care system, and administrative roles within the Diocese and even public policy boards. 

When the convents became more locally sustainable, Chamorro sisters took on leadership and representative roles within their local religious communities as well as at the regional level of their orders in the mainland. Religious sisters, therefore, were not just running the Catholic schools, but they also were seen as important contributors to the overall well-being of the people of the island. 

Young women could see that entering the convent provided an alternative to the expectations of marriage, motherhood and domestic responsibilities for Chamorro women of the time. Women religious, unlike other women in the laity, did not have the constraints that spouse and family would impose—similar to the advantages of priesthood—on their abilities, time and efforts at service. Going against the more traditional roles of motherhood and marriage, religious sisters were, in this way, free to devote their services to their communities.  In Guam, however, many of the Chamorro religious sisters returned to the island to work, and, therefore, presented a unique situation of sisters doing their part for the island community, but oftentimes, still maintaining family ties and caring for elderly parents or other relatives.

The 1960s, -70s and -80s would see continued growth and activity among Guam’s religious communities, with new orders arriving, and the establishment of more Catholic schools networked with the government-run public school system. They worked at the local hospital and Catholic medical center as nurses, assistants and pastoral ministers. They provided assistance to the poor and disenfranchised, and offered a safe haven for victims of domestic violence and abuse. They worked within village parishes, catechizing young Catholics, preparing them for the Holy Sacraments that would mark their movement to adult participation within the Church. Indeed, their work and activities were as varied as the women themselves who made up the different communities of religious.

It must be remembered, though, that each sister is an individual. Each life is unique. Each response to a call to religious life is different and expressed in different ways. As one religious sister expressed, “I really have lived a very full life, and I don’t think I would have had as good a life if I had chosen another life. I honestly experience God’s presence in my life. And for me, I think that [the] Gospel [reading] about finding a treasure in the field and selling all for that treasure, I think I can say, in this life, I have found a treasure. Nothing else would matter, nothing can compare to that experience…

I hope that in my life, really, as a woman religious, that people see me—that [they] don’t see me, not necessarily as a teacher administrator or whatever—but they see me. I hope, that in my life, when I meet a person or live with a person or work with a person, that they meet a woman who has really experienced God in her life.

By Dominica Tolentino

For further reading

Baumgartner, AW. “The Establishment of an Enclosure.” Umatuna si Yu’us, 14 January 1968.

Becmer, Sr. Mary Ann, MMB. “The Beginnings: Christian Captives, an Order of Mercy, a Resounding Call to be Missionaries.” The Pacific Voice, 30 June 2002.

Forbes, Eric, OFM Cap. 100 Capuchin Centennial Guam 1901-2001, Fañetbe. Agana Heights: Capuchin Star of the Sea Vice Province, 2001.

Hezel, Francis X., SJ. The Catholic Church in Micronesia. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1991.

McMullin, Alice. “Local Franciscan Sisters Celebrate Centennial Anniversary of Their Order.” The Pacific Voice, 30 July 1978.

McNamara, Bernardette. “Catherine McAuley Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, Part III.” The Pacific Voice, 30 Oct 1994.

Myers, Marjorie, SSND, and Mary Ignatia Sanchez, SSND. “The School Sisters of Notre Dame in the Region of Guam.” 2007.

Pangelinan, Trinie, RSM. “Sr. Roberta Taitano Called to Eternal Rest.” The Pacific Voice, 18 January 2004.

Rogers, Robert. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 1995.

Salaberría, María Angélica, MMB. A Time of Agony: Saipan 1944. Translated by Marjorie Drive and Omaira Brunal-Perry. Mangilao: Micronesia Area Research Center, University of Guam, 1994.

Sanchez, Ignacia, SSND, and Pilar Williams. “Growth of the SSND Region.” The Pacific Voice, 28 March 1999.

Sisters of Mercy. Sisters of Mercy: Golden Celebration of Service 1946-1996. Commemorative Book. Hagåtña: Archdiocese of Agana, 2003.

Souder-Jaffery, Laura Marie Torres. Daughters of the Island: Contemporary Chamorro Women Organizers on Guam. 2nd edition. MARC Monograph Series No. 1. Mangilao: Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam, 1992.

Spoehr, Alexander. Saipan: The Ethnology of a War-Devastated Island. 2nd ed. Saipan: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Historic Preservation, 2000.

Sullivan, Julius, OFM Cap. The Phoenix Rises: A Mission History of Guam. New York: Seraphic Mass Association, 1957.

The Pacific Voice. “Dominican Sisters Begin Work.” 26 August 1979.

–––. “Foundation of New Mercy Institute.” 28 July 1991.

–––. “Mercy Sisters Celebrate 47th Year in Guam.” 21 November 1993.

–––. “Maria Artero Catholic Pre-school and Kindergarten.” 13 October 2002.

–––. “The Post-War Years—1945-49: A Time to Rebuild.” 27 October 2002.

–––. “Continuing the Dream Through Presence—1970s –1990s.” 5 January 2003.

Vicariate Apostolic of Guam. “First Aspirants for Franciscan Sisters.” Umatuna si Yu’us 10, no. 35 (1956): 1.

–––. “Our Sisters.” Umatuna si Yu’us, 16 October 1959.

–––. “New Mercy Convent, Oka, Dedicated.” Umatuna si Yu’us, 2 October 1966.

–––. “First Investiture Ceremony for Carmelites at Malojloj.” Umatuna si Yu’us, 18 August 1968.

–––. “Remembering Sr. Martha of Jesus and Mary, OCD.” Umatuna si Yu’us, 14 January 2012.