Settled on Saipan first

The Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz are a Catholic missionary community of religious sisters who have been in the Mariana Islands since 1928, working first in Saipan and then in Guam beginning in 1962.

In the 1920s, one of the nuns of the cloistered Mercedarian convent of Berriz (Vizcaya, Spain), Margarita Lopez de Maturana, was inspired to support the Catholic overseas missions. Returning Jesuit missionaries from the Far East and the Pacific visited the convent and spread missionary interest among the nuns and their students. Besides encouraging prayers for the missions, Sr. Margarita organized fund raising efforts and sent cards and material assistance to the missions. Later, the sisters petitioned Rome for permission to end their cloistered status so that they themselves might be able work in the missions. When Rome’s approval came, the first Mercedarian missionaries from Berriz left for China in 1926.

In 1928, Mother Margarita sent the first Mercedarian missionaries to Saipan, their first Pacific mission. Later that same year, a second Pacific mission was opened in Pohnpei. In 1936, the sisters began a mission in Chuuk. After World War II, the Mercedarians resumed their work which spread to other islands in Micronesia.

In 1962, the first Mercedarian sisters came to Guam to open a house for Mercedarians in transit and for the sisters needing medical attention in Guam. These sisters, who lived in a house in Sinajana, were Maria Camino Julia, Teresa Pagazaortundua, and Justa Izaguirre. Typhoon Karen damaged that house and the sisters had to leave Guam.

Artero Nursery in Agana Heights

In 1966, they returned to the island when they were given a house in Agana Heights. It was the gift of the late owner, Maria Cruz Artero. When the sisters asked Bishop Baumgartner how they could serve the church in Guam, he told them that there was a need for Catholic pre-schools. The sisters then used the ground floor of the Artero house as a pre-school and named it in honor of their benefactor. Sisters Mary Louise Balzarini and Cecilia Tudela were the first to open the nursery. The nursery has expanded in size and enrollment over the years.

The house has been the regional leadership center for the Micronesian area. Mercedarian sisters living in the Agana Heights convent have also worked or taught at the University of Guam, the Micronesian Area Research Center, Fr. Duenas Memorial School, and Bishop Baumgartner School. One sister was Director of Religious Education for the diocese and nearly every sister stationed in Guam has assisted at Catholic Campus Ministry (University of Guam). Many sisters at the parish of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Agana Heights have served as Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) teachers, lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, and in youth ministry. Another has taught in the University of Maryland Andersen Air Force Base program. To date there are around fifty Mercedarian sisters working in Micronesia.

By Eric Forbes, OFM Cap.

For further reading

Hartmann, Mary Ann, MMB. “Mercedarian Sisters Mark 75 years on Saipan.” Saipan Tribune, 1 March 2003.

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

Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy: Mercedarian Friars USA. “Order of Mercy.”

Our Lady Of Mercy Country Home. ”HOME | Independent Living Facility.”