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Mercedarian Sisters mark 75 years on Saipan

By Sr. Maryann Hartmann, MMB

For the Saipan Tribune

As history goes, 75 years is not a long time, yet it is nonetheless significant. That is why after a "Year of Gratitude" in preparation, the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz, an international community of religious women, will celebrate on Tuesday, March 4, the Diamond Jubilee of their arrival to Saipan.

Seventy-five years ago on March 4, 1928, five Sisters-Sisters Loreto Zubia, Inocencia Urizar, Pilar Lorenzo, Maria Teresa Cortazar and Aurora Chopitea-arrived after traveling for more than three months, having left their motherhouse of Berriz in the north of Spain on October 30, 1927.

The first thing that they did was kneel down and kiss the ground, thanking God for having called them to this mission in such a far away country. The residents of Saipan had awaited them with anticipation. With all the women on one side and all the men on the other singing Atan Jesukristo and Asaina Jesus, the Sisters proceeded with Jesuit Frs. Dionisio de la Fuente and Luis Carlos Faber to the church.

The early days of the Sisters in Saipan required plenty of adjustments, but despite not knowing any of the local languages, they tried to respond to the persistent requests of the young women that they open a school. Only 15 days after their arrival, on March 19-the Feast of St. Joseph-they did so.

Twelve Chamorro girls and 12 Carolinian girls had their instruction in classes, which were held from 9am-12 noon, Monday through Saturday. Japanese girls also came in the afternoons from 3-4pm.

This was the humble beginning that the Mercedarian Sisters had on the island, eventually also in other apostolic works such as teaching doktrina, and offering classes in piano, Spanish, drawing, flower arrangement, and later home economics-cooking and sewing. Many years and experiences ensued, not the least of which was the experience of World War II.

In 1951, Our Lady of Mercy Kindergarten, now called Sr. Remedios Early Childhood Development Center, was opened. In 1952, Mt. Carmel School would be established and later, in 1979, the Maturana House of Prayer.

The names, the faces, the places of origin, and even the style of dress of the different Sisters throughout the years have changed, but the love, care, concern and dedication continue.

And so, the Mercedarian Sisters presently on Saipan is extending an invitation to everyone to join us for an evening prayer of Thanksgiving with light refreshments afterward.

It will be held at the "Pantalan Aleman," the dock right across from Kristo Rai Church-the same dock to which the first Sisters arrived-at 5:30pm, March 4, a Tuesday.

Perhaps it was one of your ancestors who was there 75 years ago, perhaps not, but in this year, 2003, it can be you.

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