Mother Mary John Mananzan, OSB
I am now a super senior citizen but I am
still learning. And looking back on my life, the most important
lessons I’ve learned have been from women.
From my mother I learned extravagant
generosity. In our house, we were forever sorting relief goods,
old clothes, etc. to give to the poor.
She was like a mother of perpetual help. All
needy relatives, and even non-relatives, came to her when they
needed material things and when they were in trouble–an unwed
mother, a distraught parent trying to dissuade a daughter from
marrying at 16, quarreling siblings among others.
Today, when I have this strong urge to take
someone under my wings (i.e. Jun Lozada, Nancy Gadian Dante
Madriaga, Letlet, etc.), I am reminded of where I got this
When I was third year high school at St.
Scholastica’s college, I had this fantastic sociology teacher
who was only a few years older than us.
Connie Lopez (later, Mrs. Reyes) was always
in the Directress’ office because she wore sleeveless dresses
and her classes were noisy. Under her, we had group discussions,
unheard of at that time. We all had a crush on her, especially
my gang of four.
When she asked us if we wanted to have a
study club, we, of course, said yes. I learned more there than I
did in the classroom.
Around a marble table under an acacia tree,
we studied logic, epistemology, cosmology and later on the
characters of the Reformation and the like. My mind simply
exploded and I was infected with intellectual curiosity that
would stay with me for life.
Ms. Lopez also taught
us non-intellectual skills. Typing, for instance. She was so
strict we had to retype a page if there was a single mistake.
This served me well years later when I wrote my 365-page
doctoral dissertation in
What I learned best from her was how to be a
teacher who was not only a mentor but a real friend.
In college, three nuns stood out as mentors.
Sr. Ma. Liguori del Rosario was a tall,
manly-looking, externally gruff but genuinely caring sister
whose shoes looked like boats.
From her, we caught a glimmer of
understanding of chemistry, but not before she would exclaim in
boxer’s language, “I am about to throw in my towel,” which left
us even more perplexed because what did towel have to do with
She taught us to love
We also learned unflinching honesty and
self-directed discipline. As dean, she introduced the honor
system in the college department. Violations of school rules
earned demerits depending on the gravity of the offence.
We voluntarily reported our own demerits to
the dean’s office and, after 10 demerits, we had to “do campus”
on Saturdays, which meant doing odd jobs in school (like helping
out in the library) without any monitoring.
Like a giant
Another formidable nun in our lives was Sr.
Caridad Barrion, who was only about five feet tall but seemed
like a giant to us. The most unruly college girl became meek as
a lamb under her dark, piercing stare. Most of us had a
love-hate relationship with her.
From her, we learned German discipline. She
easily “out-Germaned” the German nuns who were our teachers.
She was our history teacher and, at one time,
our dean. She taught us how to make perfect term papers, with no
typing mistakes, and with complete card catalogues of our
research. For every hour, our paper was late, our grade went
down one level.
She would bring us on the weapons’ carrier
truck we inherited from the Americans to the slums in Culiculi,
Pandacan, Welfareville, and other underserved places where we
taught catechism and distributed packages collected during an
annual Christmas drive.
We had “immersions,” “exposure programs” and “socially-oriented” activities–words unknown at that time.
She also taught us to look at problems in context by asking ourselves: “What is this in the light of eternity?”
Backbone of steel
Sr. Soledad Hilado was a diminutive nun with
a backbone of steel who had the looks of 1950s movie star Tita
Duran (mother to the late well-loved rapper Francis Magalona).
From her I learned to hold my head above the
water by remembering the first article of the creed: “I believe
in God the Father Almighty.”
If God is my Father and He is almighty, who
can vanquish me? This thought helped me survive the crises in my
I used to go to her office presumably to look
at her beautiful calendars of landscapes and end up sitting
before her discerning my vocation. So I entered the nunnery
right after college graduation at the age of 19.
The one who shaped me into a Benedictine
sister was a tall, beautiful German whom we imagined to be a
former Bavarian princess–Sr. Assumpta Filser, our Magistra.
I owe her a spirituality based on the
Scriptures and the Holy Rule, steeped in compassion but with no
sentimentality or saccharine piety. Though she was a physical
education teacher, her solid theological teachings and deep
insights into the Holy Rule made a lasting impression.
Fast forward. Where did I learn social
After five and a half
years of study in
Then some sisters, who had a telephone
brigade for La Tondeña workers who went on strike, brought me to Tondo to show solidarity with the workers.
I had my first
encounter with military brutality when the soldiers came, beat
up the workers and forced them into buses that would bring them
Women activists became my mentors,
particularly Tina Ebro Carlos who became my secretary-general in
the Citizens Alliance for Consumer Protection. She taught me how
to “arouse, organize and mobilize.” I learned how to negotiate
with the police during a rally and to talk before thousands of
people on such issues as, say, oil price hikes. In other words,
I became a street parliamentarian.
When I went to
Upon my return, Remy
Rikken, Ging Deles, Irene Santiago and I formed Filipina, the
first consciously feminist organization in the
As an administrator, I’ve learned from my
feminist friends that there is a woman’s style of
management–participative, transparent and base don collective
decision-making. So, I never decide important matters by myself.
We have regular meetings where we discuss issues and decide by
consensus. I have found this most fair and effective.
And for those who
believe one is never too old to learn, I’ve established the Life
Long Learning program in our
Sr. Mary John Mananzan is Prioress of the Missionary of Benedictine Sisters in the Philippines; executive director of Institute of Women’s Studies at St. Scholastica’s College; chair of the Women’s Crisis Center; and lifetime honorary chair of Gabriela.