MCS celebrates MMB legacy with essays


Blessed Margarita Maria Maturana, the founder of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz. (Contributed Photo)

Mount Carmel School is joining the continuing celebration of the 90th anniversary of the arrival of the Merdedarian Missionaries of Berriz, or the MMB sisters, on Saipan. The school recently held a series of contests that invited students to reflect on the impact of the MMB sisters on Saipan and their school. Winners will be announced during a special May 4 Mass for May Crowning. The finalists for the essay contest are high school students Brandee Hunter, Matt Moran, and Cassidy Torres.

Along with Fr. Arnold Bendowski, the MMB sisters were the founding mothers of the school who served as teachers and administrators when the school opened in 1952. Over the years, the MMB sisters have continued to help as teachers, facilitators for student retreats, and spiritual advocates who keep the school in their prayers.

To honor the work the MMB sisters have done, the school challenged students to reflect on the theme, “The MMB Legacy: Looking Back and Looking Forward, What Will Your Mission Be?”

‘Do Good in This World’

As the 90th anniversary of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz is coming up, we should all remember and commemorate everything that the remarkable and historic group did to help make our school what it is today. By doing this, we should start by going back to where it all began. 

In the early 1920’s, Mother Margarita Maria Maturana was inspired to help spread Catholicism to many places in the world other than in Spain, which is where she had served God at her sequestered Mercedarian convent. She then worked hard to raise funds for the mission, and she set off for China in 1926. In 1928, Mother Margarita sent missionaries to Saipan as it was their first expedition in the Pacific. The MMB had established their presence, especially in the time of the war from 1941-1945. The MMB had showed uttermost kindness and love to everyone during that time of suffering. Though the war had affected them and put them through endless nights of toil, the sisters had persisted and prayed and thanked God for everything he had done to keep them safe and alive. Their reflection during that time shows how much courage and dedication that the MMB has for God and his children. 

After the war, the sisters were injured and sick. They had lost everything because of the damage from the war, but God had sent them a sign that they were meant to be there. Hope prevailed when the U.S. soldiers had provided the sisters with a home that they had highly appreciated and had used to educate people about God. Since then, the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz have had an active influence on Saipan and our sister islands. The influence that they have implemented on our island has not only led to hundreds of people learning and being inspired by the word of God, but it has led to the establishment of our school, Mount Carmel. 

When Fr. Arnold Bendowsky looked to the sisters, they gladly helped build Mount Carmel to where it is today. The inspiration that they have planted has grown extraordinarily as you can see through the students and the ongoing spirit of the school. When I came to Mount Carmel in 2009, I had no idea that I would come to love and care for a school so great as Mount Carmel is, all thanks to the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz. 

My mission today is to inspire, do good in this world, and find faith in everything. By inspiring, I can be a role model and guide others to succeed just as the sisters had. Though I am still young, I hope to have the same heartening imprint that they had here in the Pacific. I want to do good in the world by helping others, being kind, and being selfless. Like Mother Margarita once said, “I feel great joy by doing good.”

 When I think of faith, I think of how they had so much faith and hope in their hearts during World War II. They were on the edge of breaking down, and the endless despair did not stop but what still was there was the faith they had not only in God, but in the people and each other. My faith grows everyday just reading and learning more about the MMB.

The impact from the MMB that is upon our friends, family, school, and island is truly indescribable and no one will ever have the same imprint as those sisters did. For ninety years, the MMB has given our islands education, safety, faith, love, care, and so much more. Everything that the MMB has done has paved the way for Mount Carmel’s future, the students’ futures, and most especially, my future. To conclude this, I want to thank the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz for the 90 years of inspiration, leadership, service, and success here on Saipan.

‘Our Mission’

The Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz, commonly known as the MMB, have been on this small island of Saipan for over 90 years now. Their ministry includes spreading education (formal and informal), supporting women, inspiring the youth, deepening the bond of one’s spirit through retreats and recollections, forming a laity, working with migrants, ministering to other foreign countries, etc. The MMB have been present in the Micronesian islands for as long as I could remember, and they have always welcomed youth groups and classes for retreats. They are passionate about what they do. They have been doing it not for themselves, but for the people of their community, and, most importantly, God.

They have been here for the people of the community and the students of Mount Carmel here on Saipan, as they were the founding mothers of the school. They are present in five continents, and have continued to spread out their mission on each one. One of its first missions was here on Saipan. Sisters Loreto Zubia, Inocencia Urizar, Pilar Lorenzo, Maria Teresa Cortazar and Aurora Chopitea embarked onto a new journey on Oct. 30, 1927. They left northern Spain, only to arrive on Saipan the following year of 1928. They then opened their school 15 days later. 

I believe that God’s love is everywhere, and anyone would be able to share it. The MMB have been excellent examples of how we should be spreading the good news of God—by showing it through our actions. The sisters at the Maturana House of Prayer have always been kind, friendly, and welcoming whenever we meet up with them for a retreat. Despite having their busy schedules, they take the time to share their passion with us. Whether or not there may have been hardships within their group in the past, they have been here spreading their ministry with us, the community of Saipan, as well as the people of the CNMI. 

I truly believe that God has a plan for every single one of us, and I always pray for Him to guide me to the path he planned for me. I see myself graduating high school at Mount Carmel, the school founded by the Mercedarian Sisters. After, I plan, with God’s guidance, to be reunited with my brother in California. While I am not eligible to be a sister of the MMB, I believe that I can still minister in my own little ways. I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I love to help others and I like to see them happy. Spreading God’s love and His ministry would also be a part of my personal mission. I would not only wish to heal a person’s physical ailments, but also problems in his/her spiritual life. If God, the perfect being, loves every single person, why shouldn’t we?

Overall, the MMB have affected us either in one way or another. They have always had a huge presence in the spiritual aspect of the community of Saipan. For ninety years, they have not given up on their ministry, and I do not see them disappearing any time soon. They are a group of women who have a genuine passion for what they do. We all have a mission; we all have a calling from God. The question is- will you answer to His call?

‘Courage, Sacrifice, Dedication, and Kindness’

While Blessed Mother Margarita Maria Maturana’s entrance into the convent was prompted by her mother’s attempt to separate Margarita from her suitor, she would eventually play a significant role in what the cloistered monastery would later be known as the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz. Sr. Margarita entered the Cloistered Mercedarian Monastery of Vera Cruz on August 10, 1903, and later formed the Mercedarian Missionary Youth in 1920. This missionary spirit encouraged the monastery to take up an active missionary Order. Sr. Margarita, the first Superior General of the Mercederian Missionaries of Berriz, and her brave sisters, inspired and driven by their love for God, left the cloistered life to travel to unfamiliar parts of the world.

On March 4, 1928, four nuns—Srs. Teresa Cortaza, Loreto Zubia, Inocencia Urizar, and Pilar Lorenzo—landed on Saipan by boat at Pantalan Aleman after spending almost three months traveling. Only 15 days after their arrival, the sisters responded to the young local women’s desire for a school. In 1951, the sisters founded Our Lady of Mercy Kindergarten, now known as Sr. Remedios Early Childhood Development Center which would provide the first batch of students for the school that would open the following year.  In 1952, Saipan’s first Catholic school, Mount Carmel, was established by Fr. Arnold Bendowsky and the Mercedarian Sisters made up the school’s first teachers and administration. Mount Carmel School began with its first classrooms in the old sugar mill factory generator house, but with the commitment of the school family and the Mercedarian sisters, the school would expand and grow in the years to come.

Since its establishment in 1952, majority of Mount Carmel School’s leadership roles would be filled up by Mercedarian sisters. From Sr. Ana Maria as the first superior, to Srs. Dolores Larranaga and Pia Goichoechea as the first teachers, to Sr. Regina Paulino as the principal in 1979, the Mercedarian sisters’ dedication has always been evident and alive. Mount Carmel would later be known to produce bright students who would become the island’s leaders, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and businesswomen. The school’s profound success in its students can be attributed to the Mercedarian sisters faithful presence as leaders and teachers. Nevertheless, the Mercedarian sisters played a significant role in the security and triumph of Mount Carmel School. 

The stories of the Mercedarian sisters and their history on Saipan are merely stories of courage, sacrifice, dedication, and kindness. I grew up hearing these stories—during my time at Sr. Remedios Early Childhood Development Center, in numerous homilies at Sunday Mass, and in all my 12 years attending Mount Carmel School. In these stories, the Mercedarian sisters are successful in their mission: transform the lives of others by liberating them from the injustices of the world. The significant impact the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz has had on my island has inspired my own goal. I aim to liberate my own talents, skills, and potential to accomplish becoming the best version of myself and making a positive impact in the world around me. One path I plan to take to liberate my capacities is to pursue a higher education in hopes of acquiring the skills and knowledge to make a difference.

The education I have received throughout my life is the direct result of the MMB sisters coming to Saipan. Education is something I will forever value and be motivated to obtain. Soon, I will leave my island to continue the life as a learner, I will live in and explore different places, and I will make sacrifices to improve myself and the lives of others.

Contributing Author

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