My Grandmother Nun

By Graciela Lazatin

Summer vacations, as a child, usually meant spending a week in Baguio, the mountain summer vacation spot of the Philippines, with my family. Like every child's fond memories of Baguio, I enjoyed the horseback riding at Wright Park, boat rides in Burnham, and indoor sports in Green Valley. But every time we'd go up to Baguio, I remember my Dad bringing us to this convent on the mountains.

We would hike a dirt road to get to the convent where a nun, Sister Bernadette, would welcome our arrival. She was the nun assigned to welcome guests and do errands in the city. Sister Bernadette is the only nun visible to outsiders. She's very hospitable and would serve us meals prepared with vegetables grown from their own garden.

On Sundays we would go there early to hear Mass. Their small chapel would be filled with songs coming from a curtained window beside the altar. Beautiful voices are heard but the choir could not be seen.

I didn't quite understand it when I was a child, but I remember my family being led to a small room, where my Dad would sit beside a screened wooden panel and speak to a woman behind the screen. After speaking to her, he would call us and a small panel would slide open and the woman would hand us prayer books or rosaries. But we couldn't see her face. My Dad later explained that she's our grandfather’s elder sister, “Lola Madre,” (Grandmother nun) as we fondly learned to call her.

As years passed, Lola Madre was allowed to go on annual medical check-ups and my Dad would go all the way to Baguio to drive for her. We finally saw her on those rare occasions she went out of the convent. We always looked forward to her visits to Manila. Her presence brought a warm glow. She's just happy all the time and you can actually feel it when you're around her. We loved her childlike simplicity. She is easily pleased. Like a child, she'd light up whenever you offer her Hershey's Chocolate Kisses. I remember seeing the rosary that she always kept. It was the longest I ever saw with all the fifteen mysteries in one strand.

My family stopped having summer vacations in Baguio years ago. As we grew older, everyone got busy and started planning vacations on their own. My two older brothers now have their own families. With their busy schedules, getting the whole family on vacation doesn't happen often. But last September 8, 2003, our family took a break from our busy routine to once again visit the Carmelite Convent in Baguio. It wasn't a holiday nor was it a weekend but we set aside our hectic schedules to attend to this event we just couldn't miss. It was Lola Madre's Diamond Jubilee, celebrating seventy-five years of her religious life.

It was during this occasion that I truly learned to appreciate my Lola Madre, Mother Angelina, OCD. Throughout the years, my family has been blessed by her presence and prayers. Her simple life inspires. With the help of the Carmelite Sisters, let me share Mother Angelina's story.

Mother Angelina is a Discalced Carmelite nun in the monastery of the Carmel of the Most Holy Trinity in Tuba, Benguet. She belongs to a brood of 18 children, was born in Angeles City, Pampanga on 20 June 1905 and baptized Angelina Lacsamana Lazatin. Her father used to relate to her that, after thorough deliberation with relatives and friends to decide on what name to give her, he looked at her and said, "We will name her Angelina because she looks like an angel." That settled the matter.

Mother Angelina was only 11 years old when her mother died. But it was after her father's death that she strongly felt that she had a vocation in the religious life of the Carmelites. Since she was already close to the Belgian Mothers of St. Theresa's College where she was studying, it was to one of them Mother Elise that she confided her desire. She told Mother Elise that she wanted to be a Carmelite but initially she thought it would mean having to go abroad to Lisieux, France, because after reading the autobiography of St. Therese, she thought there was no existing Carmelite Monastery in the Philippines. Going abroad might not be accepted by her family because of the possibility that they would not be able to see her again. So, she told Mother Elise that she will instead join the Benedictines of St. Scholastica's College in Manila.

Mother Elise, however, informed her that there was a Carmel in Jaro, lloilo. Besides, Mother Elise believed that her temperament was more suited for Carmel.

Bent on responding to God's call, Mother Angelina wrote "Ma Mere" (Mother Theresa of Jesus, OCD the French Carmelite who was the Foundress of Carmel in the Philippines) who said that she was willing to accept her in Jaro Carmel. When Mother Angelina informed her older brothers of her plan to enter Jaro Carmel and become a Carmelite, they initially opposed the idea because of the distance. Instead, they considered allowing her to join the Benedictines in Manila, which was closer to Angeles. She informed Ma Mere of her dilemma. Ma Mere advised her to enter Jaro Carmel temporarily so that she could see a regular community and later join them for the establishment of Carmel in Manila. Convinced of Ma Mere's suggestion, her Uncle Jose and brother Manuel took her to Jaro after her 21st birthday where she entered as a postulant. In November, as promised, she joined Ma Mere for the foundation of Manila Carmel (Carmel of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Protection of the Holy Family).

They temporarily took residence in Singalong, Manila. It was in this temporary site where Mother Angelina was clothed with the Holy Habit of the Order on 16 March 1927. She took her First Vows on 8 September 1928; Perpetual Vows and Veiling on 9 December 1933 and Solemn Vows on 16 July 1956 in Manila Carmel.

In 1940, Ma Mere expressed her desire to found a Carmel in Baguio. This did not materialize however because the Second World War broke out. After the war, Ma Mere decided to put up a Carmel in Lipa, Batangas instead. While establishing Carmel in Lipa, Ma Mere assigned Mother Angelina to be Vicaress of Manila Carmel until such time when she would be appointed Prioress of Lipa Carmel. This would be after the incident of the "shower of roses,'' the reported apparitions of Our Lady.

After about three years as Prioress in Lipa Carmel, Msgr. Cesar Maria Guerrero asked for a Carmel in Angeles, Pampanga. Acceding to his request, Ma Mere sent Mother Angelina to spearhead the foundation on 26 August 1956. Mother Angelina thus became the Foundress of Angeles Carmel and First Prioress. Between 1970 to 1975, she helped in the translation of the Holy Bible in Kapampangan.

The dream of Ma Mere to put up a Carmel in Baguio was revived when a parcel of land in Pico, La Trinidad, Benguet, was offered to Mother Angelina as a possible Carmelite foundation. Later on, a more suitable site was offered and generously donated.

On the blessed day of 28 January 1983, Mother Angelina, together with a group of five choir sisters, a novice and an extern sister, finally achieved the completion of the foundation of Carmel in Baguio. Today, Mother Angelina is the sole survivor among the first Filipina Carmelites. She has been a pillar in the work of the Carmelites in the Philippines. Just like Saint Teresa of Avila, Mother Angelina has devoted seventy-five years of her convent life to prayer and domestic work, while inspiring the religious community to emulate her patron saint's guiding philosophy: "Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough.''

At 98 years old, Lola Madre is still relatively strong and clear-headed, although considering her huge family clan, she has difficulty remembering all our names. During her diamond jubilee celebration, she still was able to go up the stage and after, even danced a little! My Lola Madre is truly an epitome of docility to the Holy Spirit with her childlike simplicity and humility. She is such a precious gem, a faithful handmaid of the Lord who "spends Heaven doing good on earth.''

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