Sister Mary Edith Olaguer, Contemplative Councilor Province of New York – Toronto

Sister Mary Edith Olaguer, Contemplative Councilor Province of New York – Toronto

Sister Mary Edith Olaguer, Contemplative Councilor Province of New York – Toronto

Sister Mary Edith Olaguer, Contemplative Councilor Province of New York – Toronto

Sister Mary Edith Olaguer, Contemplative Councilor Province of New York – Toronto

Sister Mary Edith Olaguer, Contemplative Councilor Province of New York – Toronto

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Embracing the circle of love

Sister Mary Edith Olaguer was born in the Philippines. She made her first profession as a Carmelite in the Philippines in 1972 and later permanently transferred to Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd when she took her final vows in Windsor, Canada, in 1993. Here she shares with us how Love sends her out to welcome and include others into our circle of love. 

 

Can you share with us something of how you discovered your contemplative vocation?

I have always had a deep attraction to God, who I discovered I could converse with. I remember when I was a child, I was not allowed to play outside with my sisters because whenever I did, I would develop hives or other allergies. But one day, unable to resist joining in the fun, I did what was a no-no for me and went out and rolled around in the grass thick with Philippine dust. Sure enough, hives broke out all over my body. Red, swollen, and guilty, I went indoors, where my father immediately sent me to the chapel (yes, our house had a chapel) to “pray about my disobedience.” Yet I remember being surprised – even as a child – that I did not feel miserable as I sat there hearing the rest of the gang playing outside. On the contrary, the hours spent in the chapel were delightful… in fact, I was very content.

 

Picture one: Sr. Edith sits on her father’s lap alongside her mother and two sisters, Bendin (standing) and Dai (in her mother’s arms).

I recalled this incident some years ago during a journal workshop and wondered: “Where did that happiness come from? Who put it there?” Logically, I should have been in tears and angry with the world – but I wasn’t. Instead, I was bathed in contentment, the kernel of which has lasted to this day. That’s how I discovered that to be a human being is to be a contemplative, that is, to know who we are: of God, from God, and going back to God. In my case, I feel it when God is not around, and I miss God.

 

Now, when I think back to that time in the chapel, I realize a deep space within me that I was not aware of. It is a space I share with every human being, but we have to know it is there for it to awaken and become a mutual dwelling place for God and self. In that space, in that room, we recognize oneness. We understand that Love is our common home, and it includes Planet Earth.

 

How do you express this contemplative nature through your ministry as a contemplative sister?

As a contemplative sister, I do not have a ministry like those our apostolic sisters are so zealously involved in. But what I have is my life, ordinary and vulnerable as it is. Living this life mindfully with daily acts of love, whether it be to wash dishes or study, converse with my sisters or sing the Office, I strive to give it back to God, to the Universe. I receive this life fresh from God’s hands with every breath I take and offer it back to flow into the rivers of mercy, forgiveness, justice, healing, peace, reconciliation, gentleness, laughter, friendships, courage to act, wisdom, health, contentment, light in darkness, strength in weakness, and trust despite betrayal. We all need every grit and grace and blessing so that we don’t tear each other apart. Instead, we are called to love each other. Love is the only reason I daily choose to live this way as best I can so that others can also live the best they can. This highlights one of the most prior truths of existence: our connectedness. As expressed through the South African phrase Ubuntu – ‘I am, because we are.’

 

Thus is our ministry of prayer lived. Prayer is also intercession. It is a recognition of creaturehood and our need for someone more powerful to help us. And soon enough, we discover that that Someone is interested in us, in fact, loves us. And so, we love to be alone with the One who loves us beyond all that we can imagine. This love sends us out to welcome and to include others into our circle of love. And, so, we find out that love is all about… the other. It is about widening the tent, the circle, in search of those still outside.

 

Picture two: Celebrating Christmas 2021 are (left to right) Sisters Shirley Tomalá Catuto, Edith Olaguer, Maureen McGowan (Province Leader), Sonia, and Carol.

 

 

Who are or have been the role models who influence your journey?

When I first joined the contemplative branch of the Congregation, I was struck by their simplicity and innocence. What you saw was what you got. And what you got was welcome – ‘love in the open hand’ – and the unvarnished truth… that sometimes struck like an arrow from which you needed to duck! But ego aside, it was the truth. These sisters of mine in communities around the world (many of them gone ahead to God), continue to be friends and prophets of God, are my first role models. They know how to love.

 

Picture three: Sr. Edith’s brother, Fr. Antonio Olaguer, SJ, officiated at her final vows as a Good Shepherd Sister in Windsor, Canada, in 1993.

There are not enough words to describe how I feel about my next role models: the apostolic sisters in our Congregation. By osmosis, they teach me about justice, zeal, best practices, leadership, giving without counting the cost, advocacy, and ministry at the peripheries. I love listening to their stories, laced with humor, because they invigorate me. Living at the edges of life provokes their creativity. And their love for those they serve can only come from the big heart of God – because they transform lives.

 

I have not had the chance to meet with many of our partners in mission. But with those I have been with, I sit next to the unknown, invited to reverence. What words can describe this awe I have for their potential awaiting exploration, the intuited contours of which will reveal and witness to Resurrection newness, to a synodal understanding of the Holy Work?

 

In all three – contemplative, apostolic, and partners in mission – I see how OLCGS has the opportunity to walk to the future on paths begun by Saint Jean Eudes, continued by Saint Mary Euphrasia, and which now seek further partnership with Creation itself. All three will need to venture forth on the path of wisdom and kenotic love as proposed and lived by Mary Magdalene, the woman who saw and heard and – fearless – shared with the whole world what she understood of equality, cosmic inclusion, and mission. Shall all three: contemplative, apostolic, and partners in mission, be able to walk together? In other words, are mysticism and prophecy keeping alive the Divine Spark within us all and inciting a new Pentecost?

 

 

How do you feel as you are about to embark on a six-year journey as one of the Congregation’s contemplative counselors?

At times, it has been overwhelming for me to be elected to the Congregational Leadership Team. I am not used to ‘a public life,’ and my introversion is in full rebellion! But I have often since reflected on Abraham and Sarah and how they were asked to leave their country ‘when they were advanced in years.’  At his age, Abraham was even taught cosmology and oceanology directly by God! Anna, too, who for 84 years was worshiping, fasting, and praying in the temple, and rather than sing a Canticle about dying like Simeon, she instead, after recognizing Jesus, sought ways of ministering and encouraging Mary (and others perhaps) to make time for God in their lives. It is a fact that Anna has encouraged me to ‘give back’ to the Universe all that I am able.

I look forward to being part of a team that thinks, pays attention to, ponders, engages with the reality around us, and is changed by what one sees and encounters. Because to be human is to be embedded in the divine, that is, to see and hear and know the Real behind what is real. Article 6 of the Constitutions is my particular north star in this regard. It encourages me to “ardently live life in such a way that the beauty of God’s image is revealed in each person.”  Live with passion! Make invisible, visible! What is essential is invisible to the eye! This is the mystery of Incarnation, the ordinary way of the contemplative life.

Quoting Jean Eudes, Sr. Ellen Kelly (one of my role models) said: “Never before have we had, and perhaps will never have again, such an opportunity; … so, make the holiest use of this graced opportunity.”

 

To cross frontiers and grieve with wounded landscapes
and touch the suffering face of God
God who sees and hears and knows
what we each suffer
and accompanies us.

Let us make God visible in our lives
through the call-to-actions
we choose to act upon.

Let us love one another
for love is of God.

 

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