Sister Carmela Carpio, MM

Born: November 22, 1933
Entered: June 9, 1964
Died: September 6, 2000

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the word and never stops at all”. (Emily Dickinson) This quote that inspired Carmela also described her. Carmela was a woman of hope, and hope was the source of her energy and enthusiasm for life right up to the moment she entered into eternal life.

Sister Carmela Cecilia Carpio died on September 6, 2000 at Phelps Memorial Hospital, Sleepy Hollow, New York, after a long and courageous bout with illness. Shortly after Sisters Virginia Fabella, Dorothy Mulligan, and Reina Paz Kakilala finished the Salve Regina at her bedside, Carmela went home to God at 3:50 p.m. She was 66 years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 36 years.

Cecilia Carpio was born in Naga City, Philippines, on November 22,1933 to Engr. Hermengildo A. Carpio and Lucila Matamorosa Carpio. She graduated from Colegio de Santa Isabel, Naga City in 1949 where she pursued her studies and received an Associate of Arts degree in 1951. She then attended Maryknoll (now Miriam) College, Quezon City and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, followed by graduate studies at the University of the Philippines for a Master of Arts degree in English Literature. She taught in Maryknoll College High School for three years prior to her entrance into Maryknoll.

Cecilia began her postulancy at Rosary House Novitiate, Quezon City, Philippines, on June 9,1964 and at Reception received the religious name of Carmela Cecilia. She made her First Profession in Quezon City in 1967 and her Final Profession in Santiago, Isabela on April 12, 1971. Her superior wrote, “she has a deep appreciation for her Maryknoll vocation and wants to be true to Mother Mary Joseph’s ideal.” Those who knew Carmela appreciated her keen intellect, her dedication to duty, her loyalty to her family and friends, and her wonderful sense of humor which included the ability to laugh at herself.

After First Profession, Sister Carmela worked in a Maryknoll College outreach program with the poor in nearby barrios. Later, from 1968 to 1974 she spent six happy years as principal of La Salette High School in Santiago, Isabela. Beginning in April 1974 she became the first Filipina to chair the Maryknoll Sisters Philippine Regional Governing Board, a post she held for three years. Following this she became part of the Global Awareness and Promotion ministry in Midwestern United States from 1977 to 1980. She saw this assignment as her special contribution to mission which was to share with the people of the United States the realities of her home country with the hope that this would help broaden their vision of the Church in the world today.

Returning to the Philippines in 1980, Sister Carmela was asked to serve as Executive Secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of Women in the Philippines, a task she carried out for two terms. Because of her dedication and effectiveness, she was asked to return for a third term, during which period she served as Chairperson of the Peace and Justice Commission of the Major Superiors. The Board of the Association of Major Superiors in the Philippines, in a letter of condolence, wrote: “Sister Carmela served during the critical times in the history of our country. We remember her especially during the Martial Law Era and the Edsa Revolution when we religious were always on our toes, meeting, praying, reading the signs of the times, discerning and eventually responding to the needs of our people especially the poor…Sister Carmela was always in the forefront in the Association’s gatherings and rallies. She was dynamic, deeply committed and efficient”. During these turbulent times that called for true courage, Sister Carmela wrote to a friend describing how a person could recognize the Christians. “Christians”, she wrote, “are like tea bags, you know them only when they are in hot water.” During Martial Law it seemed that everybody around her was in hot water including her brother, Tony, who was arrested and taken into “protective detention” because he called for an impartial investigation into the Daet Boycott massacre. During this time, Carmela’s conscientious work on behalf of those arrested and disappeared was evidence of her deep commitment to justice and to truth.

In 1992, Sister Carmela joined Sisters Ann Braudis and Amelia Omana in Baguio where the Maryknoll Sisters’ Ecological Sanctuary and Center for Integrity of Creation was born. Carmela took on the justice and peace dimension of this new Regional ministry.

Sister Carmela’s battle with illness began in 1995. She returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in New York in June 1997 and, except for a brief but fulfilling visit back to the Philippines in February 1999, remained at the Center until her final hospitalization. During her visit to the Philippines, she attended the Grand Homecoming of the Marishan (formerly Maryknoll Convent) School in Baguio City, the Golden Jubilee celebration of her High School Class of ‘49, and the Ordination of her second priest nephew. She was so happy to be able to attend all three events.

When one of Carmela’s former Maryknoll College students offered her a trip to California she confided to another Sister: “I know my time is not long so I would really like to be able to go to California.” When Sister Virginia Fabella offered to accompany her she was overjoyed and began to prepare for a three-week vacation. The trip allowed Sister Carmela to reconnect with her past through visits with her god-children from Santiago days, with Maryknoll College alumnae, with relatives, and long-time Maryknoll Sister friends at Monrovia. She relished each new experience, which included being folk-lifted up and down from the airplane in her wheelchair. Without realizing it, in the midst of her enjoyment, her illness had spread so considerably that she was taken to Phelps Memorial Hospital a week after her return to New York.

During her nine days at Phelps Memorial Hospital, Carmela was surrounded by the love and support of Sisters, relatives and friends. Her students’ appreciation for her was manifested in their frequent visits to her in the hospital. Throughout the years of her illness she was well aware of the concern of her Maryknoll Sisters and faithfully wrote them progress reports. In December 1999 she wrote: “Buoyed up by your prayers and loving support, and strengthened by Mary’s FIAT, I walk forward with courage and trust in God’s all-embracing Love.” Her faith, courage, and joyful spirit throughout her illness were a source of inspiration to all of us.

We offer our condolences to Sister Carmela’s family, friends and former students who have been so kind to her especially during her illness. We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Gerald Nagle and LaSallette Father Bernie Taylor, who with Sister’s nephew, Father Bobby, will co-preside at this Eucharistic Liturgy of Christian Burial as we lovingly remember and give thanks for the life of our Sister Carmela.