Sister Maria Serraon, MM

Born: December 24, 1937
Entered: June 26, 1966
Died: August 4, 1986

On Sunday morning, August 3, 1986, Sister Maria Serraon began her mission appeal in the Church of Santa Rosa, California. She prefaced her homily saying: “After I finish my assignment in Mission Education, I look forward to spending Christmas with my mother in the Philippines. After that I shall return to my mission in Chile.” Her voice was warm and vibrant. The next instant, Maria suffered a massive stroke. A doctor present at the Mass attended her as the parishioners prayed the rosary. Her final words were muffled phrases in Tagalog. She never regained consciousness and died in Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital on Monday, the 4th of August, 1986. In her promise of fidelity in 1969, Maria said these ‘words:

“Lord God, I stand before you as a thanks-giver for the gifts of life, family and friends. Today I wish to express verbally my YES to accept and live out the consequences of this alliance-relationship between us.”

And today we join Maria as she stands before her God giving thanks once again for life, family and friends.

Maria Serraon was born on December 24, 1937 in San Fabian, Pangasinan, in Northern Luzon in the Philippines. She was the youngest of 8 children – boys and 4 girls – born to Pedro Serraon and Maxima Ulanday. Her father died at the age of 54 but her mother still lives in San Fabian and celebrated her 85th birthday in April.

Maria graduated from Arellano High School in Manila and received her Associate Degree in Commercial Science from the Philippine College of Commerce. From the Far Eastern University in Manila, she received a Bachelor of Science in Commerce, specializing in Banking and Finance.

Maria worked as a steno-typist with the Shell Co. of the Philippines and with the Eastern Inspection Bureau as typist and utility clerk in charge of filing. From 1960, up to the time of her entrance into Maryknoll in 1966, she was credit supervisor in the Filoil Marketing Corporation. Maria was always generous with her free time, working in the Registrar Office of Maryknoll College in Quezon City and helping in the Child Study Center.

On June 26, 1966 Maria entered the Maryknoll Sisters’ Novitiate, Rosary House, in Quezon City, Philippines. She was a member of the first Novitiate group to participate in ministry and community during their second year of formation. Although the experience in Jimenez in Northern Mindanao was not an easy one, Maria stuck it out and made a real contribution to the school and the community. Returning to Rosary House, she made her profession of temporary commitment on June 22, 1969.

Maria (affectionately known as Mini Maria to her friends) was assigned to the Chile Region in 1969. She had asked to go to Latin America and seemed immediately simpatica to the Chilean people. She was exceptionally perceptive and understanding of the culture and gained an almost perfect command of the language during her eight years in Talca. Her work was mainly pastoral: working with alcoholics and their families, enabling the growth of Basic Christian Communities and developing leadership workshops with and for the Local Church. The Bishop of Talca became her good friend and they worked well together. He noted a quality of Mini Maria’s that many spoke of–she was a very private person; he called it “mysterious”. She did not share her thoughts and feelings easily but, under the outgoing, vibrant enthusiasm for life which all of us remember, ran a stream of reflection and prayer that sustained her in hard times and comforted her in the loss of her good friends, Adelaida Valde in 1981 and Gert Vaccaro in 1982.

In 1977, Maria was part of a team that began a new mission in Copiapo in the north of Chile. Here, she used her creative writing talents as Editor of the Diocesan Bulletin and also worked in the formation of youth leaders and as a facilitator for adult reflection groups. Every spare moment she had was used in visiting and making lasting friends among the people; she reached out and, over and over again, the people responded. Mini Maria stayed in Copiapo until 1983 when she began Congregational Service on the California Mission Education team. In these three short years, Maria became very much a part of the life of St. Michael’ s Parish in San Francisco where she was based. A Memorial Mass was celebrated at St. Michael’ s on Wednesday evening, August 6th, with Maria’s Maryknoll Sisters and others of her many friends participating. Maria’s family was lovingly represented by her two sisters.

In preparation for her Final Profession, which took place in Quezon City, Philippines on April 18, 1976, Maria says of her time in Chile, “I feel that I inserted myself in the Chilean reality through my collaboration with the local Church. I believe that my years in Chile were a productive period in my life – owed mostly to the gorgeous people I worked with, to the Chilean friends who took me into their homes, and, of course, to my Maryknoll family who saw me through my ups and downs.”

The paradox of Mini Maria’s life and person was expressed clearly in her own evaluation for final commitment in 1976. She wrote:

“It is difficult to put in writing and present in capsule form a resume of my membership within the Maryknoll Congregation within the context of my mission experience in Chile. Needless to say it’s been an enriching and liberating process, a daily dying and rising bringing me to the fuller realization of the meaning of my response to community and mission.”

Maria used as the summary of her evaluation the text from St. Paul which speaks of God’ s strength as it is experienced in the midst of weakness. We, on the other hand, Mini Maria’s sisters were more aware of the qualities that endeared her to all: her creativity, artistry and intelligence; her zest for life and boundless energy; her cooking skills and willingness to share the results; her enjoyment in giving gifts and her uncanny ability to choose just the right one. Both perceptions make up the woman that was Mini Maria – a gift giver who realized the paucity of her capacity for self-gift before the God who had given her all. She called herself a “thanksgiver” on the day of her first commitment, and her life has made thanksgivers of us all.

We, here at Maryknoll, extend our deepest sympathy to Maria’s mother, her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and to her many friends in the Philippines, in Chile, in California and elsewhere in the States.

Very especially do we welcome this afternoon Bishop Julio Labayen of the Diocese of Infanta in the Philippines, who will celebrate with us this Liturgy of the Resurrection of Sister Maria Serraon here at our Maryknoll Sisters Center, Maryknoll, NY.

On Friday morning, August 8th, Sister Maria Serraon was buried in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Rowland Heights, CA. (which is close by Monrovia). Internment followed a beautiful Memorial Liturgy concelebrated at our Maryknoll Sisters Convent in Monrovia, CA. The principal celebrant was the Reverend Thomas P. Golden of Maryknoll.