Sister Mary Louise Higa, MM

Born: April 24, 1927
Entered: February 1, 1941
Died: July 24, 2023

In the life of Sr. Mary Louise (Hideko) Higa and her older now deceased Maryknoll Sister, Bernadette (Shigeko) Higa, we read the marvelous story of how grace worked and moved. God attracted two young women in a Buddhist family of Japanese origin, born in Hawaii, to Christianity and to religious life in Maryknoll.

Their mission careers took them to places where they met, learned and appreciated diversity. Bernadette, two years older than Mary Louise, was honored here at her death in March, 2019. Today her sister’s life recalls for us the same story of enthusiasm for Jesus’ invitation to follow him.

Hideko, the ninth of fourteen children of Kame Miyasharo and Ushi Higa, was born April 24, 1927 in Kaupakalua, Hawaii. Her sisters Mildred and Theodora and many nieces and nephews survive her.

Both sisters attended public grade school in Kaupakalua, Maui. Mary Lou graduated in June 1941. While there, they had attended religion classes which were their first introduction to Catholic belief.

Mary Lou attended Maui High School, but her high school years were disrupted by the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu. During this time, Bernie introduced Mary Lou to Maryknoll Sister Anna McAnany who helped her with her spiritual journey. Mary Lou, following in Bernie’s footsteps, was baptized in March 1945. She graduated June 12, 1945.

Mary Lou worked as a nurse’ aide at St. Francis Hospital until September, when she could enroll at its school of nursing. She obtained her R.N. and worked for another year at this same hospital. Both Sisters discovered they had a similar interest in applying to Maryknoll. In 1951, they entered the Maryknoll Sisters Novitiate in Valley Park, Mo. At the reception of the habit, Mary Lou received the name of Sister Regina Therese.

After Profession in 1953, her Entrance group went to Maryknoll Sisters Center in New York. Her first assignment was to the Center infirmary. During this time, she was one of those Sisters named to care for Mother Mary Joseph until her death in 1955.

Sister’s first overseas assignment was to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where she joined other Maryknoll Sisters in the government general hospital. Eight months of language study helped prepare her for ministry in the outpatient department and the eye clinic. In 1959, Maryknoll Sisters were asked to terminate their service there because of political issues… but not before giving Mary Louise the opportunity to make her Final Profession of Vows on Sept. 8, 1959 in the presence of the retired Bishop of Kandi, Bernard Reyno, O.S.B.

Another invitation offered the Sisters the opportunity to begin a medical clinic and maternity nursing home in a neighboring diocese. To help her in this ministry, Mary Lou went to study Midwifery from Feb 1962 to March 1963 program conducted by the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Drogheda, Ireland.

While Mary Lou was studying, the government of Ceylon stopped renewing the residence visas of all ex-patriates. The work was turned over to local religious sisters and Mary Lou returned to Maryknoll for a brief ministry in our Bethany Convent.

Upon arrival at Hong Kong in January of 1964 for her next assignment, she launched into an 8-month Cantonese language program. She was assigned to supervision of the maternity/labor ward. At the hospital Mary Lou became aware of the need for post-hospital follow-up. She began to design a home care program in cooperation with the lay administrator of Our Lady of Maryknoll Hospital. (By 1977 the government of Hong Kong had established such a program in all government hospitals.)

In 1975, Mary Lou felt she needed formal preparation in pastoral counselling, since she found herself being called upon to fill this role. She obtained clearance for a study period in Hawaii, taking advantage of programs at Chaminade College, Honolulu. She returned to Hong Kong and for the next ten years, ministered in the Pastoral Care Department.

In 1987, Mary Lou did Congregational Service in the Archives Department. After her service commitment at the Center, Mary Lou was welcomed to the Central Pacific Region in 1991. She engaged in another Unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). This time she also found the opportunity to volunteer at an agency serving persons with HIV-Aids. Her involvement with her Region included bookkeeping for the Region, and being a member of the Regional governing Team (1995-1998). Another new ministry was Prison visiting at Women’s Correctional Community Center. She described this experience: “here the women acknowledged that they wanted to be understood, accepted, listened to, trusted. … they wanted to count for something.”

Both Higa sisters rented a small house in Wahiawa, Oahu, with Sr. Isabel Rabbon in June 2000. This was a most happy time, during which they all shared in neighborhood ministry as well as at the General Hospital nearby. When it was no longer possible to continue renting that house, the two sisters made their plans to come to our Retirement house in Monrovia, CA. They were together in Monrovia from 2006 until 2011, when the elder, Bernie, went to our Center House for health reasons. In 2015 Mary Lou also returned to the Center and became a member of the Chi Rho community. She was able to be companion, proxy, advocate for Bernadette until her death on March 12, 2019.

Mary Lou continued volunteering in Chi Rho community. In 2021, she celebrated her 70th Anniversary of entrance in Maryknoll, marking it with these words: “I did not expect to be living to celebrate my 70th anniversary. Yes, indeed, it was a great day with much gratitude and blessings. In the absence of Bernie, I continued her memory by wearing her Hawaiian Muumu and the Kukui lei symbolizing Hawaiian blessings. Over 70 years God molded and remolded my life with his loving mercy for growth and change so that I could follow in his footsteps. I am deeply grateful to my parents, my family members; to the people in ministries where I served, and who are now the woven fabric of my life’s journey.”