Sister Patricia Marie Callan, MM

Born: December 16, 1906
Entered: April 5, 1930
Died: December 24, 1996

We are gathered here this morning to celebrate a long, fruitful and colorful life in service of mission – that of our Sister Patricia Marie Callan who died at the Maryknoll Center Residential Care Unit on December 24, 1996. Sister Patricia Marie was born Marie Dolores Callan to Elizabeth Owens Callan and Thomas Patrick Callan in Philadelphia, PA on December 16, 1906. The eldest of seven children (four brothers and two sisters), Marie Dolores attended elementary and high school in Philadelphia and received her Elementary Teachers’ Certificate from Philadelphia Normal School in 1925. Following this she taught Industrial Arts for the Board of Education in Philadelphia and continued studying nights at Temple University. She received a Bachelor of Education Degree from Maryknoll Teachers’ College after her return from the Philippines in 1949.

Marie Dolores Callan entered Maryknoll in 1930, and made her first vows on January 6, 1933. In September of that same year she stepped off the ship in Manila harbor, Philippines, and began 60 years of teaching and ministry in the Philippines (35 in Mindanao). She was first assigned at Malabon Normal School in Malabon, Rizal.

When the war broke out in December 1941, the Sisters left Malabon on Christmas Day to join the other Sisters staying at Philippine Womens University on Taft Avenue. They were all later interned at Assumption School where they remained until July 1944 when they were transferred to the gym at the University of Santo Tomas and then finally to Los Banos, where the University of the Philippines’ Agricultural School was located. In a handwritten autobiography prepared for a Philippine publication, Sister wrote of that period that “food was not plentiful but generous friends, especially those from Malabon, occasionally would hire a caretela (a horse drawn carriage) to bring us food, usually fish.” Among the internees was an Oblate of Mary Immaculate priest, Fr. Gerard Mongeau who later became the Bishop of Cotabato where Sister Patricia Marie served for a number of years.

Concerning her life in camp, the following anecdote appears in her autobiography: Everyone under 50 years of age was expected to do some kind of work for one hour a day. Her first work was making brooms out of a weed, called cogon grass, that grows to be very long. The Filipinos who had built the barracks had cleverly put extra boards to hold up the nipa, and dropped nails between the narrow strips of wood that formed the floor. The extra boards were discovered and the Jesuit scholastics knocked them down. They also discovered the nails on the grass beneath the barracks. One internee who happened to have a magnet helped to retrieve the nails and with the pieces of wood and nails Sister was able to make small four-legged stools for the internees to sit on. When the supply of wood began to run out, she reduced the stools to three legs. Her industrial arts background stood her well.

The religious in the camp started a triduum of rosaries on February 22, 1945, and the Maryknoll Sisters were assigned the first day. They prayed the rosary continuously all day and on the following morning Sister Patricia Marie writes that as she was returning from an early Mass she heard and saw nine planes approaching and paratroopers jumping out. “With a few more Sisters,” she writes, “I rushed across to the chapel and when the shooting started, we fell to the ground.” She continues “I started saying the rosary out loud. ‘Hail Mary full of grace, oh, look at the tracer bullets…’ Outside the windows on the left side were tracer bullets. And I go on with the Hail Mary, and then ‘Hail Mary, look at the tracer bullets on the right side now!’ One of the seminarians crouched below a makeshift altar in the corner, tried to calm me down. ‘Sister, will you be quiet. You are endangering the life of everyone in the barracks.'”

Later that day forty-seven Maryknoll Sisters, along with 2,147 internees, were evacuated to Muntinglupa prison from which many of the Sisters were repatriated to the United States. Sister writes, “I had the good fortune of being strong enough to return with two other Sisters to St. James Academy in Malabon to reopen the school in June 1945.” It wasn’t until 1948 that Sister Patricia Marie returned to the United States on furlough. The following year she was back in the Philippines teaching physics, music, science, and English at Maryknoll Academy in Lucena.

In 1954, at the invitation of Bishop Gerard Mongeau, OMI, Sister Patricia Marie joined two other Maryknoll Sisters in opening Notre Dame of Dulawan High school in Dulawan (later called Datu Piang), a small predominantly Muslim town on the Island of Mindanao.This presented quite a challenge as the Sisters were not going there to convert the Muslims but to try to bring about understanding and peace between the two groups. On one occasion left over funds from a popularity contest to raise money for school equipment were used to build a mosque on the school grounds since the Christian students had Mass on Fridays and Friday was also the day of worship for Muslims. Sister spent many happy and fruitful years here. The Maryknoll Sisters’ presence in Dulawan was abruptly and tragically ended on June 14, 1976 when two hand grenades were thrown through the windows of two classrooms. Of that tragic event Sister writes, “Three girls seriously injured were placed on a weapons carrier to be driven to Cotabato City. The driver said it was too dangerous to go on the highway so I volunteered to ride with him. The officer in charge told the driver that I knew all the Muslims around there and if I rode with him, it would be safe. We did have a safe trip to town.” Seven students (including six Muslims) were killed and thirty-four were injured in that terrible event. The school was closed for that year and re-opened the following year under the Oblates of Notre Dame, a Congregation founded by Bishop Mongeau. In 1987 the town of Datu Piang (formerly Dulawan) officially adopted Sr. Patricia Marie as a “Daughter of Dulawan” at an impressive ceremony.

Sister Patricia Marie was involved with eleven other Maryknoll Sisters in a boat mishap off the east coast of Mindanao in July of 1973. She writes, “At about 4:30 p.m., the boat suddenly tipped to one side, came back up but tipped to the other side and all of us fell into the sea. We knew these were shark-infested waters over the Mindanao Deep the deepest part of the Ocean.

…We prayed constantly, renewed our vows, sang songs or hymns, and related stories from our lives.” The boat manager and another young man were able to swim to shore and after about sixteen hours the Sisters were rescued by a tug boat.

For some ten years after leaving Dulawan Sister Patricia Marie ministered to prisoners in the City Jail and patients in the Regional Hospital in Cotabato City while also teaching Music Methods in the College of Education at the Notre Dame University. Her facility in both Tagalog and Magindanao endeared her to all those to whom she ministered.

In 1994 Sister finally agreed to retire and left Cotabato City for Monrovia where she resided until she come to the Center in May of this year. She was able to return to California in August of this year to celebrate in advance her 90th birthday with one hundred Filipino former students. Sister wrote in her 1996 Christmas letter, “Each night I stayed with a different family. I came home with beautiful treasures and memories. God bless them one and all!”

In 1995, Sister attended the fiftieth anniversary reunion of the Los Banos rescue in Nashville, Tennessee. She had been invited by members of the 11th Airborne Division to give a talk from the viewpoint of an internee for which she received a standing ovation.

Upon arrival at the Maryknoll Sisters’ Center Sister was assigned a room on the fourth floor Residential Care Unit, but she writes that she was “promoted” to the third floor “since it was decided that I could take care of myself, and on condition that I return regularly to play the piano for the Sisters on the fourth floor.” She was always good for entertainment and many Sisters remember her for her spontanious rendition of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

In 1990, Sister Patricia Marie was awarded the gold medallion Bukas Palad Award (Open Hand) by the Ateneo de Manila University in recognition of her years of service to God and the Filipino people. That same year she was also awarded a plaque by the Cotabato Unit of the Venture Club, an international group of young business women. Because of her dedication to mission, specifically to the Muslims of Cotabato, she became known as the “Mother Teresa of Cotabato.” However, in a published interview for a Perth, Washington newspaper the reporter commented:

“Surely she doesn’t need someone else’s title. . . the name Sister Patricia Marie Callan, M.M., can stand well and truly on its own!”

Our Maryknoll brother, Rev. Lawrence Burns, is our celebrant for today’s liturgy.