Sister Ramona Maria Tombo, MM

Born: May 1, 1906
Entered: June 25, 1936
Died: April 2, 1981

Our reason for being assembled here this morning in our Maryknoll Sisters Chapel is a twofold one. We mourn the loss of our dear Sister Ramona Maria Tombo, but we also rejoice with her, in that “…for your faithful, 0 Lord, life is changed, not ended.”

Ramona Natividad Catalina Tombo was born May 1, 1906 in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, Philippines. She was the tenth child and never knew her father. He had died of cholera three months before she was born. The family was close knit and Sister wrote of them: “My mother was a busy woman conducting the jewelry store and hacienda. However, she managed her happy home, educated the children and gave them religious instruction. She emphasized love of God, truthfulness and charity. The Rosary was recited every night and the Angelus said together. Fifteen minutes before bedtime, my grandmother told us Bible stories.”

Ramona’s education was in the schools of Cabanatuan and Manila. Initially, she enrolled as a pre-med student in the University of the Philippines. “I always wanted to be a surgeon and help the poor. But my mother thought dentistry would be better (for me). I received the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1931 from the Manila College of Dentistry.” Her professors said of her: “She was a conscientious worker and very proficient in Oral Surgery.” Following graduation she worked for the next five years as a Clinical Instructor, then Assistant Professor. She also served as a translator in the Philippine Congress before engaging in private dental practice.

Ramona had always maintained a deep interest in the missionary apostolate — as she grew up she had heard her mother speak often and admiringly of “…the wonderful work of the missioners in China, Africa and India.” Later when she confided her desire to be a foreign mission Sister to a spiritual director, he arranged an interview with Sister Virginia Marie at St. Paul’s Hospital administered by the Maryknoll Sisters in Manila. Acceptance and entrance into Maryknoll followed in quick succession, and on June 25, 1936, Ramona arrived in New York. At Reception she received her religious name “Ramona Maria”. First and Final Profession of Vows took place here in this Chapel; the latter on January 6, 1942.

Ramona was a good cook, capable and dependable. Often during her Novitiate she helped in the kitchen. At one time when Father Cotta was ill, she was the only one able to prepare rice to his satisfaction! Sister’s ability as a dentist was quickly utilized. All of her Sister-patients are unanimous in speaking of her gentleness in caring for their dental needs, and the high quality of her work.

During Renewal periods at the Center, she was always most generous with her time and talents. She brought enthusiasm and joy to whatever she was doing. When work on the mitre of Bishop-elect Comber was delayed, she assisted Sister Gonzaga in its completion. The settee in the Heritage Room, as well as many items at Watch Hill, bear witness to her skill as an upholsterer.

The outbreak of World War II caused her considerable concern and anxiety. She had been assigned to Hawaii in 1943 where she worked at the Catholic Social Service Bureau and the Maui Children’s Home. But with the liberation of Manila in early 1945, she returned to the Philippines, where she taught at St. James Academy, Malabon, and engaged in apostolic work among the fisher folk and the poor of Malabon. For more than ten years she labored as an itinerant mobile dentist providing dental care for the poor in the Maryknoll areas. She became a familiar figure to all the length and breadth of the Philippines as she struggled aboard boats, planes, jeeps, buses, bancas and carabao carts carrying her portable dental equipment. She went to extraordinary lengths and manifested great perseverance and initiative in caring for the poor. She involved others as well to contribute their talents and resources in support of this ministry.

Retirement in 1971 only meant the beginning of a new phase in Sister’s missionary life. Her first activity as a retiree was Supervisor of all connected with rehabilitation in the Youth Department of the Manila Police Department. She was indefatigable in walking the hot and dusty streets of Manila in an attempt to unite parents with children. The invitation to work in Boys Town, Marikina, was a challenge not to be refused. She became liaison with the public and private sectors in the care of the boys and girls, the Foundling Home, and the Home for the Aged. The Bulacan Medical Center pleaded with her to act as Consultant-Administrator”…even if only for two hours a week.”

“The young are waiting to be approached and I want to help them. They are the future. I want to understand their problems and the world they are living in better and help them with their Christian living.” This was the reason she gave for attending the Mission Renewal Program at Maryknoll, New York in 1979.

The Filipino Action Movement (MABUHAY ANG FILIPINO) recognized Sister Ramona’s work in an award presented to her on November 30, 1978, it reads: “…for dedicating her talents and skills in the service of her community, thus serving as an example, as well as a source of joy to her peers and co-workers.”

On April 5, 1981, Sister Ramona Maria was laid to rest in the mausoleum on the grounds of Maryknoll College. The mausoleum overlooks Marikina Valley where she served so well and so faithfully. The Collect of the Mass of the day (5th Sunday of Lent) is an epitome of Sister’s commitment to God, through Maryknoll, for the past 45 years: “Help us to embrace the world you have given us that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter.” She has heard the Risen Lord saying, “Mabuhay, Ramona Maria. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joys of the Kingdom.”

The celebrant of the Mass of the Resurrection this morning is Maryknoll Father John A. Rich, who has served in mission in the Philippines, and who spoke beautifully in the homily of Sister Ramona’s enthusiasm for mission in responding to the needs of all — especially the poor.