My First Christmas Away From Home

By Sr. Grace Gerong osf

Sr. Gerong knew long before that she had the calling.  However, as the eldest daughter, she helped her parents first in sending her younger brothers to school before she heeded God’s call. When she was ready to leave home, she packed her bag, she said goodbye to her supportive family, and joined the Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. She is now in Ople, Germany.

Sr. Grace Gerong osf

I grew up in a home where prayer life is a priority. Rosary was said everyday. My mother was Marian devotion which we observed as a family, too. This was reinforced when I went to high school and college at St. Joseph College in the town of Maasin. Benedictine Sisters, mostly German, had all my religion, biology, geometry and English classes.

Daily Mass attendance became part of my life when I was in second year high school. My younger brother, Rafael, who was a freshman in high school, was a member of the Knights of the Altar. He had to serve morning Masses. As his companion, we used to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to catch the early Sogo-bound bus that drove from Ichon, Macrohon to Maasin to collect passengers. If we reached the church early we helped in opening windows and dusting the pews. Luckily, my brother was served breakfast by the Benedictine Sisters. But most of the time when the store were still closed, my snack during recess time was also my breakfast.

Religious interest

Sister Veronica Origenes, OSB was the first one to know about my interest in religious life. She asked me regarding my future plans before my high school graduation. At that time, my brother Rafael, who expressed the desire to be a Benedictine monk, was then in San Beda College, Manila. Sr. Veronica’s brother was also in the community.

First Christmas away from home

When I was a college sophomore, the Benedictine Sisters arranged that I could join a retreat for prospective Benedictine candidates in St. Scholastica’s College, Manila during the Christmas break. I would travel with two girls from Lapu-Lapu City. It meant leaving home before Christmas. My father took me to the Sister’s convent in that city where I joined my companions. After goodbyes were said, my father walked away fast and never looked back. During the mid-night Mass, I cried. That was my first Christmas away from home.

I failed the test

The retreatants came from all over the country and mostly from the Benedictine schools exclusives fro girls. With my rural orientation, I probably looked and acted like a fish out of water. The two-day oral interviews and written exams that followed the retreat were alien to me. I failed the tests to qualify for the Liberal Arts course, the candidacy program in St. Scholastica’s College. My being thin and small raised doubts on my capability, too. Well, born 5 lbs, with poor nourishment during the war and irregular meals as a student, what cold one expect? The recommendation was to finish my college course at St. Joseph’s College. Perhaps, to put some more weight on my 80 lbs. frame, I was asked to live at the Sisters convent with t tree other working students. There I learned to eat what was served.

It was at this stage that I saw the newly arrived American OSF pioneers stationed at the Franciscan College of Immaculate Conception, Leyte, they were in Maasin to have their retreat. However, after the manila episode I began to doubt if religious life was for me. Although I continued to pray that if to be a religious was my vocation that I would be given a sign.

Family obligation first

When I finished the secondary teaching course and passed the government exams, I secured a teaching position in English, Math, and Religion at St. Joseph’s College. As the eldest of two girls and four boys, my father requested that I would help the family at least for three years. This I did and supported my brothers, Melchor and Roselio, who were at the seminary for the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Cebu. A monthly pay of P189.00 – P210.00 at that time could go far.

Three years later, on my 24th birthday, without a reminder, my father announced to my friends that I could already freely follow my future plans. Possibly, he thought that I was considering marriage especially that I already decided to stay a regular boarding house. Meantime, all my brothers left the seminaries for different reasons.

My Turn

At this point I again started to seriously consider religious life. it was but rational to try religious life first before marriage. From fellow teachers who frequented FCIC, I learned more about the OSF Sisters and whom to contact if interested. My friends assisted me in the planning. One had to continue to pay my insurance premiums for three months after my entrance. Then my insurance after reaching the maturity of at least three years could be withdrawn and the amount could be used for my dowry. Another friend went to the seminary to clear the remaining financial obligations of my brother. A third one assisted me in securing the requirements especially the medical tests in Tacloban. I talked with my brothers and explained to them that it was my turn to go after they had tried. My parents who had no objections were the last ones to know my plan.

Messiah complex

It has been thirty-one years since Sr. Denise interviewed me and patiently related the life of St. Francis of Assisi of whom I was totally ignorant. I am grateful to my family who has been outstanding in supporting me. Once I learned of some family financial problems and offered to return home to help out but my father wrote: You have made the decision and you remain there. This is my family and it is my responsibility to solve the problems. Besides, before you were born I had problems which I solved without you. That ended my Messiah complex.

There are times that I miss home and the life in the Philippines but as His servant, following His will is all that matters to me. And he has kept His promise. For so little that I have given up, he has showered me with so much. I had that lonely tearful Christmas away from home once and He showered me a lifetime of wonderful Christmases in this lovely, faraway land. Indeed, it was worth the tears.

“Lord, help me accept the stages of life as you plan. Thank you for this season in my life and help me enjoy it to the full.”