A Missionary From Colombia

By Richelle Verdeprado

The author, from Himamaylan, Negros Occidental, is a third-year student at the University of Negros Occidental – Recoletos (UNO-R), Bacolod City, taking up social work. She has been involved in campus journalism since her elementary days and in her spare time works as an editorial assistant in the Misyon office.

Opportunities to decide how they will spend their lives come in different ways for different people. More than just recognizing these chances is the permanent joy brought about by listening and responding to them according to God’s plan. For Sr Adela V. Paternina TC, her opportunity to decide how she would live the rest of her life came to her 57 years ago, when she chose to enter the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious congregation founded at the shrine of Our Lady of Montiel in Benaguacil, Valencia, Spain, by Bishop Luis José María Amigó y Ferrer OFM Cap. Now, as her 78th birthday is approaching, she sees her life as simpler but more real than it was before.

Sister Adela at Holy Family Home

I came to know Sister Adela in 2007 when I started living with the Sisters at Holy Family Home, Cabug, Bacolod City. I knew little things about her but after Sunday Mass I would come to her and kiss her. The children were so fond of her. She had lived in a number of different cultures and thus she spoke a combination of languages which I couldn’t fully understand. When talking with her before, I would usually look at her eyes. The way she smiled told me that what she had said were words that were full of concern. She would hold my hand gently and I would find peace in her loving touch. I really wanted to know more about her. Hence, I felt so blessed when Fr Seán Coyle, our editor, suggested that I do an article about her before she left the Philippines to return to Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, her homeland. Modern technology has made it possible for us to communicate. She was in Cebu City when I sent my questions by email and I was surprised to receive her answers days after. She recalled how the seed of her religious vocation started.

After attending a retreat during her second year in high school, Sister Adela felt the desire to give her life forever to Jesus as a missionary sister. She can still remember exactly the effect it had on her when she received a picture from a priest. The picture showed a group of indigenous people. Upon watching it, she knew in her heart that Jesus was calling her to follow Him in religious life. It was that experience that converted her into a fervent and pious person. At the age of 13, her spiritual journey started with the inspiration of St Thérèse of Lisieux whose autobiography Story of a Soul made her faith stronger. She loved reading the book because it narrates how St Thérèse lived and presented her ‘little way’ to holiness. 

Sister Adela was studying some college courses, including music, from 1948 to 1952. Before Vatican II (1962-1965), it was impossible for her to read the Bible because it was forbidden. (Editor’s note: before Vatican II it is true to say that lay Catholics were not encouraged to read the Bible lest they misinterpret it, but the Church didn’t actually forbid them to do so, though there might have been individual priests who took that line).However, nothing could stop her from worshipping and drawing closer to God. She was praying the rosary and attending morning Mass daily. 

Her mother knew the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters and it was she who described to her clearly how their habit looked. When the TC sisters arrived in their place for the first time, she recognized them immediately. That was her opportunity to shape the rest of her life in a way that would eternally fulfill her soul. That was her moment to dedicate her life to God forever. She entered at the age of 20. 

Sister Adela had her postulancy in Bogotá. (Editor’s note: Postulancy is a time of preparation for the novitiate which is the immediate preparation for taking vows and usually lasts two years. Today there is also a period before postulancy known as the ‘aspirancy’.) Naturally, during the first week she missed her family so much. She was the fifth child in a family of nine siblings. But because it was her heart’s desire to follow Jesus, it did not take her long to feel at home. She was filled with gladness that the sacrifices and the difficulties were so normal for her. 

From 1953 to 1986, Sister Adela had her apostolic work in Colombia. She was a teacher in different schools and in the government of the province of the congregation. In 1986, she took part in the General Council of the congregation and was elected to the general council while Sr Maria Elena S. Echavarren from Spain was chosen as General Superior. She is now the superior of the Vice Province of the Philippines, which includes a community in Korea and a community in India.

Sister Adela came to the Philippines for the first time in November 1988. She was accompanying Sister Elena. After that she visited the country almost every year as part of the General Council. Visiting almost all of the places where the congregation served was very memorable for her. It gave her a lot of experience that enriched her knowledge and increased her vision about the world and the needs of its people. After 12 years, she offered herself to the new General Superior to work in the Philippines. Her offer was accepted and she was then sent to the Philippines. She arrived in Manila on 14 March 1999.

Sister Adela’s first assignment was in Talisay City, Negros Occidental. In 2002, she was transferred to the Cabug Community in Bacolod City where she lived not only with the Sisters but with the children she loves very much. Being with the girls in Holy Family Home has deepened her understanding of her vocation. 

The different environment, the need to adapt to the changes that occurred after the Vatican Council and the exit of many Sisters were some of the difficulties that she encountered together with the TC community. However, through all those testing times her passion in serving God and her brothers and sisters continued to blossom. During those years, she was able to compose many songs about fraternity, justice, love for God, vocation and fidelity. Even old age cannot stop her from playing the piano and singing for the Lord. For Sister Adela, growing older means becoming more loving with people and accepting with a peaceful attitude all the physical limitations that aging brings. For her, it means remaining ever faithful and excited to learn more. 

Sister Adela returned to her homeland last June but the Philippines will always be another home for her. I will never forget talking with her as I looked straight into her eyes. I will never forget her loving touch as she gently held my hand. I will always be eager to know more about her. She will always stay at home in our hearts. Sister Adela loves the Filipinos so much. She knows that God led her to the Philippines where her presence would truly make a difference. Most of the children whom she has guided and taken care of are now in college and some are leading their own lives. She has discovered her true home since the day she listened and responded to God’s invitation to her with all her heart and soul.

You may contact Richelle at rich_verde706@yahoo.com.ph and you may email Sister Adela atadelatcsf@yahoo.com