Members of the Religious of the Virgin Mary in their southeast Edmonton convent living room, from left to right: Srs. Maria Jane Alindajao, Maria Cornelia Ramirez, Maria Mara Ubalde, Maria Adrialen Vallecera and Maria Angelita Pascula.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Members of the Religious of the Virgin Mary in their southeast Edmonton convent living room, from left to right: Srs. Maria Jane Alindajao, Maria Cornelia Ramirez, Maria Mara Ubalde, Maria Adrialen Vallecera and Maria Angelita Pascula.

January 11, 2016
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

As a child growing up in the Philippines, Mara Ubalde rejoiced whenever she saw the sisters of the Religious of the Virgin Mary.

Their visibility in their long habits was significant to the young Ubalde, whose first attraction to enter religious life came, not through the sisters, but because of her love for the movie The Sound of Music.

Known for their generosity, the sisters would call to give her cookies and orange juice.

"All the more, my admiration of the sisters grew. It was not only of Maria in The Sound of Music," said Ubalde.

Now called Sister Maria Mara Ubalde, the Edmonton-based junior member of the congregation no longer looks up to Maria of The Sound of Music, but like all members of the congregation, takes her first name and inspiration from Mary, mother of Jesus, the patron of the congregation.

"Walk with Mary and you will never stray," RVM sisters at their Edmonton convent sing, led by local superior Sister Maria Cornelia Ramirez.

"I always have that in mind," said Ramirez, a member of the congregation for 54 years. "I walk with Mary, I follow her prayerful attitude, and I have inner peace and joy to be with her, to walk with her, in union with Jesus.

"The Blessed Mother is the mother of Jesus but also our mother."

The RVM were the first religious congregation founded in the Philippines for native and mestiza, or mixed race women.

The institution was founded by the Venerable Ignacia del Espiritu Santo in 1684. Born in 1663 in Binondo, Manila, Santo founded the institution at the age of 21 under the spiritual direction of Jesuit priests.

Given to prayer, formation of young girls, teaching of Christian doctrine, practice of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and assisting the Jesuits, the community flourished through prayer, austerity, zeal for mortification, poverty and works of charity.

Its constitution finally obtained pontifical approval in 1948, when the community was officially named the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary.

Faithful to the legacy of Mother Santo, the congregation has established several schools in the Philippines, including high schools, colleges and the RVM-owned University of the Immaculate Conception.

EDUCATION FOR LOVE

"That's what she wanted, for children and parents to be educated, to be closer to God," said Ramirez. "It would be impossible for them to love someone they don't know so you have to educate the people in order for them to know God more."

Around the world, there are more than 700 RVM sisters.

Their mission is to live out contemplation-in-action with joy, creativity and vibrancy; be a witness to their spirituality of humble servanthood; grow in simplicity of life and responsible stewardship; promote life, justice, peace and integrity of creation; and blaze new trails in their ministries.

Despite the need for teachers at their many schools in the Philippines, the congregation's council regularly sends sisters to serve in different places around the world.

In addition to convents in Italy, the sisters also minister to senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease in Taiwan, and in Canada, the sisters work with First Nations people in British Columbia providing religious education and sacramental preparation.

INVITED BY CSS FOUNDER

The congregation arrived in Edmonton in 1994, invited by Msgr. William

Irwin, founder of Catholic Social Services, after he met an RVM sister by chance on a plane. After the first sister came to work with CSS, Irwin asked that the sisters work in parishes as well to augment their income.

Today, five RVM sisters are based at their convent in Edmonton, working with CSS and at a number of parishes, including St. Matthew, St. Agnes and St. Anthony, St. Theresa and Corpus Christi parishes.

Ramirez did sacramental preparation at St. Theresa's for 11 years before recently retiring.

PASTORAL ASSISTANT

Sister Maria Adrialen Vallecera, who works as a pastoral assistant at St. Theresa and Corpus Christi parishes, arrived in Edmonton from the Philippines last summer.

Her adjustment to the cold weather and long nights of Canada has been made easier by the people of her diverse parish, which includes a large Filipino community.

"I was blessed by persons who make the journey a little bit lighter," she said.

An important aspect of the life of the congregation is the RVM's lay associate organization in the archdiocese. With the permission of Archbishop Richard Smith, the RVM sisters recently started welcoming alumni of the RVM schools to work with the congregation.

Students from RVM schools now living in Edmonton can call the sisters at 780-641-5681 or send an email to rvmcanada@shaw.ca to learn more about their lay associates program.