Holy rosary

More than we can be


Interviewed by Sister Malia Dominica Wong, OP
Catholic Herald of Hawaii

One of my favorite songs, and my students’ favorite song is “You Raise Me Up” sung by Josh Groban. It’s such an uplifting and uplifting song, full of faith. From Hawaii to San Francisco where I have been teaching for several years now, the lyrics are still as relevant as ever. God uplifts us through all of life’s circumstances, to become more than we can be.

Everything I learned at the beginning of my ministry as an educator, I learned in Hawaii. I attended St. John the Baptist School in Kalihi for two years and St. Joseph School in Makawao for seven years. In Hawaii, I learned a lot by adapting to the different cultures represented there. I did it by listening to people and observing how they are. Sometimes reading books is good, but learning in real time is better. By knowing my strengths and weaknesses, adjustments and teaching became easier.

In my religion class, for example, we follow a certain weekly pattern of activities. On Mondays we have circle time where students can talk openly about where they are right now, in this present moment. I also ask them what they did over the weekend and if there are any hardships they might encounter or expect to encounter this week. I also ask students, “Who remembered yesterday’s Gospel?” Did you pick up anything? instead of saying “Go to Mass”.

The first time I asked this question, only a few students answered. But as everyone wants to share, I saw the numbers go up as they started to attend mass. When I ask, “Which church did you go to?” someone might answer, “I went to St. Patrick.” And as I keep asking questions, “Who was the priest there?” others respond, often adding, “The priest said this and that. Now everyone attends mass. They don’t want to be excluded from sharing.

Tuesdays are reserved for journaling. We begin with a prayer and a reflective question that relates to their lives. On Wednesdays, I lead the students in a meditation. I lead them into the quiet space saying, “Clear your mind, focus. Imagine that Jesus is looking at you right now. What do you want to tell him? This is a simple five to seven minute exercise. Then I play a song like “You Raise Me Up” to get them to meditate more.

Thursday classes focus on the Word of God. I take a Bible reading for children. This is a good easy to understand edit. I read the selected passage several times slowly. The third time, I read it clearly in a soft, expressive voice. Then I ask the students: “Which word(s) struck your mind? What words touched your heart? What could you really relate to? For example, they might respond, “I was touched by the word ‘sacrifice’.” ” Why ? ” I ask? “Tell me two or three words.” A student might say, “When I see the cross, I remember the sacrifices Jesus made for me. Very simple, but meaningful.

Fridays are our dance days. I go to YouTube and find a Christian song with actions. We dance together, becoming more than we thought we could be.

Sister Merced Gumban this year marks her 40th year as the Dominican Sister of the Most Holy Rosary of the Philippines. She is the fourth in a family of 10 children. She is a teacher at Holy Angels School in Colma, California.