Account of Sr. Sally’s death.

Dear Friends,

I like to share with you the last few hours of our beloved Sister Sally.

In the morning of September 27, her breathing was changing. The nurse informed me and so I went to her room and I prayed the commendation for the dying. I called Sr. Divina to pray the rosary. Then the nurse and the caregiver gave her a sponge bath. After the sponge bath, at 11:00 a.m. I was called again because Sr. Sally’s breathing was shallow. I held her shoulder and called her name with the expectation that she would open her eyes. Then at 11:10 she gave a deep breath. I thought that was the last. Then Sr. Tammy, Sr. Divina and the care giver came into the room and she breathed her last at 11:20. She slept away very gently. May she rest in peace.

Immediately Sr. Tammy called the Sisters in San Juan and they came right away. Sister Gloria called Sister Sally’s family and they arrived in less than an hour. Her other nurse and former care givers came too and we continued prayers in her room.

We had three days viewing in the Mortuary Chapel of our parish Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Mass was celebrated every evening in the chapel. The first evening mass on September 28, was officiated by Fr. Brendan Lovett, SSC. The following evening masses were celebrated by a Brazilian ICM priest and a priest from the parish. Evening snack was served by Sr. Sally’s family after the mass. The Oyzon family took care of the flowers and food so it was a great help for us. Several religious women who have their houses in our neighborhood, the Columban Fathers, Seminarians and Lay Missionaries, her former doctors, and a few friends came to comfort us and accompanied us during the vigil and masses. As it is our culture not to leave the dead alone at any time during the wake,  Sisters Sofia, Ann Rita and Cecilia along with two other condolers took turns to stay overnight in the chapel.

The funeral was in the morning of October 1st. Columban Fathers Paul Glynn and Michael Mohally concelebrated. The funeral liturgy was prepared by Sr. Tammy and the Columban lay missionaries and students helped with the singing. Sr. Gloria gave a beautiful homily. One of Sister Sally’s nephews, Al, shared a short reflection and his memories of their growing up years with their “Tita Inday” and thanked everyone and the Columban family.  The funeral journey to bring Sr. Sally to her final resting place at the Holy Cross Memorial Park in Novaliches, was accompanied by a police convoy provided by the family to help the funeral procession through the traffic in the city. We had a short send off prayer and burial ritual at the gravesite. She was laid next to our five Sisters gone before us.  After the funeral, her family brought us to one of their restaurants in one of the city malls for a lovely lunch.

Sincerely in Christ,

Sr. Grace de Leon.

Homily at the Funeral Mass of Sr. Mary Salvador Oyzon on October 1, 2019

                                                                              -given by Sr. Gloria Santos

Good morning and welcome to all of you.

Today, on the feast day of Saint Therese, Patroness of Missions, we are gathered here to send off our dearly loved Sister Sally to her final resting place. We offer our condolences to her nieces and nephews;  Mae and Emil, Chel and Vivian, Al, Karina, Ate Rosal, grandnephews and grandnieces who in their sorrow and deep lost have been coming every day since we began vigil on Saturday morning, treasuring, sharing, reflecting memories in honor of their “Tita Inday”.

Sister Sally was born the 4th child of 7 children in Fort Stotsenburg, which was established by the US Cavalry in 1903 in Angeles City, Pampanga, now called Clark Air Base. Her father served in the US Military Air Force, and he and their mother were given housing inside the fort. Sister Sally and her siblings grew up there and with a privileged access to the fort, the family must have enjoyed a comfortable life style. However, when World War II came, in the midst of extreme difficulties and danger, the family was forced to evacuate for safety. Sister Sally who was at that time in her teens surely had seen and witnessed the ravages of war. Later as an adult, she  had acknowledged the  effect of the war on her and her siblings.

She went to study at the Far Eastern University in Manila and followed a degree in Education, graduating magna cum laude. After college she taught in high schools and shared her professional skills and talents with the Filipino youth, helping them to excel in their academic development. After teaching for a few years and carrying school administration responsibilities, she went to the United States to pursue graduate and postgraduate studies. She enrolled in Boston College in Massachusetts and there obtained her Ph.D. While still studying in the United States, she felt a certain sensation in her heart that somehow, something was still missing; she was searching for something more beyond her professional career. During this time of reflections and deep encounters with the Lord, she responded to the call to dedicate her life as a religious missionary. She entered the Congregation in Hyde Park, Boston, Massachusetts in late 1958. The convent was only opened ten years earlier as a training center for future Columban Sisters coming from the United States and foreign countries especially those from Asia. She was professed in 1961 and on return to the Philippines she was assigned to our different mission schools in Ozamis, Malate, Lingayen, Olonggapo and Molave and was involved again both in the teaching ministry and school administration. Moving from one regional culture to another she had a great gift for picking up the local dialects spoken by the natives which was an extra asset for her. It enabled her to mingle with others with ease. 

I met Sister Sally for the first time in the late 70´s when I was a novice. I remembered my first impression of her as a petite sister who carried herself well. I was also amazed that she could speak Pangasinan and understood it, a dialect which many people find difficult to learn or to pick up.

But for me the bigger legacy that Sister Sally left us is her deep belief and commitment to the spirit of Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World , the Participation of the Laity in the Church.

At the height of student activism, people´s uprising and intense militarization of the country in the 1970s, the Mindanao Pastoral Council had called on religious, priests and the Church personnel to take an active role in protecting human rights. The poor had no protection, those who worked for justice were taken prisoners and anyone suspected of treason was salvaged. Sister Sally who had been in administration of our school in Ozamis moved to the Molave community in 1977 and undertook a full time ministry in the Diocese of Pagadian.

Her work in the promotion of human rights and the rights of political prisoners and detainees brought her to their families and the communities where they came from. She visited them, supported them, and accompanied them in their fears, anxieties, hopes and struggles. She would visit detention centers in the diocese and persisted in obtaining for them their legal rights and legal representation. She became a member of Task Force Detainees (TFD), a human rights group set up by the AMRSP. She was committed to social justice, in the search for the truth and social transformation at the height of militarization and dictatorship in the country. She was brave, she was courageous and took risks.

She worked under Bishop Tuquib and was a strong voice of the spirit of Vatican II. She was active in the Association of Women Religious in the diocese and along with two women religious, these three sisters were prime movers in the diocese and brought the Church in the Modern World, the Church of the Laity alive in Pagadian. She travelled by public transports which were often crowded to parishes and schools and through very bad roads and fragile bridges,  giving seminars to teachers and Church workers in the service of BEC (Gagmayang Kristohanong mga Katilingban). She was a great support to the young Columban Fathers who were assigned to the parishes but who had a more  advance way of thinking and doing under a Bishop who was just reeling off from the long and deep  influence of a hierarchical Church. The Columbans and other young diocesan priests appreciated her commitment and some worked closely with her. She and  Father Sean Mc Nulty, worked together in training the lay leaders. They developed spiritual and formation programs to empower the laity. They initiated dialogue with local authorities on human rights issues. For example they  were able to convince the military that in schools and in communities where children were, there should be no presence of arms. She was an active participant in many meetings of  the DIOPIM. She was not only active in lay formation but as well as in the formation of young religious and seminarians. In the time of Bishop Tobias she was a spiritual directress at the St, Mary´s Theologate Seminary in Ozamis.

In the early 80´s when the Columban Sisters moved on to take up another thrust of Vatican II,  that is Dialogue of Life, Culture and with other Religions, four Sisters were assigned to undertake this mission with the Subaanen tribe, the largest group of Indigenous People in the Philippines outside of the Muslims. Sister Sally along with three young non-Filipina Sisters started in Lumponid, a barrio in Midsalip and did Subaanen language studies. Later they moved farther up in Kumaron away from the lowland. Again, Sister Sally´s presence as a Filipina Sister with lots of ministry experience and who knew the diocese of Pagadian was a great support to the other Sisters who were starting off  new way of being and doing mission. At an age of 60, she participated well in the simple life of the community. For example, to start with, they were all sleeping in one room with very small space to move around, washed their clothes in the river, gathered twigs for their cooking, etc. One of her early contributions to the Subanen mission was the introduction of the use and production of herbal medicine given especially to the very poor in the barrios.  But with military bombings going deeper into the mountains the Sisters needed to leave Kumaron. It was no longer safe for them to stay in the mountains. While thinking of the next step, the other Sisters went on home leave. Meanwhile, Sister Sally was offered by the Columban Sisters´ Leadership to return to school administration, but she rejected the offer saying that she had already left the school administration in 1977, and that for her, pastoral work was now where her heart was.

 From Midsalip Sister Sally had accepted an outside mission assignment and was sent to Chile. There she was committed to the thrust of the South American missions: Pastoral work in the parishes. She was assigned to the south of the country in Iquique and lived in community with our late Sr. Teresita Bernad and another Irish Sister, Sr. Elizabeth Doyle. She went to serve in the Altiplano where she had the experience of the Andean mission. While this was a short period in her missionary life, she enjoyed it and was grateful for the opportunity to be in Latin America and saw mission from a different perspective.

Returning to the Philippines and in her advanced age, she took on part time ministries, like visiting hospitals, counseling, teaching English to foreign student religious and seminarian, and a few other pastoral involvement in the nearby areas of the parish both in San Juan and in Cubao.

There are many more that could be shared of Sr. Sally, but at the end of the journey of someone who had been blessed with a long life of 93 years and almost 60 years of faithfulness and commitment to a religious missionary vocation, what we can say here is only a capsule of what she had given to this life. All was given out of a deep faith and love in the One who loved her first. That fire burning within her heart when she first heard and responded to God’s call,  stayed burning until her last breath. We who are gathered here all know how Sister Sally had loved life. When I visited her on the night before she died and was praying with her, I told her: “Sister don’t be afraid. The Lord will be your Light.”

We heard from the Gospel that was read today, Jesus said…” the hour has come when the Son of Man has to be glorified”,…” the seed must first fall and die and then it bears much fruit”.  Her hour has come. She had left us a rich legacy.  Now, we who had treasured and received the example and passion of this woman  whom we called our “Tita Inday” or Sr. Sally will be the ones who will bring forth the fruit of this seed that has fallen and died. This seed which was sown and was planted in our hearts will rise again.

Her motto which is taken from Psalm 116 says:  “What return shall I make to the Lord for all that He has given to me.” Surely, she has showed throughout her lifetime, her deep gratitude for all the wonders the Lord had done for her. She had returned generously the love she had received first.

Sister Sally, we thank you for all that you were to us, your family, relatives and friends, we your Columban Sisters and to the world. We will cherish your memory and hold dear in our hearts the dear person that you were to us. You can go Home now Sister, your parents and siblings gone before you are there waiting for your return to the Creator, the Lord Saviour, your “Salvador” welcomes you with open arms.

                                                                                                                                       

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