‘My Aloha Always’ from Franciscan Sister Roselani Gomes
I am the daughter of parents who lived on the island of Kauai in Hawaii where my Dad worked for McBryde Sugar Company until their nine-year old son was fatally injured by a drunken driver. My Dad was devastated. The funeral expenses were great and the salary he received was barely enough to support his growing family. My oldest brother at 13 had to quit school to help out. In addition, my Dad found it difficult to continue under his employer who was responsible for the accident. He moved his family to Grove Farm Plantation in Puhi where I was born, the ninth child in a family of 10 children.
There were no Catholic Schools on Kauai. The nearest public school to Puhi was in Lihue, about three walking miles away and Immaculate Conception in Kapaia, the nearest Catholic Church was further. Rain or shine, we walked to school each day. If we got wet, we had to go to the cafeteria to don old clothes until ours were dry.
My mother, our guiding light was a prayerful, generous, hospitable and loving woman. She had deep faith in God and nurtured us in the Catholic faith. Each evening we recited the rosary as a family. We attended October and May devotions in honor of our Blessed Mother and during the Lenten season, Stations of the Cross. “Mama” made sure we learned and said our prayers and attended weekly Saturday catechism classes held in the Lihue Protestant Parish Hall. We had a Sacred Hearts Father from Germany as teacher and pastor. On Sundays we attended Mass in Kapaia, and when it was time for First Communion instructions walked from the public school to the church. We had only one main highway so we took a short cut and walked across a suspension bridge to get to the church!
After many years at Grove Farm, my Dad was transferred to Kekaha Sugar Company. By this time my oldest brother and sister were married so there were only seven of us children plus our parents. Our new plantation house had only three bedrooms. With this move I felt as if I had gone to the ends of the earth since Kekaha is the farthest western town on the island of Kauai. It was hot and humid compared to the coolness of Puhi. I missed climbing our mango tree, sitting on the roof of our house eating mangoes, going wild fruit picking in the valleys, my friends and my old school.
Shortly after school started, our family suffered another tragedy. Due to another tragic accident by someone’s DUI, my nine year old brother (the youngest child) suffered a fatal accident. My parents’ grief was so great, but my mother’s deep faith and love of God saw us through those bleak days. Her greatest consolation was that our former pastor had recognized my brother’s goodness and had him receive the sacraments when he was barely eight years old.
When I was about 14, I spotted an ad in Our Sunday Visitor. The caption was a catchy one, “Fill these Empty Shoes.” I decided to give it a try and wrote to the Marist Missionary Sisters in Bedford, Mass. I received a reply and began corresponding with a Marist Sister who later became the Mother Superior. I thought I could be a missionary as St. Therese of Lisieux had wished. I spoke to our assistant pastor whose sister was an Ursuline in Cleveland, OH. It just so happened that his younger sister had just entered the Order, and he let me read her letter which started me on my journey toward religious life.
While still in high school, Father Robeck asked if I would type some letters (145 in all) to superiors of different religious orders. It was a “begging” letter for Sisters to staff the school he wanted to open at St. Theresa Parish, Kekaha, in September ’46. The spiritual condition of St. Theresa Parish was at a very low ebb and Father believed that a Catholic School would make the parish come alive. Father Robeck received some affirmative responses and among them was one from Mother Perpetua, superior of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, Manitowoc, Wis. Mother assured Father that her Sisters would come to his assistance by the time the school was ready. (Incidentally it was Bishop Sweeney who decided that the Franciscan Sisters would be the ideal group for Kekaha). Father Robeck accepted Mother Perpetua’s offer, and true to her word, four Franciscan Sisters arrived in August 1946 to staff St. Theresa School. I had the happy privilege of getting the “doll house” convent ready for the sisters ― and emceed the welcoming program held on the church grounds.
I grew to love the Sisters. Amidst the heat and humidity of Kekaha and the poorness of the mission, they exuded warmth, friendliness and joy. I sought opportunities to help them in any way I could to make their lives among us more pleasant. I did their laundry for part of the year and, I or sometimes my girlfriend and I would often bring them an evening meal. Many times I would make something special for their breakfast and would take it along to the early morning Mass, I was fascinated by and in awe of these “penguins” (as we affectionately called them), and yet, a little reticent to share my feelings about becoming a Sister.
My plan in life was to be a secretary. So strong was this desire that I took business courses in high school. Now I was in a quandary. Should I or shouldn’t I join the Marist Missionary Sisters? I decided to make the “St. Andrew Christmas Novena for Favors.” This novena prayer is said 15 times a day beginning on the feast of St. Andrew and ending on Christmas Day. I faithfully recited the novena and listened to my innermost being until the end of the novena when I heard God’s, “Come, follow me.” Unlike the rich young man, I did not turn away. However, before saying “Yes” to God, I spoke to my parents about what I was feeling and to whom should I go ― the Marists or Franciscans. My leaving would pose a hardship for them but they whole-heartedly gave me their blessing–as I chose the Manitowoc Franciscans. I wrote for admittance to the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and was accepted. (On another note, I wrote to Mother Mary Cyr (Superior of the Marist Sisters) of my decision when I was aboard the ship S.S. Matsonia, on my way to the States to enter our Community. And yes, I did receive a letter assuring me of her prayers and that of her Community. At my reception into the novitiate, I asked for a new name because I had read that when God gave both Saul and Peter new names, it signified the beginning of a new life/vocation for them. I wanted the same for myself. I was pleased with my new name which means “Rose of heaven.”
I haven’t regretted entering our religious community. I have received more blessings and love than I could ever have imagined. I enjoyed my teaching experiences in Wisconsin, Arizona and Hawaii and now enjoy what I had “planned” on being years ago – a secretary! I am filled with gratitude to God ― Aloha ke Akua ― (God is Love) for gifting me with the call to the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. As I celebrate this 60th jubilee of religious profession, my heart abounds with love and gratitude for my dear parents, my family, priests and my Sisters in Community for their loving support, encouragement and guidance along the way. My aloha always.