A Lady Who Greatly Influenced My Becoming a Deacon in the Church
Deacon Patrick Constantino | Photos courtesy Cabacungan ‘ohana
Sister Miriam Dionise Cabacungan was born in Happy Valley in Wailuku, Maui—the daughter of Ruperto and Dionicia Cabacungan from the town of Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. She has been a Sister of St. Francis for sixty-seven years. I am proud to say she is my Auntie, sister of my mother Felisa Constantino. If it wasn’t for her encouraging my wife and me to attend a Marriage Encounter Weekend, I would not have been involved in the Church as I am today! When Mom and Dad went to work, she would babysit us until they came home from work. One day I asked her, “How did you decide to become a Sister?” She replied “A Sister came to St. Anthony Girl School and gave a talk to their class about vocation to the Sisterhood. I felt sorry for her because no one signed up.” So she signed up, graduated from St. Anthony Girls School and attended St. Francis School of Nursing in Honolulu and graduated as a Registered Nurse. She has been a Registered Nurse for sixty-seven years. After graduation she felt a calling from our Lord to enter the novitiate of Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, New York in 1958. I’m proud to present her story “Year of Consecrated Life.”
Our Holy Father Francis, has declared this year (2015) as the year of Consecrated Life. In the past, there were many, priests and religious of many different communities working in God’s vineyard. As many of us are reaching the Golden Years and reaching the Autumn and Winter of our lives, we would like to encourage teachers, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties, and friends to talk to our children and young adults to explore the vocations of becoming priests, deacons, and religious to continue and carry on God’s work.
How did the Franciscans come to Hawai‘i? It started in Germany. Mother Marianne Cope was born in Germany on January 23, 1838. Her family came to the United States in 1839 and settled in Utica, N.Y. She was educated in Utica and Syracuse, N.Y. After helping her family members, she entered the convent of St. Anthony on Nov. 19, 1862 at the age of twenty-four. In 1877, she became the second mother provincial of the Syracuse Community. She was Superior at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Utica, N.Y. in 1866 and St. Joseph Hospital in 1869.
At the urging of King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi‘olani to care for ‘my sick children,’ she, at the age of forty-five, and six other Sisters arrived on O‘ahu on Nov. 8, 1883. They were greeted by the Bishop at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. She and the Sisters worked patiently and lovingly to improve the surroundings at the Leprosy Branch at Kaka‘ako. In 1884, she established Maunalani Hospital and St. Anthony School on Maui. In 1885, she established Kapi‘olani Home on O‘ahu for the children whose parents had leprosy. In 1900, she established St. Joseph School and Hilo Hospital on the Big Island. In November 1888 at the age of fifty, she moved to Kalaupapa, Molokai to assist Fr. Damien with his patients. Fr. Damien died six months after he got there. She lived there for thirty years rendering kindness and compassion to those under her care. She died on August 6, 1918 at the age of 80. She was buried in the grounds of Bishop Home. Her remains were transferred to Syracuse, New York in 2005 and later brought to Rome. She was beatified in Rome, Italy on May 14, 2005 and was canonized on October 21, 2012, in Rome. She returned to Hawai‘i on July 17, 2014 and was interred in Basilica/Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.
There were seventy-six Sisters from Hawai‘i who entered the community of St. Francis. Many worked in Education, Medical and Social occupations. I would like to share my beginnings with you, if I may. I was born in Wailuku, Maui. My parents Ruperto and Dionicia Cabacungan came from Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. I am a sibling of ten children. I grew up in a loving and devout Catholic household. After graduating from St. Anthony Girls’ School on Maui in 1953, I enrolled as a student nurse at St. Francis School of Nursing in Honolulu for fifteen years. Answering the call of our Lord, I left to enter the novitiate of Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, New York and later I completed my nursing degree at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Utica. I was privileged to have walked in the footsteps of ‘St. Marianne Cope’ caring for the sick at St. Elizabeth Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital in Syracuse, New York where she was an Administrator of both Hospitals. But one of my memorable missions was working on Kalaupapa, Molokai. We were a closed-knit community family. We, Catholics, Protestants and Mormons, celebrated all the holidays and festivities together and praying and supporting each other when one of the residents went home to the Lord. ‘We were many parts but one body.’
Another memorable mission was my assignment at St. Francis Hospice at Nu‘uanu on O‘ahu from 1988 to 2008. Caring for patients who were terminally ill, praying and supporting family and friends as they go through the process of grieving, separation and dying have been rewarding and heartwarming. Ever since I began working with Hospice Care, I have come to understand what death is all about. When a priest who was dying of cancer came to Hospice, I prayed with him through his fears as he gasped through his last breaths. All of a sudden, he just relaxed and then passed away. (Franciscan) Sister Francine Gries, my mentor brought the concept of Hospice to the islands. When Sister Francine Gries was dying, I gathered the staff around her to sing with me ‘Be not afraid.’ But the song couldn’t find its voice. So, I bent low to her ear and whispered the lyrics ‘Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow Me, and I will give you rest.’ As she loved flowers, we spread some beautiful flowers around her bed putting some fragrant ones in her hair. Finally, she just closed her eyes and went home to the Lord.
When my brother was in Hospice care, we did everything that he wanted. Through an arrangement with Hospice on Maui, we were able to take him there to say goodbye to family and dear friends. Back on O‘ahu, our large family of different religious denominations all stood by his side, and even their churches like the Jehovah’s Witnesses offered to make the food for his service at the Catholic church. Death is a beautiful thing. It is very rewarding to be able to help people transition from one life to the next.
Through it all, I often recite Psalm 139. It is my favorite Psalm and speaks of God’s omnipotence. ‘The Lord He knows me, when I sit and when I stand. The Lord is before me and behind me; He knows my thoughts from afar. I know He is there; his providence will provide.’
Sister Miriam Dionise Cabacungan (Auntie) currently continues to minister in our St. Francis Healthcare System Spiritual Service Department. The majority of her nursing days were at St. Francis Medical Center. With the grace and love of our Lord, she was able to serve Him for sixty-seven years, as a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities and she hopes to continue for many more years, God willing. Thank you and may God be with you.
Thank you Sister Miriam for been gifted to give sharing your life and faith story. You are a good example of being ‘ohana in Christ and witness to Jesus. Jesus I trust in you! Amen!
On June 18, 1987, Patrick Constantino was ordained as the first Deacon of Filipino ancestry for the Roman Catholic Church in Hawai‘i. For twenty-two years, he served as Administrator at Holy Rosary Church in Pā‘ia, St. Rita Church in Ha‘ikū and St. Gabriel Church in Ke‘anae. Constantino is presently assigned to St. Joseph Church in Makawao.
Prior to his ordination, Constantino was in government—first appointed in 1966 as Assistant Sergeant of Arms by the Speaker of the House Elmer F. Cravalho. When Cravalho became Maui’s first Mayor, Constantino became his Executive Assistant—the first of Filipino ancestry. Later, Constantino became the first County Treasurer of Filipino ancestry and the first County Grants Administrator and Risk Manager of Filipino ancestry.
Constantino has served as a Deacon for thirty-four years and married to his lovely wife Corazon for sixty years.