My Benedictine story

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo September 07,2019 - 07:19 AM

You won’t believe it.

But there was a time in my teenage years that I wanted to be a nun. I was influenced by two Benedictine sisters: Sister Mary John Mananzan and Sister Alexis Remoroza.

I started my elementary education at the Saint Alphonsus Catholic School (SACS). I was good in English and Science, average in Math, and horrible in the Arts. 

But on the first two recognition years at SACS, I’ve managed to squeeze myself in the Top 10 pupils, which meant that my parents had the unique opportunity to come up stage and place a medal around my neck. 

In those two occasions, a prominent figure who stands on centerstage is a Benedictine nun named Sr. Rita Tullao. I had a classmate named Amelia who pronounced Sr. Rita’s name with so much vigor and enthusiasm, I often wished my tongue could aspirate ‘t’ the way Amelia did. 

I could not remember anything that Sister Rita said except that my Grade 1 Teacher, Miss Zosima Turra and my Grade 2 Adviser, Mrs. Evangeline Balingit, often said that the Benedictine sisters run the school. 

I spent half of a semester in SACS in third grade with a traumatic experience with a teacher whose name I will skip here. It was such a nightmare that I was relieved that we moved to Leyte where I started fresh at the Libas Elementary School. 

In high school, I was enrolled at the Saint Peter’s College (SPC) of Ormoc, a school ran by Benedictine sisters, too. 

My most memorable time in high school happened in my sophomore year. 

2001 was a memorable year.

The September 11 attacks (9/11) happened in the US, the singer Aaliyah died and I had a Benedictine sister for a Math teacher who made Algebra a joy to learn.

Her name: Sister Alexis. 

Sister Alexis had a strong presence in campus. She spoke Filipino. She was an intimidating figure. I had a mixed feeling of fear and admiration towards her. 

I have never seen a Benedictine nun quite like Sister Alexis. She was not at all demure. Instead, wearing her white habit and black veil, Sister Alexis played basketball at the gym. She played volleyball, too. 

Picture this: a religious person giving free throws and spikes to student athletes. 

Inside the classroom, she made Algebra an interesting subject to learn. It was the only year that I earned a 94 mark in Math. She made it a breeze to learn the subject. Plotting points and befriending the x and y axis became second nature because she made sure that by the end of the exam we discovered something on that graphic paper. 

In one exam, after an hour of solving equations and as we plotted points, Sister Alexis gave us a heart. Literally, a heart was formed by connecting all points.

I climbed from Top 9 to Top 1 in my class during that year. I had so much confidence in me because Sister Alexis made me love Math. I also wrote better essays and was more excited to study Science because I spent less time staring at Math problems. 

That was such an achievement for me: a girl from the village who was bullied to the point that she accepted that she can never succeed. I was told that as a probinsyana, raised in between the mountains and the sea, I will not be able to catch up with the students raised in the city. 

Sister Alexis changed that along with my Christine Life Education teacher, Miss Barja. 

It was a turning point in my high school year; a defining moment.

Sister Alexis left SPC on my third year and I never heard of her since then. My relationship with Math spiraled downwards. Statistics was no fun. 

During the last two years of high school, which was marked by stories of insecurities, I turned to the library and found stories of Sister Mary John Mananzan. I have known her since I entered SPC. She was strong and opinionated. Fearless and unstoppable. She spoke her truth and was brave to stand for what she believes in. 

At the library, I read articles about her. Inquirer stories, which quoted her, projected a strong, independent woman who was not at all silenced by her religiosity. She utilized it as a platform to involve more people. 

I never got the chance to meet Sister Mary John Mananzan but in 2017, while I was nerdly checking out books during the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), a nun so familiar was standing near the bookshelf containing volumes of Philippine short stories. 

I looked at her and I stopped breathing.

It was Sister Alexis. 

She had gray hair. But her stance was the same; her presence still a force to reckon with. 

I was shaking, my 14-year-old self resurfacing, when I approached her and said, “Hello Sister Alexis. You don’t know me, I’m sure, but I was your student at SPC Ormoc. I just want you to know that…” 

Then, I cried. 

In the middle of the MIBF 2017, I cried and sobbed and Sister Alexis was right there, probably finding the situation awkward. 

She pat me on the back and said,” Are you okay? “

I nodded and asked if I could get her cell phone number. She gave it to me. Later that day, we exchanged text messages. I was finally able to say “thank you” for her positive influence during my crucial growing up days in high school.

From September 5 to October 5, the country celebrates National Teachers’ Month. On this occasion, I remember Sister Alexis and how she totally changed my perspective about Math and how she made the once awkward teenager believe in herself. 

That made a lot of difference. 

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