Franciscan Sister Agnes Vera Hino
‘God has kept me going’
Saint Francis School will host its annual gala Sept. 20 at the Pacific Beach Hotel Grand Ballroom to benefit its tuition assistance program and honor five alumnae who have made an impact on the school and community.
This year’s theme is “Taking it Back to the Twenties.” The event celebrates the 90th anniversary of the school, which was founded in 1924 by the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, now called the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities.
Among the alumnae to be honored will be Franciscan Sister Agnes Vera Hino. Sister Agnes Vera, 91, was born a year before the school opened. She graduated from Saint Francis in 1942 and has been teaching there since 1981.
Sister Agnes Vera teaches English as a second language for a small class of foreign students.
The Hawaii Catholic Herald visited Sister Agnes Vera Sept. 4 at the Manoa campus. During her lunch break between morning and afternoon classes, the smart, sweet, soft-spoken nun shared the story of her life.
Sister Agnes Vera said it has been faith and strong family values that have gotten her this far. A year into her ninth decade of life, she is grateful to be healthy, slowed down only by arthritis. She is rejuvenated daily by her work as a teacher and as a religious, blessed by the calling to guide others to the Lord’s grace.
“God has kept me going,” Sister Agnes Vera said.
She was born in Honolulu in 1923. Her parents named her Yaeko. They were devout Japanese Buddhists who raised their daughter and her siblings with Buddhist prayers every day.
Responsibility and respect
Responsibility and respect were the values her parents lived and taught. She recalls her father’s weekly “budget night,” when each family member had to account for what they had spent that week. She and her siblings were responsible as well for household chores.
The family gathered together for every meal, except when they were working. Her parents made sure the kids practiced proper table manners. Her older siblings looked after the younger ones, while the youngsters showed respect for their elders.
“What family does that” today, Sister Agnes Vera joked.
“We prayed together, we ate together, we did things together,” she said. “You see, that all becomes part of you. All of those little things make a difference.”
Yaeko attended public schools before going to Saint Francis around the start of World War II. She was either a junior or senior when she entered. After her parents died, her eldest brother took over the responsibility of raising Yaeko and her siblings.
“He felt we could have a better education in a private school,” she said. “He had his own family, but he put his brothers and sisters, each one of us, in a private school.”
At Saint Francis, the young Buddhist girl got her first glimpse of Christianity. She said she had never heard of the Blessed Mother or the Sign of the Cross in her strict Buddhist household. Her classmates and teachers at Saint Francis — back then, an all-girls school — graciously helped her learn about the Catholic faith.
More significantly, Sister Agnes Vera said she saw in them shining examples of God’s love and joy.
“I found when I came here how the girls were kind to each other,” she said. “The more I learned about Christianity and what I was (as a person), it was not difficult to say, ‘this is what I want.’”
Her experience at Saint Francis made her eager to become a Catholic and begin her journey into religious life. Sister Agnes Vera was baptized at Sacred Heart Church in Punahou, taking the Christian name Barbara. She later became a parishioner at St. Patrick Church in Kaimuki and Star of the Sea Church when it opened in Kahala.
Her mother was still alive when she was baptized. Sister Agnes Vera said she informed her mother three times that she was “taking instructions” in the faith. Her mother never objected outright, but she did tell her daughter, “If your father were living, he would never allow it.”
It was “not easy” when she later approached her eldest brother about joining the Franciscans. Her brother consented after talking to her pastor, who explained to him what religious life as a Catholic nun entailed.
“He felt if that was what’s going to make me happy, then that’s what he wanted,” Sister Agnes Vera said.
After graduating from Saint Francis, she worked for roughly six years. Although she “didn’t make much money,” she said she worked hard and “saved every penny I could” to buy a plane ticket to the Franciscan convent in Syracuse.
She was given the religious name “Agnes Vera” at her arrival, on the feast day of St. Agnes. Though religious were later given the option to return to their birth and baptismal names, she has held on to her religious name.
After making perpetual vows at age 28, Sister Agnes Vera embarked on her first teaching assignments. She worked as an educator in upstate New York and Ohio for about 30 years before returning to Hawaii in 1980 to be principal of St. Joseph School in Hilo.
Back to Saint Francis
She transferred to Saint Francis School in 1981 where she taught junior high for several years. When the school welcomed its first foreign students, she felt called to help them adjust to campus life.
She remembers one young girl who didn’t understand the phrase, “Open your books.” That incident spurred Sister Agnes Vera to start teaching English classes.
“It takes a lot of planning, but I love it,” she said. “Some kids find it hard because it is so hard. But hey, these are teenagers — you’ve got to accept that. The main thing is to help them so they can help themselves.”
Sister Agnes Vera said she doesn’t speak Japanese well, but can understand it. She has taught students from China, Korea and other Asian countries, relying on books and other “creative” teaching methods for her classes.
Being 91 also hasn’t kept her from learning computer programs and working on Internet-based assignments.
As progressive as she has been teaching several generations, Sister Agnes Vera’s fundamental family values are still the core of what she imparts to her students. Some kids call her “strict,” she said, but she does her best to prepare them in all ways for their future.
“It’s not just book work we learn here, it’s life skills,” she said. “Being responsible; being on time; being neat, not sloppy; no half-answers … You have to learn to think for yourself.”
Sister Agnes Vera also tries to make sure students “realize how much God really loves us.” It is the greatest lesson she learned at Saint Francis, and it endures with her to this day.
“To me, if they can realize that, it’s worth all the education,” she said. “That’s what I received when I came here … I want to pass it on.”
Sister Agnes Vera said she is not sure how long God will allow her to continue to teach. She is open to whatever lies ahead in her future.
Having lived such a long, full life is not as remarkable to her as it seems to be to others, she explained. The call to love and help others is out there, too, for anyone willing to accept it.
“I’m just doing what God is asking me to do,” she said. “What’s so extraordinary about that?”
Saint Francis School Gala: “Taking It Back to the Twenties”
Sept. 20, 5-10 p.m., Pacific Beach Grand Ballroom
- Sister Agnes Vera Hino, 1942
- Gail Kumashiro Wong, 1955
- Carol Hosino Caspillo, 1961
- Dr. Healani Chang, 1975
- Melinda Agbayani Zisko, 1977
- $10,000 Platinum (table of 10)
- $5,000 Gold (table of 10)
- $3,000 Silver (table of 10)
- $1,500 Bronze (table of 8)
- $150 for individual seats
For more information
- Call 988-4111 or go to www.stfrancis-oahu.org