SISTER ROSELANI GOMES, OSF | 1927-2017
This article is based on a funeral reflection written by Sister Natalie Binversie, the Community Director of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.
Kauai-born Sister Roselani Gomes, the first local woman to enter the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, died in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, May 26. She was 90 and a professed religious sister for 66 years.
It was Sister Roselani who, as a high school student 71 years ago, typed the letter that recruited the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity to staff St. Theresa School in Kekaha. Coincidentally, the sisters’ St. Theresa assignment came to an end on June 7, 12 days after she died.
Sister Roselani spent 31 years as a grade school teacher in Wisconsin, Hawaii and Arizona and two years as a principal. In Hawaii she taught for a total of 24 years — at St. Theresa School, Kekaha, from 1950 to 1954 and from 1965 to 1975, and at Cathedral School, Honolulu, from 1958 to 1965 and from 1975 to 1979.
She spent her last 30 years as congregational secretary, biographer and assistant archivist.
“I have received more blessings and love than I could ever have imagined,” Sister Roselani wrote for a recent anniversary of her vows as a religious sister. “I am filled with gratitude to God for gifting me and calling me to be a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity.
“My heart abounds with love and gratitude for my dear parents, my family, priests and everyone for their loving support, encouragement and guidance along the way,” she said.
Sister Roselani was born Mildred Agnes Gomes on March 21, 1927, the ninth of 10 children of Joseph C. and Mildred Marceline (Marques) Gomes, in Puhi, Kauai. She was baptized at Immaculate Conception Church in Kapaia on April 9, 1927.
As there were no Catholic schools on Kauai at the time, Mildred attended public school in Lihue. Her mother, a prayerful, generous and hospitable woman, nurtured Mildred and her brothers and sisters in the Catholic faith. Every evening the family prayed the rosary. In the months of October and May the family attended devotions in honor of the Blessed Mother, and during Lent, the Stations of the Cross. Saturday catechism classes were taught in the Lihue Protestant Parish Hall.
Mildred’s father, after many years working at Grove Farm Plantation in Puhi, was transferred to Kekaha Sugar Company. The move was hard for Mildred. Kekaha was far from everything, on the hot, humid west side of the island.
She missed climbing their mango tree, sitting on the roof of the house eating mangoes, picking wild fruit in the valleys. She missed her friends and her old school. Shortly after the new school year started, her youngest brother was killed by a drunk driver. He was only 7. Before Mildred was born, the family had lost another son to a driver who had been drinking. Faith and love of God saw the family through their grief. A deep consolation was that Mildred’s little brother was able to receive his First Holy Communion before he died.
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When Mildred was 14 she began to think about being a sister. She saw an ad in Our Sunday Visitor newspaper sponsored by the Marist Missionary Sisters of Bedford, Massachusetts. The caption that caught her attention read, “Fill These Empty Shoes.”
Mildred began corresponding with a Marist Sister. She thought she would like to be a missionary. She spoke to the assistant pastor whose sister was an Ursuline Sister in Cleveland. He let Mildred read the letter she had sent to him. This started her journey toward religious life.
At Waimea High School where she graduated in 1945, Mildred had taken secretarial classes. One day, her pastor, Marist Father Joseph Robeck, asked her if she could type letters to the superiors of religious orders on the Mainland. There were 145 letters in all, each begging for sisters to staff the school he wanted to open at St. Theresa Parish in Kekaha.
Among the few affirmative responses was one from Mother Perpetua, the superior of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Bishop James J. Sweeney decided that the Franciscans would be the ideal group for the school. Mother Perpetua assured Father Robeck that four sisters would be there by the time the school was ready in August 1946.
Mildred helped prepare the convent for the sisters. She befriended them, confirming her desire to be a sister. She prayed the St. Andrew Christmas Novena to Obtain Favors to help her decide what to do. She knew leaving home would be a hardship on her parents. However, when she talked with them, they gave her their blessing.
Mildred wrote the following letter to Mother Edna dated Feb. 9, 1947:
“After looking over the field, I have decided that I would like to enter your community. The Sisters have told me all I should know, except the dowry and other expenses and clothing that I will need. If it is possible at this time, could you please send me the application forms? I would like to receive them as soon as possible. Sister Rita told me that I have to take my credits along, but I think the school sends it to wherever you go. I had a let-down feeling when I heard that because when I was in high school, I never bothered to study, but took it easy. How I wish I had studied harder.
“I always remember you in my prayers and hope that someday I’ll be able to join you and the others in your Community. Until then, I will keep on storming heaven with my prayers. Please don’t forget to send me the information I desire and the application forms.
“Respectfully yours, Mildred Gomes”
Mildred was accepted into the order on July 19, 1947. She sailed to the Mainland aboard the S.S. Matsonia. On the way, she wrote to Mother Mary Cyr, the superior of the Marist Sisters, to inform her of her decision to join the Franciscans. Mildred received a letter in response assuring her of prayers.
At her reception on June 13, 1949, Mildred asked for a new name because she had read that when God gave Saul and Peter new names, it signified the beginning of a new life’s vocation. She wanted the same for herself. She was pleased with her new name, Sister Roselani, which means “Rose of Heaven.”
Sister Roselani earned a bachelor of arts degree from Holy Family College on July 26, 1963, with a major in education and a minor in English. She gained further education credits at the Chaminade College of Honolulu and the University of Hawaii. Sister Roselani taught for 31 years, served as a school principal for two years, after which she put her secretarial and writing skills to work for 30 more years.
For the last year of her life, Sister Roselani resided in St. Rita Health Center in Manitowoc where, through prayer, she participated in Christ’s work of redemption.