By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

Petite in statue but gargantuan in heart, Sister Edna Oraca SOM seemed lost in the stately structure of St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary.  

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Sister Edna Oraca SOM prays during her 25th anniversary Mass Oct. 28 at St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

Flanked by her fellow Hospitaller Sisters of Mercy and standing before Bishop Michael G. Duca and St. John pastor Father Jeff Bayhi, Sister Edna humbly renewed her vows Oct. 28, another milestone in a 25-year journey rooted in the Philippines with stops in Rome and New Jersey before landing in southeast Louisiana at Metanoia House, where she mentors and lives with young female trafficking victims.  

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years,” Sister Edna said the day before her jubilee Mass, her bubbly personality offering a glimpse of a heart devout in faith and focused on serving others. 

“I feel blessed and satisfied of what my life is. I don’t yearn for anything else. I found my vocation,” she said.  

With her infectious laugh, Sister Edna recalled her own vocational journey, one that began with a secret she kept from her parents. Only this secret was far more significant than not fessing up to snagging that last piece of candy. 

When questioned about her college plans while sitting around the family table in Inabagna, Bohol in the Philippines, Sister Edna stunned her devoutly Catholic parents by saying she was joining the convent.  

“They asked, ‘what are you talking about?’ and I said I was going to join the convent and by the way (a woman religious from the Hospitaller Sisters of Mercy) wants to talk to you on Sunday.” 

“And that was a problem,” said Sister Edna, who was 16 at the time. “I always thought they would support me.”  

Sister Edna’s future seemed predestined, joining her father in the family business that includes owning a convenience store as well as livestock.  

During high school, however, Sister Edna began to formulate her own plans, absent of the family business. During a Vocations Day visit at St. Paul’s Catholic School in Inabagna, she became intrigued with the Hospitaller Sisters of Mercy, a Rome-based congregation predominantly serving in hospitals and nursing homes around the world.  

“I thought they were different,” she said. “They were more into charity and so involved with charitable works.  

“And we had already been brought up to serve others.”  

Concerned, a family meeting was convened and one of her seven siblings (she is the fifth of eight children) even asked her, “Did you get dumped?” 

Undaunted, she was resolute in her commitment, to the point she found sleep difficult as she focused on religious life.  

After obtaining her parents’ approval, required because she was still a minor, Sister Edna enter formation at the order’s house in Manila in 1991, leaving home for the first time in her life. There were times of loneliness, and she remembered her father’s parting words that the door was always open to return home.  

Initially exacerbating her loneliness was that her parents did not write to her for the first six months, learning later that her father was testing her.  

“That was the most difficult time in formation, being separated from my parents,” she said.  

Four years later in Rome, on Feb. 12, 1995, she professed her first vows.  

Later that year she began what would be nearly 10 years at a hospital in Vineland, New Jersey. She was then transferred to a hospital in Pleasantville, New Jersey, where she would spend the next 10 years.  

She then spent three years at a nursing home in Pleasantville before joining four other Hospitaller sisters in 2019 staffing Metanoia House. The house, a vision of Father Bayhi, offers a safe haven for young teenage girls who have been victims of human trafficking.  

“Coming here, it can drain you out spiritually if you don’t have a strong personal prayer life and relationship with our Lord,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. With this experience at a very young age, some of the girls are already broken, and sometimes it was the family (who sold the girls to traffickers).  

“I can’t imagine how they endure it. That is why their reaction is ‘you don’t love really because people who say they really love me take advantage of me.’ ”  

“I can’t relate,” Sister Edna said, adding that she has been exposed to cursing for the first time in her life. “Some kids are very challenging but I’m trying to help them the best I can.”  

Success is measured in baby steps, such as one of the girls asking to pray with the sisters. 

“That is Jesus touching them,” she said. 

Sister Edna admitted it takes a special person, one with an inner strength, to work at Metanoia.  

“It is a challenging ministry but a blessed one too if you are open to God’s ways,” she said. “This is part of my formation the Lord wants me to have.”  

Sister Edna also offered advice to young women who might be considering religious life, advising them to ask for the Lord’s guidance as well as that of the Holy Spirit.  

“Be open to the Lord,” she said. “If you pray the Lord will reveal the life you need to be. If it’s not for you, you will not be satisfied and you will see every corner of your life is not going in the right direction.  

“You can’t force it.”  

Sister Edna made her own choice a quarter of a century ago, saying yes to God’s call when others advised otherwise. Today, the peace found in her heart shines through the smile on her face.  

“This is the life I wanted,” she said.