The Life and Faith Journey of Sr. Mercedes Moreta, R.A.
By Marlu Villanueva Balmaceda, HS78
She was named Carmen when she was born on the 11 th of July in 1933 – the 13 th of 15 children, the youngest of the seven daughters of Emilio and Maria Paz Moreta. According to birth order, the Moreta children were: Emilio Jr., Amalia, Antonio, Luis (who died when he was only 7 years old), Angel, Fernando, Teresa, Magdalena, Enrique, Luis Maria Vicente, Ignacio, Maria Paz, Carmen (Mercedes), Benjamin, and Tarsicio. After Luis died, the siblings were evenly represented by seven brothers and seven sisters. Of the 14, half were married and had their own families. The other half produced seven religious – five Jesuits (Reverend Fathers Angel, Fernando, Luis, Ignacio and Tarsicio) and two Religious of the Assumption (Sisters Maria Paz and Mercedes).
Emilio Moreta was a Spanish citizen while his wife, Maria Paz hailed from Catanduanes. The young Carmen recalls spending happy summer vacations at her grandfather’s in Naga until she was about 8 years old. This idyllic life changed in 1942 with the onset of World War 2. At the start the family sought refuge in Naga but eventually returned to Manila where they first encamped in the abandoned Good Luck Hotel.
Mr. Moreta was a friend to all and was advised by soldiers that the hotel and its surroundings were under enemy surveillance. On the 8 th of February, the 11-year old Carmen remembers the bombing of the city and how surrounding houses started to burn. The family then sought refuge in the sprawling garden of their neighbor, the Eduques, who had evacuated to a safer location. For the next four days, they hid in the garden’s fish pond together with some neighbors. All in all, there were 28 people squeezed together in that muddy spot with no food and potable water but with a strong faith that they will survive.
On the 12 th of February, the surroundings quieted and it was a moment that the Moretas seized. Soaked in mud – not to mention their hunger and thirst – they left the Eduque property and walked towards Paco Church, taking great care to avoid land mines that had been planted in the major streets. Carmen relates seeing a man who died after stepping on a mine and the tin can of biscuits he apparently had also exploded and scattered about. Extremely hungry, she and her siblings went for the biscuits despite the fact that they were tinged with the dead man’s blood.
The Moretas found refuge in the Paco Church where they lived for about a year. Her father believed that Our Blessed Mother protected and saved all of them as they constantly prayed during their ordeal, part of which fell on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on the 11 th of February. That is one lesson that Carmen remembers most about her father – his deep faith and devotion to the Virgin Mary.
During the War, the elder Moreta children were already married and living in Spain. When a Spanish cargo boat arrived in Manila in 1946, the Spanish citizens living in the Philippines were allowed to be repatriated. Once again, Mr. Moreta seized the opportunity but not without challenges – not all the children were qualified for repatriation but he insisted that the entire family either leaves or stays. Once again, they sought divine intervention and all the family members were given approval to board the boat just one day before its departure! The voyage took 52 days and when they finally docked in
Barcelona on the 6 th of June, the elder Moreta sons were at the pier to meet them. It would be the first time that the family would be complete after a very long time.
Carmen recalls that life was still difficult in Spain. She was able to attend school only because she was a scholar. After a year in Hijas de Jesus, she transferred to the Assumption school in San Sebastian in the Basque Country. It was there that she would enter the novitiate. She would later move to the Assumption community in Leon, also in Spain, where she spent her juniorate (temporary vows). After her final vows in 1958 as Mother Mercedes, she was summoned by Mother General and was told that she was to return to the Philippines.
It had been a dozen years since she rode that slow cargo boat that took her family to Spain and now, she found herself back in Manila in the beautiful campus of Assumption Herran. She first had to brush up on her English to prepare herself as Mistress of Class to Grade 4 and 5 students. It was during this chapter in her life that I first came across Mother Mercedes as my Mistress of Class as a Grade One-B student in 1966. She left such a deep impression on me that my very first short story featured her as my protagonist – and to this day I still call her Mother Mercedes.
Her assignment to the Philippines took her to the various schools after Herran closed. She went to Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, and San Simon to name a few. Except for a brief period in 1978 when she returned to Naga to take care of her ailing mother, Mother Mercedes devoted her time to the Assumption either as an educator or to help manage the finances of the community. In 1995 she went on a mission to Thailand – alone – and learned to speak and read the Thai language. If she had her way, she would have wanted to stay in Thailand but, her sense of deep obedience brought her back to the Philippines and for the very first time, to San Lorenzo and joined the Emmaus Community in 2016. I was overjoyed to see her on Assumption Day that year – marking 50 years since I first met her as a five-year old.
When the book Tombola & Other Stories was relaunched in 2018, I was extremely honored that Mother Mercedes was already in San Lorenzo to attend it. When it was first published in 2003, she was still in Assumption Thailand. During the launch, I had read an excerpt from Tombola where Mother Mercedes loomed large in my childhood memories. As a five year-old she appeared as both my tormentor and savior. After the reading, I presented her with the first copy of the book and we hugged tightly. She whispered in my ear that she “didn’t know” but I assured her that the experience was seen in the eyes of a five year-old and that it was written with much love and affection.
A few weeks ago, we both laughed as she reminisced memories of her own childhood, her family, her life as a Religious of the Assumption. I asked her if she ever had a boyfriend or wanted to be something else besides being a nun. Her replies were: No, how can she have a boyfriend when she had body guards (her brothers); and no, she had always wanted to be a religious. In fact, she animatedly revealed that her family wasn’t surprised that she wanted to be a nun – unlike Sr. Maria Paz (her older sister) who wasn’t expected to pursue a vocation. All this she relayed with chuckles… which is so like Mother Mercedes who continues to have a great sense of humor. When we were her students, she sprang a rubber mouse on some girls that made them squeal!.
After nearly an hour-and-a-half during our video call, I asked her is she had a message to the Old Girls. At first, she said tersely, “All is very good, I love you all and pray for me!” But after a few moments of reflection, she added: “The Faith that we have ever since we were small, practice it so that others can be like you. Live the Faith!”
Mother Mercedes is now 88 years old. Most of her 14 siblings have gone ahead of her. Shaken but not scarred by a great World War, she lives each day in joy, obedience and faith. She helped shape my early Assumption education and later inspired me to articulate my deep affection for our school. We are Facebook friends and she’s quite active online. May she live many more happy and healthy years so that she can continue to share with others her precious gifts of good humor, laughter and love.