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Sr. Mary John Mananzan on the transformative power of FAITH and living in the NOW

Updated: Apr 17

A simple Google search of Sister Mary John Mananzan’s name will show you links to decades-long work in service of a woman who helped defined what feminism is in the Philippines and across Asia. She was an activist on the streets during Martial Law, helped develop the Asian Feminist Theology of Liberation, the co-convener of Movement Against Tyranny and co-founder of Gabriela, among many other local and international accomplishments. The iconic leader shares with She Talks Asia some of the simplest but wisest words coming from a life lived with purpose:

What do you do for a living, and what are the things that make you feel more alive?

I am a nun, a religious Sister so I don't earn my living even if I spend my whole day as Superior of the Convent and as Administrator in our school. Nature and my prayer life make me feel intensely alive.

How old are you? 

I am 86 years old.

I am most known for...

my being a political and feminist activist especially for my advocacy for the rights of women and their empowerment.

I am most proud of...

the Institute of Women’s Studies which I founded 38 years ago and of which I am still Executive Director.

What do you think is the biggest challenge, and the best thing, about being your age?

The challenge is to keep myself physically and mentally healthy, and the best thing about my age is that  I AM STILL ALIVE!

How have you grown wiser in the past few years? 

I have learned to LIVE IN THE NOW because the past is no longer real, because it already past. And the future is not yet real because it is not yet here. So the ONLY REAL THING THAT HAS ALL THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR ME IS THE HERE AND NOW.

What have been the most defining decades of your life, and how did it shape who you are today? 

Almost all the decades of my life have their defining moments. When I was 9 years old, I failed my entrance exam in St. Scholastica's College and all the successes of the following decades I trace to that failure—which became a CHALLENGE for me to do best in everything that I have to do. Then at 19, I entered the convent. And then in the next decades, I was sent to study in Germany for 3 years, then Rome for 3 years, which opened wide perspectives for me. Then I had a chance to work for migrant workers in Spain for 3 years. All these experiences made my life most interesting and gave me a zest for life!

What are the best pieces of life advice you have ever received? 

You are not your thoughts, you are your consciousness. If you refuse to identify yourself with the drama queen that your thoughts keep on spinning for you, you will not experience stress.

Who are the women you look up to and how have they helped shape your life? 

My teacher in Sociology in  3rd year High School, Miss Connie Reyes Lopez, who taught me the value of always searching for the truth, and she also awakened in me the thirst for learning. Sr. Soledad Hilado, my Dean in College who gave me the assurance that if I live by the first article of the creed—I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY—I can survive anything that comes into my life.

#STAGenerations celebrates wisdom-sharing among women; and highlights the different perspectives and unique strenghts that we bring to the table at every life stage.

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