(The photo above is from the November 26, 1983 issue of Times Journal. The following text is an excerpt from an RGS article. Accompanying the four sisters at MV Cassandra was another Bantayog Martyr: Innoncencio “Boy” Ipong.)
Shepherding has taken many forms in the history of the Good Shepherd Sisters. In the Philippines, on November 21, 1983, it was shepherding in a shipwreck. Sisters Mary Consuelo Chuidian, Concepcion Conti, Virginia Gonzaga, and Catherine Loreto were on board the M/V Doña Cassandra when it sank in shark-infested waters off the coast of Northeastern Mindanao, Philippines. Survivors told of the four Sisters praying, distributing life vests, helping children put theirs on, instructing other passengers to hasten towards the life rafts and to be ready to abandon ship, not calculating how little time they had to save themselves – until time did run out.
Sister Mary Consuelo Chuidian, 46, born in Manila, a religious of 20 years, Superior of the Davao Community, had volunteered to document the first case of hamletting, Vietnam-style, in Laac, Davao del Norte. She chaired the Women’s Alliance for True Change, was coordinator of the Rural Missionaries for Southern Mindanao, and was active in the associations of women religious in Davao and Mindanao. Her leadership inspired her community to be open to victims of every kind, especially those of Martial Law.
Sister Mary Concepcion Conti, 46, born in Bauan, Batangas, a religious of 18 years, member of the Davao Community, had organized and headed the Community-Based Health Program in the Diocese of Tagum. She sought to train rural health workers, thus empowering them to attend to the basic health needs of the poor. She was an exceptional teacher and learner who brought her skills to her Mindanao mission.
Sister Mary Virginia Gonzaga, 42, born in Bacolod City, a religious of 9 years, Superior of the Sapad Community in Lanao del Norte. She had organized the Young Christian Workers in her home city and later, as a religious, worked among slum dwellers and migrant workers before she went to the Sapad mission among Christians and Muslims.
Sister Mary Catherine Loreto, 39, born in Pasig, Rizal, a religious of 8 years, member of the Davao Community, at the time of her death was coordinator of Task Force Detainees in her area. Hers was the most difficult challenge of standing up for those harassed by the military and their families, with the risk of herself falling under suspicion.
The four Sisters were honored by Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Foundation at its annual celebration of martyrs and heroes. In inscribing their names on the Wall of Remembrance, 7 December 1999, the citation read:
For contributing to the protest movement against the Marcos dictatorship and human rights abuses, as street parliamentarians and religious superiors heading and implementing education, health, rehabilitation and justice programs, both through legal and extra-legal means;
For leaving the safety and comfort of home and convent to work as rural missionaries among poor farmers, indigenous peoples and Muslims in remote areas of Mindanao, thus becoming active witnesses to the Church’s mission to serve the poor, deprived and oppressed at the height of state repression of the Church;
For putting their individual talents at the service of country and people.