Mananzan- the fighting nun

Montreal, Quebec

International Women’s Day

Sr. Mary John Mananzan still running at 80

By Ted Alcuitas

An activist nun who quotes Marx and Jesus spoke at Montreal’s Women’s March to celebrate International Women’s Day today.

Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, was cited as one of the 100 Most Inspiring Persons in the World on March 8, 2011 at the centennial of International Women’s Day.

Mananzan will be speaking at Development & Peace’s (D&P) Jubilee seminars in the coming days. She will be speaking on the theme,  Everything is Connected: Together We Can Save Our Common Home.

The 80-year old Benedictine nun is still very much involved in social activism in her native Philippines since she opposed the Marcos dictatorship in the ’70s.

Asked why she choose to become a nun in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer in July last year, she said she choose ” the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable—the option of Jesus. Of course, there is the Marxist analysis. It’s a blend of Jesus and Marx. But the inspiration is Jesus, not Marx. The Pope has commented that communists are closet Christians.”

Since the ’70s, at the height of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime, she has been at the forefront of political activism, especially concerning gender politics and liberation theology. She is actively involved in developing a distinct Third World theology, specifically for Asia and Africa.

‘Integral evangelization’

She practices what she calls “integral evangelization,” that is, “preaching the Gospel in the context of the total environment—economic, political and social—and all other factors that affect the human destiny,” she told The Inquirer.

Born on Nov. 6, 1937, in Dagupan, Pangasinan, Mananzan studied at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila from high school through college, graduating with an AB-BSE degree, major in history, magna cum laude.

She took up graduate studies in missiology and systematic theology in Wilhelmsuniversitaet in Munster, Germany and obtained her doctorate degree, major in linguistic philosophy, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Mananzan was dean of St. Scholastica’s College for 18 years and its president for six years. She founded the Institute of Women’s Studies and is its executive director.

She co-founded Gabriela, the federation of women’s organizations, and was its national chairperson for 18 years.

She travels four to five times a year, giving lectures and seminars in over 50 countries on women’s issues, feminist theology, Asian spirituality and other subjects.

Her Canadian visit is part of her speaking tour.

She  cohosts a show  on cable TV (Destiny Cable and Skycable) called  “NUN-SENSE, Makes Sense”.

Sr. Mary John interviews D&P’s Jess Agustin in her TV show NUNSENSE-Makes Sense. ( Jess Agustin, FB)

New perspective

Mananzan also writes prolifically, from academic papers on feminism to essays on history and theological matters and even travel articles.

“Nunsense” is her 2012 autobiography. “Nunstop” is the collection of her travel writing published in the Inquirer.

Probably her most famous is “The Woman Question in the Philippines,” slim at 50 pages but heavy with the burden of history.

Last year she launched her latest, “Shadows of Light: Philippine Church History under Spain—A People’s Perspective.”

According to Fe Mangahas, a former member of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Mananzan’s  book focuses  on “the receptors, those whose lives were affected” by the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.

Secret of energy

Asked by the Inquirer if she even slows down or relax at all, she says:

“Relaxed naman ako,” she says. “Nagka-Candy Crush pa nga ako. Many ask me the secret of my energy. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I meditate.”

But there is no rest for the Zen practitioner who  takes to task the current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte  for his foul mouth.

According to the Inquirer, at a multisectoral women’s press conference, during the Q & A, she pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte had not apologized for his rape joke about the Australian missionary assaulted and killed by prisoners.

“I was bashed by 7,000 of his trolls on Facebook,” says the baffled nun. “Well, did he offer any apology for the joke? You cannot accept what’s not done.”

As for Duterte’s tirades against the Catholic Church, calling it the country’s “most hypocritical institution,” Mananzan says the Church has been here for 2,000 years and its foundation so strong that not even the gates of hell can prevail against it.

The loudness of such people is vexation to the spirit, but she chooses not to be confrontational and add to the noise. She’d rather take the cue from Archbishop Socrates Villegas and keep “the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate.”

Does she have any plan for retirement?

“Kung pagod ka na, then it’s time to go to the retirement house,” she says. “But if you still have the strength at hindi mo gagamitin, sayang naman. My motto is: Run while you have the light of day. That’s from the Bible.”


2 thoughts on “Mananzan- the fighting nun”

  1. Filomenita Mongaya

    We in Babaylan Denmark have hosted Sister Mary John, who I (Founding Chair of Babaylan DK) have met through earlier EUrope-wide meetings. SO we know her very well as she was our Keynote speaker in 2003 during my Dialogues in Dignity series during Images of Asia Festival under the Danish Development and Culture Cooperation. A whole day conference, we also invited top designer Ditta Sandico to input with a video lecture and fashion show featuring her world famous “banana wraps”, actually made of Sinamay and woven by women from Catanduanes. We are not surprised at this Filipino nun’s sense of feminism which she has been able to insist upon without having to be in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic church. Mabuhay si Sister Mary John. All our love from the Babaylanes of Denmark-

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I was inspired myself after researching her background and is arranging a phone interview.I am eager to know her opinions on the burning questions that haunt our homeland today.

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