Remembering Sister Sol | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Remembering Sister Sol

IN 2002, asked to write her “vocation story,” Sr. M. Soledad Perpiñan, RGS, described her life thus: “Looking back, I have experienced both fullness and complete nothingness of life. Zest and zeal have filled my cup. But in the overflow, I also have undergone drastic emptying.”

Known by her colleagues in the women’s movement as “Sister Sol,” the Good Shepherd sister was a strong presence in national and international women’s conferences, even after a knee ailment forced her to go around in a wheelchair and rheumatoid arthritis twisted her hands into misshapen claws.


Still, despite her difficulty moving around, Sister Sol remained hyper-active and involved in the world around her. Every Christmas season, save for the last two or three years, she would bring her “girls” from the Nazareth Growth Home in Project 4 to our home in Antipolo for caroling, a fund-raising effort for her ministry for sexually abused and exploited women and children. From time to time, I would receive a call from her, asking for help for a resident in one of her homes or a victim of injustice or abuse. It was difficult to say no to Sister Sol, for not only could she be most insistent and persistent, she could also voice her urgent requests in ways that not only pricked one’s conscience, but also made a journalist see the news value in her story.

In 1980, Sister Sol founded the Third World Movement against the Exploitation of Women (TWM-MAE-W), the organization most identified with her and which won her international recognition for her work and advocacy against trafficking, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Her work in the field also led to the establishment of several homes for women seeking to leave the world of commercial sex work and undergoing rehabilitation and training in alternative livelihoods: six Belen Drop-in Centers where women could drop in for fellowship and training even while they were still active in sex work; three Nazareth Growth Homes for women (and their children) who had chosen to leave the field; and two Bethany Transition Homes for those preparing for full-time employment.


* * *

SHE was the eldest daughter (of five girls) of a “mixed” couple—a Catholic mother and a Protestant father—and she would describe them as “my vocation promoter (her mother) and vocation formator (father).” She was only 17 when she and her sisters lost their mother, but so powerful was their mother’s influence that three of them eventually chose a religious vocation.

A Theresian from grade school to college, Sister Sol said that she was drawn to a religious life mainly through “the whole milieu of school and parish,” with the Belgian nuns playing a powerful influence and her friends among the Jesuit fathers and Ateneo boys attracting her to the Good Shepherd sisters mainly through their stories of encounters with the “very human and charming” nuns of St. Bridget’s College in Batangas.

She entered the Good Shepherd novitiate in Los Angeles in 1960 and made her perpetual profession of vows on May 9, 1967. With nine other “bandmates,” she celebrated her golden jubilee as a Religious of the Good Shepherd last year.

* * *

LIKE many other religious and I daresay the rest of the Catholic Church, Sister Sol, who before then had been involved mainly in education work, underwent a transformation in the 1970s. The reforms brought on by the Second Vatican Council loosened the reins that once conscripted the life of the religious, and with the declaration of martial law, she found herself more and more involved in the social justice movement, working with labor, including overseas workers, international peace and justice, and even with the environment. Seeking a way “to popularize economic data,” she also founded Ibon which has since evolved from a publication to an economic foundation which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003.

But what she considered her “most meaningful grassroots involvement” was with “those who are considered the scum of society,” women survivors of sexual abuse and sex work. Even in this difficult apostolate, though, Sister Sol would find rays of sunshine, one of them being Michael Christopher, the son of a Nazareth Home resident who was adopted by everyone else but was especially close to her. In one memorable “caroling,” I remember the boy playing the role of one of the “sheep” in the manger, playfully head-butting the singers.


* * *

INDEED, life for Sister Sol, who passed away last July 26 at the age of 64, was full and fulfilling.

But in her recollections, she rued, “I guess I had to pay the price, and this was the emptying experience of being stricken with rheumatoid arthritis and its crippling effects.” In 2002 would come a bigger blow, the passing away of Michael Christopher, who had always been in poor health, near Lourdes, France. Losing “the life of a dear person, a precious child who was a soul-mate for six years … can be likened to the piercing of one’s heart!” she wrote.

“All through these years I have been buoyed up by God’s ever faithful love manifested by the rich array of people and events that have made my life so colorful,” she concluded.

The summing up of a life is always difficult, for words seem inadequate to convey the spirit and personality of the person one wants to remember. This task was especially difficult with Sister Sol, for even as I write these words, I find myself chafing at what a dim, formless picture they are painting of a woman with such a vivid, outsize character. Perhaps Sister Sol would want that instead, for with her, what mattered was not personal honor but the work she did, and the women and children she served, with deep faith and a big heart.

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