Dominican Sister starts new chapter after 26 years at Marian Manor

By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

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TAUNTON, Mass. — There is a bittersweet moment happening at Marian Manor in Taunton. Originally staffed by the Dominican Sisters of the Order of the Presentation, the skilled nursing center is saying goodbye to one of the original Sisters who is leaving a legacy that is beyond compare.

Sister Paulina Cardenas, O.P., grew up with 10 sisters and one brother in Abejorral, Antioquia, Colombia.

The Catholic faith was an ingrained part of her youth, she said: “It was the family life — such good memories — my father and mother would get up, and my mother would have opening prayers to the guardian angel, just when we would wake up. We grew up in a very religious atmosphere. I come from a town, not a big city, and we had a beautiful Christmas. We would have a Novena, the kids from the neighborhood would come and do the Novena; we don’t believe in Santa, it’s Baby Jesus Who brings the gifts. My mother raised us to really believe it was Baby Jesus Who brought us the gifts.”

Still speaking with a strong accent, Sister Cardenas shared how three of her sisters entered a religious order, but when it came time for Sister Cardenas to make a choice, she was torn until “a moment comes when God is more powerful” and she entered the Dominican Sisters of the Order of the Presentation in 1965.

“It was very meaningful for me because we were 30 girls, and right away we knew one of us would come to the United States,” due to the Sisters sending girls on foreign visits, said Sister Cardenas.

When she was chosen, Sister Cardenas was excited but humbled: “For so many nice people, I was chosen to come. Being in Colombia, everyone dreams of coming to the United States, and I never dreamed I would come.”

She landed in Washington, D.C. in September of 1965 and then headed to Dighton, the convent of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation.

“I like new things and when I came here in Dighton, there were different nationalities,” of Sisters at the convent, including from Lebanon and France, she said. “For me, I had never been with others of different nationalities, so that was my first experience.”

During her formation, she studied English and did her first profession in 1968.  After profession, she was in temporary vows and “my English wasn’t that good but Madonna Manor in North Attleboro had just started. The Sisters were the ones who started there,” she said. 

She recalled while growing up in Colombia, the Order of the Presentation was very big and the Sisters helped run the schools, hospitals, “even Sisters working with the policeman to help educate the children; we had everything.”

Marian Manor had opened in 1962, and Sister Cardenas helped get Madonna Manor ready to open its doors in 1966.

“Our Sisters were chosen to be the first administrators to open Marian Manor and Madonna Manor by invitation of the bishop,” said Sister Cardenas.

She went to be a nurse’s aid at Madonna Manor “and for me, it was wonderful. At that time, the residents were not too sick. At that time, Madonna Manor had two parts — the residential area and the infirmary. All this experience was new to me, and I was so attached to the residents. It was a good experience to be able to help the people.”

Sister Cardenas increased her education and became a licensed practical nurse, becoming a charge nurse at Madonna Manor, then Marian Manor. Eleven Sisters worked at Marian Manor while living at Bethany House before it was transformed into an adult daycare facility in 1995.

“We were always here. It was wonderful,” she said of living less than a block away from Marian Manor. “I was a charge nurse, would come at 6:30 a.m., get a report and start working.”

By the early 90s, Sister Cardenas left nursing, became certified through clinical pastoral education at a hospital, and took over the Spiritual and pastoral care at Marian Manor “and that was wonderful. I learned how to do Spiritual visits and Spiritual care. You learn how listen, to go with your feelings.”

She worked the first two units at Marian Manor, and with the added bonus of her nursing experience, created a holistic approach to her visits. Sister Cardenas began to choke up and become emotional when talking about the residents: “They are holy people. They know to pray, have Mass; we have holy people here. The families are happy with the Spiritual care. It has been wonderful for me.”

But Sister Cardenas has also been wonderful to the staff at Marian Manor.

She had a list of volunteers she has recruited and trained, and has done a fabulous job, said Raymond McAndrews, administrator at Marian Manor: “She’s not just here, but goes across the street and administers to the clients at Bethany House twice a week.”

“She treats them [volunteers and staff] like they’re her own children,” said McAndrews. “During pastoral care week in October of every year — we call it ‘Sister’s Big Week’ — she takes care of all kinds of things. It’s really about staff, and she has events every single day. Like on Fridays, she serves ice cream to all the staff. On Thursdays she has her tea and snacks for the staff. The mayor comes every year; he won’t miss it.”

Sister Cardenas has spent the last three years collecting money at Christmas to help buy gifts for the children of staff members who struggle during the holiday season.

“There are some staff who have difficult lives,” said McAndrews, “and need someone to talk to, and along with encouraging staff to go into the chapel, Sister has a good relationship with them.”

He added, “To me, personally, Sister has been a blessing. When I got here, it was one of my first jobs as an administrator, and she has been a support to me. We pray together. That chapel has been a refuge. We respect the chapel and it’s not used for meetings. She has been a support to the staff and me.”

Sister Cardenas has been assigned to the Rosary House of Studies that is run by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation in Washington, D.C. Based on the Sisters’ vows that family and community life is very important, the Rosary House of Studies offers 20 single rooms to female students attending area colleges and universities, and mainly caters to international students. Sister Cardenas will live with two other Sisters and help provide a homey environment for the students, including breakfast and dinner on a weekly basis, and Spiritual care and support to the residents.

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McAndrews said they will maintain the traditions that Sister Cardenas started at Marian Manor, like holding Mass once-a-month for the families of residents who have passed away. 

“Our goal is we’re going to continue to have Mass six days a week, the chaplain is staying, and that we continue to have the pastoral care presence,” he said. “When people come into this facility, they expect to see pastoral care addressed. Sister has set a good foundation and we’re going to continue it for a long, long time.”

To celebrate Sister Cardenas’ 26 years at Marian Manor, there will be an Open House for her on July 23 from 2-4 p.m. and everyone is invited to attend.

Sister Cardenas’ replacement is still to be determined, but there is one thing that is abundantly clear — though Sister may have physically left the building, her spirit will always be felt: “Sister has laid a beautiful foundation,” said McAndrews. “We are absolutely keeping this going, no question about it. We hope to have a religious person here shortly so they can pick up as Sister is going.”

McAndrews acknowledged the silver lining by adding that he was happy that Sister Cardenas wasn’t going back to Colombia and that Washington, D.C. was only a short plane ride away: “We’re going to buy a lot of plane tickets so she can come back,” he said.

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