Sister Editha Ben
Get to know Sister Editha
Current ministry: Director of New Membership for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
Favorite childhood activity: playing in the rain
Favorite recreation: Zumba
Favorite form of prayer: centering prayer
When I am not at work or involved in ministry, you are most likely to find me … cleaning or connecting with friends via social media
Favorite dessert: filipino halo-halo
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of God is … endless possibilities
Three things that are sure to make me smile are …
– when a woman expresses interest to join the Sisters of Providence
– Kaylen, Kahya, Klay, Ahmari, Kenzie — my youngest family members
– filipino food
Least favorite food: macaroni and cheese
Favorite season: Christmas (I love Christmas lights)
My biggest pet peeve is … people standing in doorway
All her life, Sister Editha Ben has been a risk taker, working to break boundaries in her own life and in society. From running away to join the convent, to being blacklisted by the filipino government for teaching social justice, to transferring to the Sisters of Providence after more than 30 years in her former congregation, Sister Editha has proven herself willing to follow the Spirit’s lead even in the face of opposition.
Born in the northern part of the Philippines, 253 miles from the capital of Manila, Sister Editha grew up the oldest of five children.
By the time she had finished college, completing her bachelor’s degree in education, Sister Editha knew that she was being called to religious life.
She also knew that her family would try to persuade her not to join. So, after completing college in 1967, she arranged her entry with the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, packed her belongings and secretly ran away to join the convent.
Several days later, her family members arrived, crying and asking her to come home. Sister Editha knew she had to follow her calling and refused. In time, as her family saw how happy she was as a sister, they accepted and supported her decision.
Working for Justice
In her ministry in the Philippines, Sister Editha taught at the college and high school levels. She joined a peace and justice organization and involved her students in justice work.
But Sister Editha learned that advocating for justice doesn’t always make one popular with the powers that be.
While teaching in a high school in Manila, the daughter of the Minister of the National Defense was in her class. After one of Sister Editha’s lessons on social justice, the girl went home crying to her father. The next day, government officials came and interrogated Sister Editha. They told her they would be coming the next day to take her to a camp for political prisoners. They never came to take her to prison, but she was blacklisted, and her activities were monitored.
“I think that’s one reason the sisters sent me back to school,” Sister Editha said with a laugh. She then went to complete her master’s degree in religious studies.
Sister Editha wasn’t persuaded to stop working for justice and the good of her country, however. In the 1980s, she joined with hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the non-violent People Power demonstration to oust corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power.
“It was a profound experience of Christian community. It showed that it is possible to live out discipleship amidst violence when following a just cause,” she said.
“We were all very afraid, yet full of hope. When helicopters would hover overhead, we didn’t know if they were going to drop a bomb. Yet the people in the group remained unwavering and courageous. There were so many people there you could almost not walk,” she said of her experience.
To the United States
In 1986, Sister Editha’s congregation asked her to be one of three Filipino sisters to come to the United States to expand their mission here. The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres are headquartered in Rome and have more than 4,000 sisters on six continents.
Most of Sister Editha’s family had already emigrated to the United States by that time, but that did not make her decision an easy one.
“When I was asked to come, I really didn’t want to come because I was so involved in social justice in the Philippines. I desired to serve more of our people, because we were also promoting nationalism. But then as I prayed over it, there was a call to come and help with the ministry here. And so I went. It was not easy adjusting to a different culture, but with God’s grace I was OK,” she said.
After ministering for 10 years in the United States, mostly in parish religious education, Sister Editha took a sabbatical in 1996. It was in that space that the idea of transferring congregations came to her again.
“About 10 years after my perpetual vows, the idea of transferring first came to me,” she said. She discussed it with her spiritual director who encouraged her to stay. “In the Philippines, it is very uncommon to transfer congregations. Its’ almost a scandal,” Sister Editha said.
But by 1996, life as a Sister of St. Paul “was no longer life-giving. I felt bound; I couldn’t just be me,” she said.
“This time I had better skills to deal with it in a mature way,” she said. The sabbatical gave her room to see the direction she needed to go.
“After long, serious praying, consulting with spiritual directors and with my family, when I decided to look into another congregation, there was a feeling of peace,” she said.
Sister Editha first came to know of the Sisters of Providence through her friend, Sister Evelyn Ovalles, SP.
“Sister Evelyn was instrumental in introducing me to the Sisters of Providence in a deeper way as she shared what was going on in her life as a Sister of Providence. What I read in Sisters of Providence publications and other pieces Sister Evelyn had sent me and when I saw an SP video and the information shared there, I said, ‘This is what I’m called to,’” Sister Editha said.
Even greater confirmation came during her first visit to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
“My first experience here was so powerful, to say the least. The sisters were so hospitable and so friendly, and there was just this life in them, even in the older sisters who are being ‘recycled,’ so that the mission and the life of the sisters continue even when they are retired,” Sister Editha said.
Entering the Congregation
And so, after a painful departure from her congregation of more than 30 years, she entered the Sisters of Providence in September 1999.
“The transfer process was painful, but it was also life-giving to me,” she said. In the three-year process, she worked through feelings of ingratitude, guilt and resentment.
“It was an experience of the power of God and of forgiveness and healing. Now I can look back and put words to it to say that I was breaking boundaries and creating hope,” she said.
Sister Editha’s excitement and enthusiasm about the Sisters of Providence overflows when she talks about the Congregation.
“I like that the sisters are innovative visionaries. I like that the sisters are risk takers, like Mother Theodore. I like that the Congregation supports individual sisters doing different things in their own areas for love, mercy and justice,” she said.
“The Sisters of Providence are up to date with issues going on. They are prayerfully and courageously responding to issues both in the world and in the congregation,” she said.
Today, Sister Editha draws strength from knowing that she is where she is supposed to be.
“This is not a perfect Congregation, but I know it is the place for me to grow personally and spiritually, and I know I can live my religious calling in an authentic way. I just love the Sisters of Providence,” she said.
Sharing the mission
Starting in 2005, Sister Editha studied mandarin and spent time ministering in the Sisters of Providence mission in Taiwan. She worked with both migrant workers and international college students there.
For the past five years Sister Editha has lived out her love for the Congregation by serving as the new membership director for the Sisters of Providence in the United States. In this ministry she walks with and offers guidance to women who are prayerfully considering life as a Sister of Providence. She attends events and promotes the Congregation, sharing the mission of love, mercy and justice with others.
“One of the blessings I get in this ministry is meeting women who genuinely love God and want to discern how they can respond to God’s call to serve. Another blessing is experiencing the generosity of parents who walk with their daughters on that journey,” Sister Editha said.
Promoting the counter-cultural lifestyle of a woman religious today is a ministry that still calls on Sister Editha to be a risk taker.
“I’m generally a person who wants to see positive results of my efforts. This ministry is humbling and keeps me trusting in Providence at work. I’m working on not counting the numbers who join the community. I’m letting Provident God touch the hearts of women who discern with the Sisters of Providence.
“Above all, it’s a good fit for me because I love very much this community that our dear Mother Theodore started. And I want to let the world know the blessings in living out our charism in the service of God’s people.”
On weekends I love to … sleep in and just be
One thing most people don’t know about me is … I prefer to work behind the scene
Favorite TV program: Wheel of Fortune
Least favorite subject in school: physics
Qualities I most admire: simplicity, honesty and sense of humor
Favorite food: Filipino pinakbet
Favorite music/song: You Are Mine
Favorite time of day: when it is still and quiet
Favorite vacation spot: By the river or lake with trees and chirping birds