While there certainly were challenges, as Sister Leonie Duenas looks back on her 15 years as the founding Principal of the Good Samaritan Kinder School in the Philippines, overwhelmingly, it was a “very rewarding” experience.
Leonie recently finished her term of office as principal and is already missing life at the Kinder School, but said she is grateful to have had a key role in establishing and developing such a “valuable ministry”, and is peaceful about the decision to move on.
“I feel peaceful and joyful knowing that I did what I needed to do in response to a need and that I am leaving behind a strong Kinder School,” she said.
“I am very grateful for God’s guiding presence… I am very grateful to the congregation, too, for the trust and the opportunity.
“[It has been a] great 15 years of my life.”
The Good Samaritan Kinder School opened in 2004 to provide children from very poor areas of Bacolod City on Negros Island with access to a pre-school education.
Sister Sonia Wagner, Congregational Leader from 1993 until 2005, said the Kinder School was a development of the “pioneering work” of the Japanese Good Samaritan Sisters who, responding to a call from the Church in Japan in the 1980s “to be agents of peace and reconciliation in Asia”, established a Good Samaritan foundation in Bacolod in 1990.
“They paved the way,” said Sonia, “and small but strong networks of friends supported them in Bacolod and in Japan.
“In time it became apparent that if we were to commit ourselves to a sustainable Good Samaritan presence in Bacolod, then we would need to establish a ministry hub that would meet a real need of the local Church and, at the same time, offer tangible ways of inviting new members and friends to join us.
“If we were to grow, then we had to plant new seeds that would call on sisters and friends from Japan, the Philippines and Australia to work together.”
Sonia said there were many people who played a part in “growing” the Kinder School, but “above all”, it was the community of sisters in Bacolod – a small group of women from Japan, the Philippines and Australia – “who did most of the planting and watering”.
“In fact it was Leonie who, when there seemed to be no way forward, was inspired to search out possibilities in their own parish of City Heights,” she said.
Leonie clearly recalls the meeting that she and Sister Yoshi Suzukawa had in 2002 with the president of the parish council, a former school principal, who said that what was needed in the parish was “a Catholic kinder school for the poor”.
Leonie said establishing the Kinder School and then ensuring its ongoing development required a lot of hard work and the involvement of many. Throughout her time as principal she named “partnership” as a crucial ingredient – “partnership with God and partnership with people”.
Leonie is deeply grateful for these partnerships, and also for the moral and practical support of her closest collaborators over the years – “all the Sisters of the Good Samaritan who lived in the Philippines, past and present, but especially to Sisters Eiko Mukae and Germia Tocama who ministered with me at the Kinder… [and the] loyal, able and dedicated Kinder staff, most especially Ms Marites S. Lagrito, the new Officer in Charge of the Kinder School”.
While recognising that many people worked with Leonie to grow the Kinder School, Sister Sonia Wagner said “it was a huge responsibility to place on relatively young Good Samaritan shoulders”.
“Leonie [the first Filipina professed as a Good Samaritan Sister] stepped out in faith, showing remarkable fortitude, courage and hope as founding Principal of the Kinder School,” said Sonia.
“These trademarks have endured as she has led this fledgling Kinder School over the last 15 years.”
The Good Samaritan Sisters’ current Congregational Leader, Sister Patty Fawkner, also acknowledged Leonie’s contribution to the Kinder School.
“She worked tirelessly for 15 years in that ministry and has given disadvantaged children the priceless gift of education,” said Patty.
“And because they’ve got that gift of education that Leonie spear-headed, they will be eternally grateful to her, as the congregation is grateful.”
As Leonie reflects on the Kinder School’s journey so far, some significant achievements stand out, such as the introduction of a health care and nutrition program for the children, the employment of additional kinder staff from the local parish, the growth in partnerships with donors, and the development of student and teacher immersion programs from Australia in collaboration with Good Samaritan Education.
Leonie said between June 2004 and March 2018, nearly 1,000 children had graduated from the Kinder School. To assist these pupils as they continue their education, two support programs have been introduced: one which provides past pupils with uniforms and school supplies as they enter high school; the other, a scholarship program for past pupils studying at university.
A particular highlight for Leonie was in 2007 when the Kinder School received official recognition from the Philippine Government.
“It was a glorious moment for me,” she said.
Having finished formally as principal in April, Leonie has been enjoying some well-earned time off for spiritual renewal and study which will continue into 2019. She’s also doing some part-time teaching at the diocesan seminary.
“What the future holds for me is in God’s hands,” said Leonie. “In the meantime I just BE and I GO where I am needed.”
“You just don’t know what might emerge [for Leonie],” said Sister Patty Fawkner.
“But I think she’s made a strong commitment to the Kinder School and she’ll make a strong commitment in some emerging and evolving ministry in the future, knowing that she’s left the school in really good shape.”