Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis

Sister M. Christella Watanabe

My name is Sister M. Christella, Yo Watanabe.  I was born on June 2, 1944 in Niigata City in Japan.  I was the youngest daughter of 5 children.  My family is a typical Japanese Buddhist family. 

There were no Christians in our surrounding area.  When I was about 8 years old, a Catholic family, mother and two daughters moved to our neighborhood.  I played with them and went to their Church with them.  I was baptized when I was 17 years old.  It was so natural to be baptized.  Since my father died when I was 13 years old, I asked my mother to give me permission to be baptized.  It was necessary to have a parent’s permission for baptism.  My mother said “that family is so good, Christianity might be a good religion, so I give you permission.”  This was a testimony of their lives of faith.  I was ever grateful to this family.  I was the only Catholic in our family.  After my baptism, I was so happy to go with other Catholics to receive communion.

As a nursing school student, I spent much time with other Catholic students in the area.  We studied together new documents from the Church after Vatican II.  We also had many activities in our parish Church.  A group of us prayed at 10 o’clock every evening wherever we were, but with the same mind and same heart.  This prayer time strongly united us.

While I had been in nursing school, I had questioned myself which way I should go as a Catholic woman: to wed or to be a religious Sister or to be a professional.  At that time my conclusion was: If I will have an opportunity to work in a hospital which is run by Sisters, then it is a sign for me of the vocation for being a religious Sister.  I was happy with this conclusion.  After receiving the national license of a nurse I worked at a University hospital.  Once I visited our St Mary’s Hospital in Himeji.  A Sister, the Nursing Director at that time, took me on a tour in the Hospital; later she wrote to me from time to time.  My wish to work at St Mary’s Hospital gradually grew.  After having worked at a University Hospital for three years, I joined our congregation in September 1969, just 50 years ago.

In the Novitiate I learned about St Francis and our founder Father Christopher Bernsmeyer, among many other things.  Actually, I didn’t know about St Francis well, and I was very happy to come to know about our holy father, and happy to be a Franciscan.  When I learned the date of the death of our founder Father Christopher Bernsmeyer is the same as my birthday, I wanted Sister Christopher to be my religious name.  But in those days, we were told that religious profession is deepening the baptismal commitment, so we don’t need to have new names.  Then several years later we could have a religious name.  Our Superiors decided to give younger Sisters a choice to have a religious name.  I asked to have Christopher as my religious name, but was given Christella as a female name of Christopher.

I served in our community as a nurse supervisor in the Japan Province.  After my final profession, I was given an opportunity to study business administration in a University, and I also had a course in Hospital Administration.  Later I served as a nursing director and administrator in our hospitals.  For our Japan Province I served as a Councilor and then as Superior.

From 2000 to 2012, I served the congregation as a general councilor.  I had been enriched by the various experiences during this time and by encounters and working with Sisters of our International Congregation.

At the General Chapter in 2018 I was asked again to be a candidate for the General Leadership.  Every morning I personally renew my vows, “…..I place myself completely at the disposition of this community for the service of the Church, for the Kingdom of God.”  So I couldn’t say “NO”.  As the result I am now serving the whole congregation as the General Vicaress.

One of my favorite Scriptural passages is that Jesus called Maria Magdalene, “Maria!”  By being called by her own name, she realized who was calling.  She remembered all her times with Him.  The Lord calls our name, too.  For me the name of a person is very important; the name includes the whole person.  I want to remember the names of persons whom I have met, in order to express the respect, love and interest of each person.

I am very happy and grateful that God called my name for our congregation, I want to respond to this call, wherever I am, whatever I do.