Sister Marie Pierre Martinez, RSM
Sister Pierre (RIP), who is being buried today on Guam, did not claim to save the school. But others said that she did.
The school was Mount Carmel School in Chalan Kanoa, Saipan. The time was the early 1970s.
Capuchin Father Arnold Bendowske, pastor of Saipan, with the help of the Mercedarian Sisters and the lay people, opened the school in 1953 and gradually expanded the school to include high school grades by 1957, the first and only high school in Saipan at the time.
By 1969, the school started to enter a period of uncertain direction. The Mercedarian Sisters no longer provided one of their own to head the school as principal. A layman was hired as principal. The school's finances were not in good shape. There were fears that the school might have to close.
It was then that Bishop Felixberto Flores, in 1972, turned specifically to Sister Pierre to accept the challenge to go up to Saipan and take over the school and, in essence, save it from being closed.
After discussing things with her superior, she said yes. She asked that she be allowed to ask another Mercy sister of her choice to join her in Saipan in this new mission. This request was granted and she asked then-sister Therese Perez (Quichocho) to accompany her to Saipan.
Sister Pierre (front, center)
with clergy and religious in Saipan
Front row : Sr Bertha Salazar, MMB, Sr Pierre, Sr Felicia Plaza, MMB
Back row : Fr Tony Egan, OFM Cap, Fr Arnold Bendowske, OFM Cap, Fr Jose Villagomez, OFM Cap
A UNIQUE SOLUTION
When Sister Pierre began the school year, the Trust Territory government had stepped in to assist the school in staying open. The government had every reason to do so. It had only opened the public high school in 1969, and since the island already had an established, Catholic high school many years older than the new public high school, the government never planned for the public high school to handle all the island's high school student population. If Mt Carmel had closed, the public high school would not be able to absorb all the students in need of an education. The government had every motive for stepping in to help keep Mt Carmel School open.
The government therefore agreed to be responsible for Mt Carmel School's finances for one year; to collect the tuition money and pay the bills, dipping into government funds when necessary. No public money would go directly to religious activities. With finances more or less on a stable footing now, Sister Pierre put her energy into getting together a good faculty and winning back the trust and confidence of parents.
Originally agreeing to head the school for one year, by the end of that year, everyone was begging Sister Pierre to stay on at least one more year. Things were getting better and better.
Both Sister Pierre and Sister Therese agreed to stay one more year. It was clear that the school would not close now. The school stayed open, and is open and running to this day.
When the two sisters packed their bags and prepared for their return to Guam, the government and people of Saipan expressed in many ways, officially and personally, their tremendous appreciation for the sisters, especially for Sister Pierre. Quite simply, as Bishop Flores said to Sister, she had "saved" the school.