Perfect ‘nun sense’

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star

In a convent nestled in the hills of Baguio on a property that used to be the summer rest house of American Gov. General William Cameron Forbes, hundreds of lives are redeemed every year.

They are the lives of teenaged girls and boys from the Cordilleras, who find solace, education, employment and empowerment on the sprawling property, which was later sold to millionaire philanthropist Elsie Gaches (who donated her Alabang property for a facility for special children). Gaches then sold it to the Religious of the Good Shepherd.

This piece of sweet heaven on Earth is the Good Shepherd Convent in Baguio City, and it churns out sweet dreams for hundreds (without counting the thousands of alumni since the ‘50s) by churning out sweets from the hands of nuns and their wards.

Which Baguio visitor has not heard of Mountain Maid delicacies from the Good Shepherd Convent — from creamy ube jam, chunky strawberry jam, peanut brittle, angel cookies, alfajor cookies (an Argentinian recipe modified by the nuns) and many more?

“We are among the top 60 taxpayers of Baguio,” says Sister Guada, the nun in charge of product development at the convent, with pride and joy. Not just because their taxes help the nation, but also because the taxes come from a business that transforms young lives. The convent now employs some 400 young women and men who not only are paid wages but also are sent to school. The convent has a dormitory for girls, where they only charge a subsidized P550 for board and lodging every month. (The nuns cannot handle boys, Sister Guada admits without batting an eyelash).

Sister Guada says that the Mountain Maid Training Center only accepts scholars from the Cordilleras and nearby areas, none from the lowlands. Most of the scholars come from families of 10, and by getting an education, they are able “to break the cycle of poverty that engulfed their parents and grandparents.”

Sister Guada says that many uneducated mountain girls bear four children by the time they turn 20. But if you educate one, you start a new empowered generation.

Quoting a United Nations study, Sister Guada says, “You educate a woman and you educate a village.”


The convent was built in the ‘50s, and its first wards were Amerasian orphans. When Sister Guada was assigned to the Good Shepherd Baguio convent in 2004, the convent was also taking in underprivileged girls from the mountains. The Good Shepherd nuns named their products after these mountain maidens, who helped them prepare the delicacies that are now a byword among visitors to the City of Pines.

The production house was built after the killer earthquake of 1990, which devastated Baguio and greatly diminished the income of its people.

It was then that many young women and men begged the sisters to help them go to school, even if they had to work without pay. Baguio rose from the rubble of the ruins of the temblor, and the Good Shepherd Convent was able to build its own production house without any loan, “just from the sweat of our brow, sheer hard work.”

“When I arrived in Baguio, I discovered that the products had no nutritional box, no list ingredients, no ‘Best before’,” Sister Guada recalls.  She had just come from an assignment in Italy, where food operations are sophisticated. But she found that product development at the Mountain Maid Training Center was far from professional.

“Operations were very informal. I started professionalizing the systems, the hiring and firing, and obtained all necessary licenses. All students are under an employment contract and get social security benefits, bonuses twice yearly, leaves. We pay our taxes faithfully even if we had hoped we would get an exemption because we are a foundation,” Sister discloses.

It helped that whatever the nuns touched became divinely delicious. Like the ube jam started by Sister Fidelis and perfected by Sister Mary Assumption, who was 102 when she completely retired from her duties.

The ube jam represents 50 percent of the convent’s business sales. The rest are accounted for by strawberry jam, peanut brittle and several sweets and cookies. Sales reach a peak during the Christmas Season, the Panagbenga festival in late February and the Holy Week.

“Our income supports our main ministry and whatever we, the eight sisters assigned here, receive, we use to help our central house,” Sister Guada says.

Sister Guada and the other sisters also teach the girls to weave and do cross-stitch. Sister Guada took us to a sewing room where girls do cross-stitch on little patches of basket-weave fabric that are then turned into Christmas cards and exported to Germany, where each card sells for 2.20 euros (about P135). In the sewing room, I met Rosemarie, an 18-year-old girl from Ifugao, quietly doing cross-stitch with her nimble fingers. She comes from a big family and cherishes the opportunity given to her at the convent.

Sister Guada says most of their scholars live in far-flung places at least seven hours away from Baguio, and they are recommended by civic leaders and parish workers. Several of those who were given education with the help of the convent recently came back for a reunion, and majority of them are productive individuals.

How something that tastes so heavenly like ube jam and peanut brittle can bring people closer to God, how something that nourishes the body ends up nourishing the mind and spirit as well — that is no longer a mystery.

It’s a product of nun sense.

Good Shepherd Mission

The commitment to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus the Good Shepherd in the Church, of bringing about fullness of life, with care and compassion, by enabling the economically challenged youth from the six tribes of the Cordillera, to live in dignity and integrity.

(You may e-mail me at [email protected])










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