What is the secret to feeling blessed every day, every moment? Ask Sister Grace Michael Souza, OSF, who celebrated her 60th year as a Franciscan Sister last month and has enjoyed a long, fulfilling career as a teacher, most recently at St. Francis Preschool in Ewa.
“My grandma always told me good things will happen and sad things will also happen,” Sister Grace Michael said. “Don’t dwell on the things that make you sad. Don’t dwell on things you can’t change.”
“I get up every morning and know that God is going to be with me,” she said. “God has spoiled me. I feel well cared for, well protected. It’s been great. I try to be cheerful everyday. It’s God’s sunshine shining to other people.”
It is this worldview that has buoyed Sister Grace Michael over the years, no matter what has come her way.
Sister Grace Michael is the sister of Sister Joan Souza, OSF, who works in the Mission Department for St. Francis Healthcare System. They had two brothers and grew up on Kauai. Sister Grace Michael attended Holy Cross School in Kalaheo School, from the fourth to eighth grade and had the honor of being part of the first graduating class.
She was encouraged to continue her private Catholic education and became a boarding student at St. Francis School in Honolulu.
“It was a great education, and I loved it,” recalls Sister Grace Michael.
“I got to to know the Franciscan Sisters, and saw them most of the day as a boarder. I really liked their life. They seemed to always be happy. I liked the way they always prayed,” she said. “This led me to become a religious.”
My mother and father were happy, but my grandmother scolded my parents: ‘What did you do to her that made her want to become a Sister?’” But any reservations about her becoming a Sister soon dissipated, and this made it eventually easier for Sister Joan when she decided to enter religious life.
After high school, Sister Grace Michael went on to earn three college degrees: a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees; one in administration from San Francisco and other in education from Scranton.
At first, Sister Grace Michael wanted to work with orphans, but the number of orphanages were already on the decline. Instead, the Franciscan Sisters had lots of schools and lots of children. Teaching became the natural career path for her.
Sister Grace Michael taught elementary most of her life on the Mainland. When she returned to Hawaii, she eventually became principal in Lahaina, Maui, and for 13 years at St. Joseph’s in Hilo, where she started a preschool. However, she retired from serving as principal and went to St. Michael’s School in Waialua where she worked again with preschool children.
She took a break from teaching and served in other ministries within St. Francis Healthcare System, visiting patients, catering, and administrative support.
“I was always afraid of sick people, but I spent time with them, talked to them, and prayed for them,” Sister Grace Michael said. “Many times they are all alone, just looking for someone to talk to. I stayed with those the longest because they needed someone to be with them.”
When St. Francis Preschool opened at the St. Francis Intergenerational Center, Sister Grace Michael took this as positive sign and welcomed the opportunity go back into teaching. She went full circle back to teaching, her first love.
Sister Grace Michael reflected about her education career over the years.
“Times have not changed, but our ability to talk to the children has changed. Schools cannot have crucifixes here. It’s taken me awhile to find ways to pray without using Catholic prayers. Now it’s easy. We can’t make the sign of the cross, but we can fold our hands,” she said, noting that HUD-funded projects prohibit promoting a particular religion, but was quick to note that values are still shared in the classroom with students.
“People are like flowers, especially the children. They can blossom and grow,” she said. “Children are eager to learn, their eyes sparkle. They guide you in teaching them. You can tell when you’re getting through, and if not, you change. They keep you on your toes, they keep you young. Read the signals they are sending you every day. Cater to each child. That’s why I love it. Each day is different with children.”
“I learn everyday from the children and my co-workers,” Sister Grace Michael added. “I share lessons of my life with the other preschool teachers.