Growing up on the Island of Molokai, Sister Marion Kikukawa and her four younger siblings were raised in a “hapa haole” household. In the post-World War II environment, her parents were an unlikely couple. They had vastly different backgrounds – her father was a hard-working local Japanese veteran and owner of a restaurant called the Midnight Inn and her mother was an outspoken Caucasian teacher from Connecticut. Yet, Sister Marion learned from an early age that beauty and peace can be found in spiritual and cultural diversity.
Attending both Japanese school and Catholic church as a young girl, Sister Marian recalls “never really felt pulled between the two…it kind of was a melting pot.”
That prepared her for a big step in her life. Sister Marion’s deep appreciation for the richness of differences was the starting place of her journey into the convent and her special calling to serve those around her.
One night, while she was a freshman in her boarding school, she was exposed to “stark convent living” and was comfortable with it. She stayed in a “little cell,” which was created by a wall down the middle of a room, divided into five cubicles the width of the bed and a little dresser. It was that evening that she recalls “feeling at peace and at home” that made me want to enter the convent.
However, her mother insisted on first getting a college education before entering the convent. Dutifully, Sister Marion attended Chaminade University in Honolulu for two years before transferring to the Sisters of St. Francis motherhouse in Syracuse, New York.
In her first year, she attended a junior college on the motherhouse campus; and in her second year, she was confined to the rigid training about religious life and Franciscanism as a Novitiate. In her third year, she attended Le Moyne College, a Jesuit college in Syracuse, where she finished her college requirements to receive a degree in English.
“Coming from Molokai, I grew up knowing about Mother Marianne from my childhood. We would go to the lookout over Kalauapa during Girl Scout hikes in the park there and we would look down on the settlement. My mother played the part of Mother Marianne in the Damien Day celebration on the island. We have photos of her in the full habit. So she and Damien were always a part of our remembrance,” so Saint Marianne has always played an important role in her life.
Sister Marion contributed to the beatification and canonization of Saint Marianne. When Sister Marion was in leadership, she was liaison for the council to the cause for Marianne and had the opportunity to go to Rome to work on the things to support the cause.
Sister Marion’s commitment to the Sisters of St. Francis and congregational life eventually led to her serving for 12 years as a leader in the congregation of Franciscan Sisters. After the Second Vatican Council, there were many changes, but her congregation was spared from many of the difficulties that other communities faced. “Before I became General Minister. I asked one the congregational mentors who was near the end of her life for words of wisdom. She was barely able to speak, but she told me, “Love your sisters.”
Sister Marion has always remembered to live out those words of advice. Sister Marion’s courage and empathy allow her to not only stand in someone else’s shoes, but also to act as a peacemaker when needed. “My greatest gift is getting to know the sisters…It’s a wonderful blessing to journey with others.”
Sister Marion brings her spirit of kindness to St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii everyday. She has a desire to know others on a deeper level and to love them wherever they are at in their lives. “”We can be happy with the gentleness, the kindness of life…I’ve never been unhappy in ministry.”