The Sacred Hearts sister taught the little ones how to love God

Sacred Hearts Sister Joseph Mary Cefra, whose love of teaching earned her many years in the Oahu elementary school classrooms and on missions in Japan and the Philippines, died December 20 at Queen’s Medical Center surrounded by members of her ward. She was 89 years old and had been a nun for 59 years. We will miss your warm personality.

For most of her religious life, Sister Joseph Mary served as a class teacher, tutor and missionary in Japan and the Philippines. Her first assignments were at Sacred Hearts Academy, Sacred Hearts Convent and St. Patrick School in Kaimuki, where she taught the youngest how to love God and how to read and write. She was very attentive to her students and had a wonderful memory for the names of those she taught.

In 1989, Sister Joseph Mary answered the call to become a missionary in Japan, where for seven years she ministered to the needs of the children, their neighbors, and the people she worked with, particularly in Tsukuba and Tomobe. She carried people’s needs in her heart and brought their birthdays, anniversaries and special needs to prayer. Again she had an extraordinary memory for these things. She then spent four years in the church’s charter house in the Philippines. She returned to Hawaii in 2000 and taught at St. Ann Parish and School in Kaneohe and taught at St. Patrick School until her retirement in 2022.

In a 2016 interview with the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Sister Joseph Mary said that while her family is Catholic, they are not regular churchgoers. “It wasn’t until before my brother went to war that he asked me to go to church and I started going to mass every day,” she said.

When I was growing up, “we didn’t have a lot of money,” she said. Her father worked in a coconut button factory in Waialae.

“But we were well fed and dressed,” she said, “and had a lot of love.”

She said her call to religious life came while reading under a kukui tree in Palolo. She heard a voice asking her, “Why don’t you become a sister?”

“I didn’t even know what a religious sister was at the time,” she recalls. “God just chose me.”

Her father wasn’t thrilled with her decision, but her mother told her, “If that’s what you want, go ahead. But don’t tell your other sister; one in the monastery is enough.”

“I never thought I would be assigned to Japan, India and the Philippines,” she said. “I who never circumnavigated the island of Oahu until I entered the convent.”

“I love teaching,” she says. “And while I still have my head and can still walk, I will continue to care for the children, particularly those with special needs. The work I do is not for me but for them.”

“Every day as I do my worship, I pray for the world that God will keep His people from harm. I only pray from my heart.”

“I really enjoy these times of prayer which continue to connect me to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in the deep stillness that first drew me to the Adoration prayer.”

Alberta Hayano Cefra was born on November 25, 1933, the fifth of eight children of Urbano Cefra and Sadame Lilian Ueno. She attended Palolo Elementary School and graduated from Kaimuki High School in 1951. She entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts on August 5, 1960 and took the religious name Sister Joseph Mary. She made her first profession on February 2, 1963 at the Sacred Hearts Convent in Nuuanu.

Sister Joseph Mary loved embroidery and embroidery and would frame and give gifts to her creations.

An intrepid hiker, she climbed Mount Fuji twice and walked and took buses wherever she went in Honolulu.

She is survived by her sister Rose Cefra, niece Annette Brewer, and nephew Jonathan Urakawa, as well as several other nieces and nephews.

Sister Joseph Mary’s funeral was scheduled for January 19 at St. Patrick Church, followed by burial at Hawaiian Memorial Park.