Sister Carla Hernandez, OSBM worked in education for more than sixty years before retiring. She possesses a unique perspective as a native of Central America who joined a Ukrainian Catholic monastic community, the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, near Philadelphia. She lives in the Motherhouse and will directly benefit from SOAR!’s grant to replace the aged windows in the Motherhouse.
Sister Carla Hernandez, OSBM was born in La Lima, Honduras to a large family. She was one of nine children and loved basketball as well as attending Mass. Her parents deeply valued education and encouraged her to consider boarding school in the United States. She made her decision after seeing a brochure for Saint Basil Academy in Jenkintown, PA, which included a photo of its Ukrainian American students that caught her eye. She left home at fifteen for Philadelphia.
On her first day at the academy, Sister Carla was given a tour by an exceptionally kind junior; neither could have foreseen what God had in store, as both would enter the community years later. This junior was Sister Miriam Claire Kowal, OSBM, former General Superior of the worldwide Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great. Sisters Carla and Miriam Claire have worked closely together for decades.
At the academy, Sister Carla first experienced the Basilian spirit in her life. She said the Sisters’ leadership at the academy was “wonderful”: “They treated us as human beings rather than with an aloof or authoritarian approach. The love and affection the Sisters of Saint Basil had for their students made me want to become one of them.”
After some initial homesickness, Sister Carla settled in well and even made the basketball team as a freshman, an accomplishment she attributes to the outstanding coach she had in Puerto Cortes as well as her tremendous speed on the court. Sister Carla worked very hard to finish high school in three years because an older sister was paying her tuition. Upon graduation, she returned to Honduras briefly before moving to Philadelphia and then Cuba.
It was during the two–year period in Cuba while helping her sister through pregnancy and young motherhood that Sister Carla began seriously discerning a vocation to consecrated life. She met a few nice young men but did not want to get married: “I really wanted to do something to serve God.” After some correspondence with the Sisters back in Jenkintown she decided to enter the novitiate. Her mother was unhappy at first but was eventually convinced by a well-written letter from the Provincial Superior: “God gave you nine children. Can’t you give one back to Him?” She never forgot that!
Sister Carla earned degrees in Spanish Literature from Villanova University and Trinity College. She spent nearly her entire career at her alma mater, Saint Basil Academy, where she taught Business and Spanish for 25 years, served as vice principal for 10 years, and was principal for 26 years. Her favorite part about being a Sister was teaching. “I just delighted in going to school every day and being with the girls. They were lifegiving.” In fact, Sister Carla was leery of accepting the principal role because she knew it would mean less time in the classroom. Ultimately, she was able to continue teaching one course, Advanced Placement Spanish.
Sister Carla has always told her students to leave things better than you find them. “It is a simple motto but has nevertheless made a tremendous impact,” she said. “In fact, we keep in touch with many students from over the years and they frequently mention it.”
Sister Carla’s story is full of sacrifice, gratitude, and grace. Her parents worked very hard to create better lives for their children, and the nine siblings in turn did what they could for one another – whether that meant covering tuition or assisting with childcare. A point deserving of further reflection is that Sister Carla found her calling – the fulfillment of her passions and talents – while putting her own life on hold to help her sister in Cuba. Imagine where God might lead each of us if we were to follow Sister Carla’s example!