Cecilia Dunuan Bernardo was born on July 18, 1939, to Manuel Dunuan, Sr., and Maria Donato Dunuan. She was the second eldest of 10 brothers and sisters. Her family grew up in the Mountain Province of Ifugao, near the majestic Banaue Rice Terraces, in the capital city of Lagawe.
Cecilia attended Don Bosco High School, followed by Baguio General Hospital, School of Nursing, where she graduated in 1963. She started her nursing career with the Philippine National Red Cross, during which she learned of a new nursing program that would take her to the United States in 1964.
In the U.S., she worked at Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital in Jersey City until the facility closed in 1979. She then transferred to the Pollack Nursing Home, also in Jersey City, where she retired as the Assistant Director of Nursing in 2000.
Cecilia’s successful nursing career inspired multitudes of other Filipinas to follow in her footsteps, all of whom were part of the massive wave of approximately 150,000 Filipino nurses who have migrated to the U.S. since 1960. Today, one out of every 20 Registered Nurses in the U.S. were trained in the Philippines.
On March 6, 1966, Cecilia first dated her husband, Celino Bernardo, then enlisted in the US Navy – despite warnings from a cousin to “never date a sailor.”
Their first dates included dinner at Canton restaurant in Jersey City, followed by movies, such as “Dr. Zhivago”, “My Fair Lady”, and “The Sound of Music” at the nearby Loew’s theater. On one of these early outings, Celino reached for her hand but first paused to place a handkerchief in between the pairing. Cecilia was charmed. Celino confessed years later, “I did that because I was so nervous. My hand was sweating.”
In the summer of 1966, Celino learned that he was shipping out to sea for several months. Before he left, he surprised Cecilia by asking her to marry him. She surprised him right back by saying yes.
With only three weeks before Celino’s deployment, Cecilia put together the entire ceremony from finding her wedding dress, to connecting with the monsignor of St. John’s Church in Jersey City where they wed, to putting together their reception where a hundred friends gathered to celebrate their leap of faith.
Thankfully, their faiths were rewarded as Celino returned to the U.S. in December of 1966. In September of 1967, their first son, Joel, was born. This was followed by their second son, John, in April of 1970.
Cecilia helped her younger siblings get educated and start their own successful careers. She sponsored three of her sisters – Beng, Tess, and Grace – bringing them to the US to live with her in her Jersey City home, each for years at a time. They were welcomed to stay as long as they needed to get situated and gain employment. Her sisters each chose careers in the medical industry like their Manang Cecilia.
Her sisters, in turn, sponsored their younger cousins and brought them to the US, resulting in over a dozen Dunuan families, over 50 direct relatives total, growing and prospering across the country, all due to Cecilia.
In 2000, after 35+ years of working as a Registered Nurse helping countless Jersey City families, Cecilia retired, blissfully transitioning to the role of “Lola” to her five grandchildren — Serina and Isaih, born to Joel and Nancy Bernardo; and Trajan, Kai, and Ronin, born to John and Charmane Bernardo. On those days the old house was full of laughter and joy.
In 2014, Celino and Cecilia moved to Queen Creek, Arizona. In their new home the parade of family visited often and the gatherings for meals, singing, and telling stories continued. They became generous hosts to countless summer and holiday vacations, with Cecilia always in the caretaker role, making sure everyone was ok before she would ever take a seat to rest.
Cecilia Dunuan Bernardo was a woman of modest upbringing who became rich with fulfillment by dedicating her life to helping others. It was this purpose of service, particularly to her family, that filled her life with color and warmth. FAMILY FIRST AND FOREMOST.
She passed away peacefully, surrounded by her loved ones, on April 24, 2023, at the age of 83.
Cecilia is survived by her husband, Celino; her two children, Joel and John; and her five grandchildren, Serina, Trajan, Isaih, Kai, and Ronin.
A viewing will be held on May 17, 2023, from 2pm-6pm at Santan Mountain View Funeral Home and Advance Planning Center – 21809 S Ellsworth Road. Queen Creek. AZ. 85142. Her memorial mass will be on May 18, 2023, 9am, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church — 20615 E Ocotillo Road. Queen Creek. AZ. 85142. Burial services will be on the same day, 12pm, at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona — 23029 N Cave Creek Road. Phoenix. AZ. 85024.