For numerous Filipino families, it is tradition that the oldest child will pursue a career in medicine. Which is exactly what Suprema Picardal Stewart did, not realizing where her pursuit would lead her. Emma was born in Nueva Ecija province, north of Manila, the oldest of six children, to Conchita and Luciano Picardal. Following custom, Emma enrolled in medical studies at Santo Tomas, the oldest Catholic University in the Philippines, run by Dominican priests. Among the 400 students in her class was a young behavioral science graduate, Southern California native James Stewart, who was continuing his medical studies. Before long, the two were dating, and one week after graduating, they were married and soon after left for the United States.
They lived in New Jersey, while Jim did a year of internship at Rutgers University/Morristown Memorial Hospital and Emma worked as a hospital phlebotomist. “I had never walked to work in the snow before,” smiles Emma, “and that was one of the worst winters ever.”
Returning to sunny California, the couple settled in San Gabriel where Jim and his physician-brother John opened Stewart Medical Group in Alhambra. “Their family doctor owned the building,” says Emma, “and there was a verbal agreement that one day Jim and John would take over the practice.” Emma assisted in the office, working there for 16 years. By this time, she and Jim were raising their three children: Karen, Christopher and Kimberly, all of whom attended Saints Felicitas and Perpetua School, with the girls then advancing to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Chris to Loyola High School.
At each school, Emma was involved in numerous fundraisers, events and activities. “I enjoyed all of it,” Emma says, “and I met some wonderful people who invited me to become part of other groups and causes.”
Emma started her service at their parish of 30 years, Saints Felicitas and Perpetua Church in San Marino. She was on the Parish Financial Council and currently the Women’s Association and the Filipino Association. She is a Lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, organizing First Monday Rosaries. She has been President of the Auxiliary of the Pregnancy Help Center of San Gabriel Valley. The Auxiliary helps to raise funds for the Center so it may continue to support crisis pregnancy and its pro-life mission.
She currently serves on the boards of Christ Child Society of Pasadena, Legatus Pasadena Chapter and the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, for whom she has served on the board of Sacred Heart Retreat House and assists with the Sisters’ annual “Luck of the Irish,” St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser.
Her involvement with the Sisters is nurtured by the fact that oldest daughter, Karen, is now Carmelite Sister Marie Suzanne, serving at Santa Teresita, a Neighborhood of Care for Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living in Duarte. Emma lovingly refers to her daughter, a graduate of Franciscan University’s nursing school, as “Sister,” rather than “Karen.”
Some of Emma’s most gratifying service is with the Good Shepherd Shelter in Los Angeles and connecting with the center’s clients – mothers who have been abused. Emma is among a dozen or so volunteers who, each month, take these mothers on outings while their children attend school.
“We go to the beach, to the Huntington Gardens, or take a cooking class,” notes Emma. “It’s just a few hours, but it is so wonderful for these women to be able to enjoy a break, to know that others care about them. And for me, it is so much more rewarding to have that one-on-one interaction with them. It’s a very fulfilling kind of service.”
She takes great joy in the accomplishments of all of her children. Son Christopher attended USC, studied art at Pasadena Art Center under Professor Christopher Slatoff, whose bronze sculptures can be seen throughout Southern California, and is now his assistant. Daughter Kimberly attended New York University and has put her culinary skills to work as general manager for a local gourmet marketplace and catering company, Gelsinger’s Amber Road in Montrose.
Emma and Jim enjoy traveling, having spent many family vacations on numerous trips abroad. And when the kids were young, taking motor home trips in the summers. She is trying to learn golf (“Jim loves it”), and loves gardening.
“My parents believed that, as children, you did what you were told,” says Emma, in her soft voice. With a smile she adds, “My parents taught us solid values and deep within I always felt drawn to helping others in some capacity to make lives better.”
She is blessed and grateful to have a spouse and children who share her devotion to service. “It helps to have a spouse who is so supportive of what you do, and Jim is very much like that,” she says warmly. “Our children, too, were very accepting of all of our activities, and now we see the fruits of our labors in their lives. There is compassion involved, yes. But that’s what our faith is about.”