A special Mass is held each year in the Diocese of Gallup in celebration of consecrated religious who celebrate milestone anniversaries. This year, Bishop James Wall celebrated the Jubilarian Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Saturday, February 03. The honorees enjoyed a brunch before the Mass and afterwards greeted old and new friends alike who were in attendance.
we were able to sit down with each sister who was honored this year for interviews on their work in the Diocese, their vocation, and the lessons they’ve learned from decades of dedicated service.
Sr. Marilou Nalangan, Missionaries of Charity
From: The Philippines
Years of Consecrated Life: 25
Time in Gallup: 8 months
Voice of the Southwest (VoSW): Did you enjoy the Mass?
Sr. Marilou: Yes, beautiful! Because you’re in the aisle, just like “Yes I am here Lord, I am ready, whatever you want me to be.” It is just like you’re belonging to him. If you belong to him, you give everything to him.
VoSW: What would you like people to know about your work here?
Sr. Marilou: Being here in Gallup for me is just to see Jesus in the distressing disguise. Because our work here is not so easy, no? But if I have always the eyes of faith, because my thought is “Jesus is there in that distressing disguise”. So I have to really pray with great faith that Jesus is here. I changed my way of thinking – it is not that man, but it is Jesus. And I feel privileged to serve them.
VoSW: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in 25 years?
Sr. Marilou: I have to love Him more and more each day. He loves me, more than I love myself. That’s why for me, my vocation is really to love Him, each moment, and never, never to separate [from] Him.
For me, a vocation is a call. Before, someone asked me “do you want to become a nun?” And I said “Oh no way.” But God’s call is different. It is from the womb, from the beginning he called me. When I was working with my sister in an office, I heard a voice say “I want you to be honest”. And that word repeated so many times. And also He was telling me “I want you to serve the poorest of the poor”. And I left everything, and that call – I really felt that He called me in that way. For me, it is a great privilege to be a Missionary of Charity. And I am happy.
Sr. Maria Auxilia, Missionaries of Charity
Years of Consecrated Life: 25
VoSW: What would you like people to know about the work you do?
Sr. Maria: We are here for the poor. We like Gallup because in American, this is the poorest of the poor.
VoSW: What’s one of the lessons you’ve learned in 25 years?
Sr. Maria: Love of God. Why are there homeless? Because in them we see that rejection – whatever happened in their life. We say God loves us, and we serve the people because God made us in the image and likeness of God. So we see in each of them a child of God. Sometimes they say “We are Zuni, we are Navajo”, but we say it doesn’t make a difference, race, because we are all God’s children.
Sr. Genevieve Allen, Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
From: New Hampshire
Years of Consecrated Life: 60
Time in Gallup: 55 years
VoSW: Can you tell me a little about the day?
Sr. Allen: For me it was just a beautiful celebration, with the sisters and the brunch and the Bishop. And then, moving over to the liturgy, and so many of my former students there from way back at St. Michaels, especially the class of 1963. I think more than anything I was just touched by the people, by the sisters, by the Franciscans that were there. Just thankfulness, gratitude, for the day, the opportunity to celebrate with all of them.
VoSW: Is it kind of unusual that someone from your order would stay here for 55 years?
Sr. Allen: Yes it is unusual. “God takes us at our deepest desires” has always been sort of a mantra for me. Growing up I always had a strong devotion to the Eucharist, and I had a deep desire to serve the Native peoples. So when I entered the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1955, in a way my great desire was starting to be fulfilled, and continuing to be fulfilled. In 1961 I was assigned here to St. Michaels. The night I arrived here at St. Michaels – and in 1961 it was a dirt road into the school – the sisters greeted me and then the superior of the house took me upstairs to greet Sr. Honora, who was somewhat of a legend out here. She looked at me and said “I hope you stay here as long as I have” and I said “I hope so too”. I felt then within my heart the words of Scripture: “I have taken root among an honorable people.”
[After I got my Master’s] I came back here in 1971 and began the Desert House of Prayer. And because of [that ministry] I ended up really rooted right here among the people. So it is unusual for us to stay at a mission for that length of time, but it was unusual to start a House of Prayer, and that has continued until this day.
VoSW: What was your first impression of the Southwest?
Sr. Allen: I was just so excited to come out West. I think I would have been excited to go to any mission that involved Native American people, but I had heard a lot about St. Michaels. We arrived by train – this was 1961. And oh, when the vista opened up, it was so exciting to me. But the next day, to look out at the beauty that surrounded – that still surrounds – this St. Michaels area….it was like, this is such a beautiful place to live.
VoSW: So what does your every day life look like at the Desert House of Prayer?
Sr. Allen: We have a commitment to prayer, and availability, especially to the people of the local area. There are only two of us now, so sometimes the commitment to three hours of prayer is not always possible, but that is what we try to do for the sake of the people. We are available – I continue to do spiritual direction, I direct retreats, but most of the ministry is the day-to-day being here, so when somebody comes, we’re here. We do not have a ministry, at this point in time, of going out and doing things, though we help at the parish. But we have a ministry of being here, so that when anyone comes there’s someone here, to be with them, to talk with them, share with them, pray with them, whatever it may be.
VoSW: As someone who’s been here so long and seen and experienced so much, what would you say is the biggest change from when you first came here to the present day?
Sr. Allen: There’s a lot more tragedy than when I arrived. People were still very much into the traditional way of life, and I saw that even in the students. But as the years started to progress, even when I was at the school, I began to see that there were issues coming in – in fact, that’s why I went on to get my degree in counseling, because I could see we had issues related to addiction, to poverty, domestic violence, suicide. All the issues that are with us today were beginning to show up at that time in history. What I’ve seen through the years is those issues have just increased, and because there’s so much tragedy, there’s a lot of grieving, and people do not even have a chance to grieve one loss before another loss comes into the picture. So we are here. We can’t take the pain away, but at least we can be there, to journey with the people as they go through this period of history.
VoSW: What are some things you’ve learned in all your years of ministry that you would like people to know about?
Sr. Allen: In regards to the Native people – because that’s who I’ve served these years – that is to take these tremendous gifts, gifts of creativity, prayer. I want people to know those gifts, and nourish those gifts. When we come into the kingdom of God through our Baptism we bring great gifts to the Church. I want people to see, and nourish, the gifts of the Native people and the Hispanic people – all the people of this Diocese.
VoSW: Anything else you’d like to add?
Sr. Allen: I just want to say thanks to God, for gratitude, for all these years, and especially that I’ve been able to serve here in this Diocese for all these years.
Sr. Jean Ryan, Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
Years of Consecrated Life: 50
VoSW: Can I get your impressions about the Mass and the Day of Celebration?
Sr. Ryan: It was very nice. I think the best part was being with people and relaxing at the end of the day. Even though I’m kind of a stranger in the area, people were coming up to me that I didn’t even know and it made me feel very much at home.
I actually started in Santa Fe in the 1970s and came in to teach at St. Michaels from 1972-75, so I have a lot of people who are coming to me who are actually grandmothers now. But I had been at the Desert House of Prayer in 1981 and I worked further out on the reservation in Piñon for two years. So I’ve been back and forth – I keep saying to people “I’m like the bad penny, I keep coming back”.
VoSW: So you’ve been back here how many years?
Sr. Ryan: Well, in the meantime, unlike Sr. Genevieve, she’s been here 50-some years, where I traveled to a number of different locations. I think my greatest blessing as a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament was the exposure to so many different cultural groups and peoples. Santa Fe with the Pueblos, and here with the Navajos. I’ve worked in South Dakota with the Lakota people, I was in New Orleans – we had an all-girls black high school there. I went to Haiti for a time because we were looking at the possibility of opening a mission in Florida…with the Haitian community. I’ve traveled and had numerous different experiences with different cultural groups, which I feel have strengthened me and blessed me many different ways.
VoSW: With all of these cultural experiences, how would you compare the Southwest to other places you’ve served?
Sr. Ryan: I think it would be like trying to compare apples and oranges. To me every group has its blessing, it has its difficulties. I am very drawn to the Native American spirituality which I think has stretched my own understanding of God.
VoSW: Are there any specific lessons you’ve learned in all your years of ministry?
Sr. Ryan: People are people no matter where you go. They’ve got their gifts, they’ve got their problems that they work with, and I think from my own experiences, I’ve learned it’s not through my successes that God works the most through me but actually my failures. Those are transformative moments, and I think it’s true of cultural groups – we learn and grow the most through times we are aware of the negative attributes and we really work to change them. St. Paul said “It’s in my weakness that God works the best”.
VoSW: What’s the most important work the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament do in the Diocese?
Sr. Ryan: I think just in general it’s being able to be a loving presence. Whether you are working in the schools, whether you are working in a Desert House of Prayer situation – it’s the ability to be present to whoever comes at any time in a loving awareness that they too are a child of God. And I hope that’s something we are able to do not only in this Diocese but wherever we are as a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament.