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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Meet the Four Sisters Celebrating a Combined 125 Years of Religious Life

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Suzanne Hammons
Suzanne Hammonshttp://dioceseofgallup.org
Suzanne Hammons is the editor of the Voice of the Southwest and the media coordinator for the Diocese of Gallup. A graduate of Benedictine College in Kansas, she joined the Diocesan staff in 2012.

Each year the Diocese of Gallup holds a special Mass to celebrate men and women religious who have reached a milestone in their years of service. Since they do not have spouses and thus a wedding anniversary, each religious instead celebrates the anniversary of his or her profession, or taking of vows. Most begin from their time of first profession, which takes place after an aspiring sister or brother completes their postulancy. Some religious will also celebrate their anniversary of perpetual vows, after which they are a full member of their chosen order.

On February 2nd four religious, all from the Little Sisters of the Poor, were honored at a Mass celebrated by Bishop Wall at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Founded by St. Jeanne Jugan in France in 1839, the Little Sisters of the Poor are an international congregation dedicated to serving the elderly poor. The sisters operate homes for the elderly in more than 30 countries. Villa Guadalupe, their home in Gallup, NM, was founded in 1984.

The sisters spoke to The Voice of the Southwest about their vocation and experience of religious life.

Voice of the Southwest: How did you first discover that you had a vocation to be a sister?

Sr. Mildred Mary of Saint Paul (50 Years since Perpetual Profession): When I was 10 years old… girls from [another] school said that a Little Sister came and showed slides about the home and invited them to come. And then so they said, “you want to go with us?” And I said, “well, sure, I’ll be glad to”. I went to the home and… [one] Sister said, “you come with me. We’re going to give a resident a bath.” So she washed half of this little old lady. And she said, “now it’s your turn.” And while I was washing her, I knew right then and there that I was going to be a Little Sister of the Poor.

I didn’t hear any voices. I just knew in my heart for some reason that that’s what I wanted to do. It was really a sacred moment – we weren’t talking and carrying on. But it was almost like washing the body of Christ. And I was so taken back myself that I wanted to do this, you know? But it was true. It happened and I’m the proof.

Mother Theresa Louisa of Jesus (25 years since First Profession): Through my spiritual father who was a priest. He introduced me to the Little Sisters.

Sr. Cecelia Marie Thérèse (25 Years since Perpetual Profession): My grandfather was in the home. So I started to go volunteer…normally I go when I’m free. So some inner voice told me “now you come only when you are free. It will be more meaningful if you give all the time you can for the elderly, rather than just when you are free.” In a nutshell.

Sr. Christine Marie Joseph (25 Years since First Profession): I guess I always thought I had a vocation. I just didn’t know where. And then I went for a diocesan “Come and See” for the Diocese of Brooklyn. I’m from New York. It was held at St. Anne’s Novitiate. It was a Little Sister’s mission in Queens Village. It wasn’t for the sisters, but that’s how I met the Sisters. So it was stronger and stronger and then a couple of times I went into the chapel, and they said, “you can ring the bell and the sisters can let you in. You can go pray in the chapel”. So I started praying and I said, “okay, Lord, what do you want?” Then I went for a retreat on the weekend and I realized then and there that I was supposed to be for the Little Sisters.

What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned in your time as a sister?

Sr. Mildred: Well, a greater, deeper appreciation of the elderly is a big one. And I think that’s something that can be taught to others – the elderly are priceless. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.

And not a whole lot of people have it. It’s “youth”. Everything is the youth, you know. That’s the biggest thing, to respect the elderly and have an interest in their life and what they’ve done, and not just push them aside.

Mother Theresa Louisa: It’s belonging to God, even though I am not worthy, and to be able to care for the elderly poor. Depending on God’s grace for me to reach 25 years because without His grace, I would never be able to come this far. So, I think it’s His faithfulness that helps me to keep going.

Sr. Cecelia Marie Thérèse: I receive more from the elderly than they receive from me because I learn a lot from them and they are like my family. My grandparents, my parents.

Sr. Christine Marie Joseph: Growing in my love of the Lord and discovering His love and just being connected with Him. It’s a process that’s like a marriage, you know – we grow from the graces of our profession each day.

We do have a strong community life and our prayer life is very important to us. Our congregation is very good with our formation.

And then our lives in the home and with our residents, too. Our residents give us the grace to be with them. So it’s joy to be with them.

Why do you think society needs religious, and their witness?

Sr. Mildred: I’d like to express the fact that the elderly are, you know, very important. They shouldn’t be pushed aside. They should be appreciated. And now and again, we go out and we give food to the street people and to people that have nothing or nobody.

We would prefer to give them food than to give them money. Because money can take you to the bar. But food, I think, is important because it nourishes the body, but it also helps to nourish the soul in realizing that somebody does care for me. And I think we need to show that more.

Mother Theresa Louisa: To give of ourselves totally to the work of the Lord, not just one piece of us, but our whole person.

Sr. Cecelia Marie Therese: Religious life is like a witness to the people. It’s not so much like we are there to preach to the people, but from our action and from what we do, we can bring Christ to the people – especially when we wear the habit. So people see us. It gives them a sign that God is around.

Sr. Christine Marie Joseph: To show that God exists and that He loves us. It’s just not meant for us, but for everybody. He doesn’t choose us because we’re worthy, we’re not.

I don’t know what would have happened to me if I didn’t [become a] religious. It’s His choice and His love, and people think they’re not worthy, but that doesn’t make a difference. God loves them.

And, you know, we need to be witness to that grace and His love. They need to meet the Lord and once they experience that love in their hearts, they realize that they’re important.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Sr. Mildred: You know, this is my third time here. I love the home here. I was here twice by obedience. And the third time, Mother needed some volunteers, and I volunteered the third time because I liked it so much.

Mother Theresa Louisa: I’m grateful to God for calling me and the prayers for my family, friends, the residents, and all those involved in our mission for all the prayers. I’m very grateful to them.

Sr. Christine Marie Joseph: I just hope people will see the Lord in us. People will start out in religious life [and] it can be rough in the beginning, you’re going to have rough spots, but you’ve got to grow in your relationship with the Lord and trust Him.

To learn more about the Little Sisters of the Poor and their ministry in the Diocese of Gallup, visit littlesistersofthepoorgallup.org


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