October 20, 2017, Juarez, Mexico – In some ways, Sister Maureen Gallagher, OP, might be described as a saleswoman, helping the women from the Las Mujeres de Esperanza y Fe co-op to sell their hand-sewn products to people in the United States. But at a deeper level, Sister Maureen is helping the women to have confidence in their own abilities to earn a living for their families.
Sister Maureen ministers at Centro Santa Catalina in Juarez, Mexico. In a city known for its violence and poverty, Centro Santa Catalina provides residents with a place for spiritual enrichment, leadership programs, homework help, organic gardens, and the women’s sewing cooperative. The center was established in 1996 with the help of Adrian Dominican Sisters Donna Kustusch, OP, and Eleanor Stech, OP.
The services offered help to support and empower families who are economically poor, living in many cases in hand-made shacks in Colonia Panfilo Natera – a section in Juarez where people moved from small villages to find work. Many of the families survive on what the women earn through their sewing co-op.
In the co-op’s 20 years of existence, women have learned not only how to make clothes and other products, but also how to run the co-op and sell the products themselves.
Sister Maureen’s role is to set up sites in the United States where the women can sell their products. “We go to parishes and pre-Christmas sales,” Sister Maureen explained. “I ask the pastor if we can sell the products as a social justice outreach program. Most of their responses are very positive.”
Because of the conditions set forth in their visas, the women of the co-op are only permitted to travel within 40 miles of the U.S. border to sell their products. As a result, Sister Maureen said, they have only worked with parishes in portions of New Mexico and Texas. But Sister Maureen also sells the women’s products – shawls, purses, scarves, tablecloths, dolls, pot holders, aprons, bookmarks, and prayer flags – through retreat centers run by women religious – including Weber Center Shop in Adrian. The products are also available online.
Sister Maureen takes great satisfaction from seeing the progress in the women’s confidence and ability to sell their products. One of her special joys is “seeing the women grow. I go to the sales with the women, and in the beginning, I would help sell. Now we bring two women and they run everything. I just help if they need a translator.”
The women have also taken over the administration of the co-op, serving as its officers and in general running the operation. “I only step in once in a while,” Sister Maureen said. “I mostly do fundraising and bring in volunteers.”
Sister Maureen is working on securing grants to help families get the medical attention they need and to provide scholarships for children to complete their education. Overall, she said, the purpose of Centro Santa Catalina is to build community among the people of the colonia and to help them to live well. “Our focus is to give people the skills they need so they don’t have to migrate,” she explained.
June 30, 2017, Pensacola, Florida – For the past nine years, seniors at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Parish in Pensacola have been on a journey – understanding more about their faith and its impact on their lives through Bible study.
Throughout those years, Sister Marguerite Renuart, OP, has been in the privileged and blessed position of guiding them as the parish’s Director of Adult Bible Study.
Nine years ago, Sister Marguerite explained, she was invited to plan and organize a parish Bible study program. “I had no idea where this would go,” she said. “Now as I reflect on my work, I am amazed at where this job has taken me. Class planning and organization are just the nuts and bolts that keep the whole thing going.”
The parish offers the Bible study program five times a week, with more than 100 participants in each course. Through the years, thousands of parishioners have taken part in the program. Among Sister Marguerite’s joys and blessings as Director of Adult Bible Study is the “eagerness of the senior parishioners as they sign up for the two-hour classes, buy their study guide, faithfully attend the classes, watch the DVD presentation, participate in the group discussion, and open up to each other.”
For Sister Marguerite, the success of the program lies in the transformation of participants rather than in their numbers. “Once they start reading the Bible and working out answers to the assigned questions, they come to class longing to understand and to share questions, doubts, and amazement about what is being revealed to them,” she said. “As the facilitator, I have the joy of deeply listening to participants. I am amazed at how God is working through their lives.”
Many of the participants were raised in the faith before Vatican II and see themselves as “catching up” on new understandings of the faith brought about by that Council.“God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have a whole new meaning in their prayer lives,” Sister Marguerite noted. Her role has been to accompany them on this faith journey.
It has been a “unique privilege” to walk with parishioners as they attend Bible study, “longing to know and grow in faith, desiring to grow closer to Jesus and His Church, and wanting to participate fully in the spiritual life offered to them,” Sister Marguerite said. “I thank God every day for this opportunity to know, love, and serve Him.”
December 1, 2016, Bodǿ, Norway – Sisters Racquel P. Rones, OP, and Alma Zapanta, OP, both Adrian Dominicans from the Philippines, minister in what many may see as an unlikely place: a parish in Bodǿ, Norway. The Sisters are there for a specific reason: to reach out to the Filipino immigrants, who work in hospitals, hotels, and the fishing industry.
Sister Racquel has served in the northern Norway parish since April 2013, and was joined by Sister Alma in July 2016. They are pastoral workers at St. Eystein Menighet Parish.
“Because of my ability to speak [the Filipino immigrants’] language and my understanding of the practice of the Catholic faith in the Philippines, I am able to work with the parish priest and staff to minister better to their needs,” Sister Raquel explained.
Sisters Raquel and Alma assist parish catechists who prepare children for first Communion, counsel parishioners, visit the sick and those who live alone, help with the financial aspects of the parish, and facilitate special events such as Advent and Lenten recollections.
The Sisters also help with coordination Masses. The first and third Saturdays of each month they travel three hours with the parish priest to offer Mass outside of the parish; once a month, they help facilitate English Masses, which includes leading choir practice. On weekends, the Sisters serve people who come for prayer and counseling, go on visitations, follow up on parish activities, and attend meetings.
Along with their vigorous ministry, Sisters Racquel and Alma also have a structured regimen of prayer: daily Mass at different times and places on different days of the week and communal Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer.
Both also spend much of their time in formal study of the Norwegian language.
“At first the biggest challenge is the language, weather, and culture, but with God’s grace we learned to adapt and love our ministry because the community is simple,” Sister Raquel said. The parishioners are “helpful to one another. They see the graces and blessings in spite of their hardships.” In addition, she said, they are respectful and show their love for the Sisters and the parish priest.
Sisters of Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter have served in Bodǿ, Norway, since June 2005, when they were still a separate Dominican congregation. Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, currently Chapter Prioress, heard about the need for Sisters to minister in Norway through her involvement with Dominican Sisters International. After visiting St. Eystein Parish in 2004, Sister Zenaida became one of the first missionaries to serve there, along with Sister Bibiana Colasito, OP.
Feature photo: Sister Alma Zapanta, OP, poses with the Norwegian flag