Sister Mary Saponara, MSC has begun her 20th consecutive year in mission at San Ramon Nonato Parish in Mexico City where she coordinates all the religious education and supervises a Food Cupboard. She also serves as the MSC Sisters’ vocation and formation director in
Mexico. Sr. Mary continues to operate a formation program for young women who want to enter the MSC Community. Many Mexican women show a great desire to live out the charism of the Sacred Heart as an MSC Sister, and Sr. Mary remarks that, “Being with young women in their spiritual journey is my great joy.” Sr. Theresa believes that the women’s desire to live in community for mission inMexico provides hope that the needy will continue to receive assistance and that others will grow in their love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At the same time, the Sisters are given an opportunity “to be the Heart of God” among them.
Sister Theresa Molchanow, MSC who returned to the MSC Sisters’ mission in Mexico in 2009, presently oversees the Posada de San Jose
(shelter for elderly women) and serves as the Sisters’ local coordinator. The Posada provides a home for elderly street women who have no support and for women and children escaping abusive situations. Prior to purchasing the Posada, women had sometimes lived with the MSC Sisters in their home. Today, the Posada thrives in its efforts to provide safety, shelter, food, clothing, and medicine to countless women who come begging for help. The Sisters’ compassionate response, a vital part of the MSC charism, continues to evangelize. In addition to her work at the Posada, Sr. Theresa also coordinates the service of the parish Eucharistic Ministers and visitors to the sick.
Sister Remedios Chavez Arreola, MSC, who was the congregation’s first Mexican MSC Sister, recently earned a master’s degree in Human Development. A primary school teacher herself, it is her dream to help others become educators who relate to the whole person. Sr. Remedios reaches out to young Mexican women in an effort to encourage discernment of their vocations in life. Presently, two young women are living in residence at the Novitiate considering life as an MSC Sister.
In addition to their ministries among the people in Mexico City, the Sisters also reach out to the people of rural Mexico, the mountain communities of Guerrero, in semi-annual mission trips which occur once before Christmas, and again before Easter. These long and arduous trips, spearheaded by Sr. Maria Remedios, include lay missionaries who invite others to an experience of community and who teach and preach the gospel in an effort to remind the people of the rural parishes of the basis for their faith; to prepare them for the sacraments. The Sisters and lay missionaries conduct activities with the youth and strive to speak to them about life options, as many of the youth in these rural areas are promised in marriage by the time they are 14 years old.
History of MSC Mission in Mexico
In 1991 Superior General Sr. Klara Sietmann, MSC, challenged the entire assembly of MSC Sisters of the U.S. Province by suggesting that they respond to the challenge of John Paul II for a New Evangelization by entering into mission in Mexico. The Province responded with excitement and determination, and Sr. Teresita Nolden, Provincial Superior, obligated herself to meet Sr. Klara’s challenge. She and Sr. Barbara Winkler made plans to travel to Mexico to investigate.
Their investigations took the Sisters to Mexico City’s Third District, a poor, drug-infested area and home to San Ramon Nonato Parishioners and Pastor Fr. Juan (Rejean Ouellet, MSC), who had requested the Sisters’ presence. Ss. Teresita and Barbara saw first hand the people’s lack of basic human necessities and the need for catechesis.
Upon returning to the States, Sr. Teresita put out a call to all the Sisters asking for volunteers to begin the mission work in Mexico. Sr. Teresita’s hope to receive 3 volunteers more than quadrupled when 13 Sisters responded to the invitation! With little money to finance the mission, no permanent housing to offer and much faith, the Province Leadership Team appointed three Sisters for mission in Mexico; Sr. Theresa Molchanow, Sr. Mary Saponara, and Sr. Sheila Tague. Having been sent in the name of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart on October 6, 1993, yet, woefully lacking Spanish language skills and with just 2 suitcases each, these courageous Sisters left their families, their community, and their culture to live among the people of Mexico and to share with them their love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Out of practicality and in an effort to live “a mission of presence” among the Mexican people, the Sisters moved out of the Rectory and into an apartment. Sr. Theresa, nurse and mid-wife, recalls that the arrangement of the language school to place the Sisters with Mexican families helped ease their cultural transition, because the families were “generous and patient.” The Sisters took a mere 3 months’ basic language training and struggled to assimilate. Sr. Theresa recalled the day when she said: “Well, now the honeymoon is over!” The environment of congestion, traffic, concrete, dust, open sewers, and shanty shacks, the lack of greenery…though these features affirmed the Sisters’ presence, they also were a source of challenge.
Simultaneously, as they struggled with language, culture and environment, the Sisters set to work within the Parish: they started a ministry to the sick, visiting, counseling, and praying with women, men and children on a weekly basis; they began a CCD program through which they catechized adults and children; they trained and instructed lay people as catechists, ministers of Eucharist and ministers of health to the sick and organized a Food Cupboard.
The Sisters had every intention to stay. Within the first year, amidst their efforts to evangelize, the Sisters recognized that in order to sustain their mission, they would need to procure permanent housing. In order to remain in Mexico, they began navigating the process of becoming incorporated with both the Archdiocese of Mexico City and with the Mexican Government itself. They spent months untangling red tape and suffering many setbacks. When they finally were ready to purchase a home, an affordable alternative was extremely difficult to locate. Sr. Theresa recalls that Sr. Mary, who had rarely made a Novena, offered a Novena to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart for the intention of procuring housing, and sure enough, within a week the Sisters found, and began the process of purchasing, a house only 6 blocks from the church. Another challenge had been met, and today this house remains home to the MSC Sisters present in Mexico. Ever since, the Sisters have shown a picture of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart from the window by the front door of their home.