One of few people who can say they worked for every bishop in the Diocese of Phoenix’s 45-year history is retiring June 30. Sr. Maria Celia Molina, SNDdeN, has spent the last 16 of those years working with adult faith formation at the diocesan level.
Her public title is coordinator of Caminante, the Spanish language component of the Kino Catechetical Institute. Sr. Maria simultaneously ran Agua Viva, a two-year systematic and integral faith formation program at the parish level. Similar to Kino, Agua Viva is meant to provide Spanish-speaking parishes with well-informed and committed laity.
Luis Zazueta first met Sr. Maria 11 years ago while taking Agua Viva classes at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Phoenix. He has served as a facilitator for the last seven years. Zazueta described Sr. Maria as someone who is very generous with her ministry and love for the people.
“She’s always promoting for the people to be formed so that the people who study can also help out someone else and spread the Gospel,” Zazueta said through his son who served as translator.
Sr. Maria’s promotions and those of other facilitators have born fruit. A larger group of graduates — some 160 students — from Immaculate Heart completed Agua Viva last year.
“I have a feeling of peace and that I’ve done as much as I can do and that it’s time to step back and let someone else lead,” Sr. Maria told The Catholic Sun following a June 17 farewell Mass at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.
She estimated that some 500 adult Catholics have completed Caminante and another 1,000 completed Agua Viva under her leadership.
Sr. Maria, who will formally celebrate her diamond jubilee as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur this summer, had a bit of formation to do herself in her early days with the order. She joined just after her 18th birthday, taking the train from Phoenix to Ohio.
“I thought that being a sister was to light candles and to pray. They said, ‘Uh-uh. We’re a teaching order,’” Sr. Maria recalled.
She spent plenty of years in elementary classrooms in Chicago, California and Salt Lake City. Sr. Maria came to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale in 1959 where she stayed for three years. Her students there included nieces and nephews who no doubt noticed — as her co-workers do — that she always seems to be smiling. Sr. Maria is one of 14 children and the middle of five girls.
The humble sister quickly realized she didn’t need to be part of a contemplative order to have prayer at the forefront of her day. Sr. Maria found her morning prayer time, especially praying for her upcoming tasks and appointments, set the tone for the day.
Previous assignments in the Diocese of Phoenix advanced the formation in Spanish in the diaconate and oversaw small Christian communities at the parish level.
“She’s seen some history in this diocese,” said MaryBeth Mueller, director of education and evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix.
“If I were to focus on one gift it really is meeting people where they are at. There is no judgment. She accepts everyone she meets as a person made in God’s image,” Mueller said.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted echoed those thoughts. He said Sr. Maria has a remarkable gift of a personality that makes people feel welcome in her presence. The bishop also lauded her witness as a consecrated woman as “very vital” to the Church.
Sr. Maria, who said she was 5 when God first called her to be a sister, is looking forward to visiting her friends, family and fellow sisters in retirement. There are currently six other Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur serving the diocese.