A good portion of Terminal 2 knew a special arrival was imminent.
People of all ages from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and School filled the circular waiting area outside of security at Phoenix Sky Harbor for an hour Oct. 28. Handmade signs read, “Welcome Home Sisters!” “Bienvenidas a su nuevo hogar,” “We are [an array of positive emoji faces] that you are here,” and “We heart Sr. Veronica, Sr. Maria Christina, Sr. Maria Alejandra and Sr. Maria Jose.” A young girl held a variety of handmade cards for the Servants of the Plan of God who would be flooding the parish and school.
The Diocese of Phoenix is the religious community’s first U.S. apostolate. Servants of the Plan of God was established in Lima, Peru in 1998 and has expanded to South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish knew since early in 2016 that the sisters were coming. There was a standing ovation at Masses the day of the announcement.
“It’s going to change the dynamic for us,” Dcn. Jim Carabajal predicted while waiting to greet the sisters at the airport.
It seemed like several planeloads of disembarking passengers snaked their way past the children’s welcome signs before anyone caught a glimpse of four habited sisters, two in white, temporary veils and two in black veils. The sisters’ smiles couldn’t get any bigger as they saw 30-some people with signs, flowers, balloons and an array of cameras.
As soon as they stepped foot past security, the sisters, whose 16-year-old order has recorded four original CDs, offered an original a cappella tune. They repeated it during weekend Masses.
“The time has come — we will announce you Lord. We’ll bring our light and joy. The time has come — we will announce you Lord. We feel our hearts reborn. The time has come. Here we are,” the sisters sang.
Parishioners and school families who gathered at the airport immediately responded with a song of their own, expressing how long they have waited to welcome sisters back to the parish — more than three decades. The song recognized their presence as a sign of God’s love.
Parish leaders expect the sisters to be involved in many areas, especially education, liturgy, music and youth ministry.
“I’m just excited to see what God has planned,” said Fr. John Bonavitacola, pastor, pointing out that the parish is the grateful recipient of the sisters’ discernment. “I think there’s a bigger plan that God hasn’t told me yet.”
Their living arrangements and one-fourth of their apostolates are more concrete. Parishioners provided the funds and furnishings to help them move into their new convent near Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Sr. Maria Jose, who has been a sister for about 12 years, will support St. Paul’s Outreach and the All Saints Catholic Newman Center, both serving students at nearby Arizona State University.
“The sisters have an incredible joy about them that was very welcoming,” said Monica Butler, mission leader for St. Paul’s Outreach at ASU.
She wasn’t able to join the welcoming crew at the airport, but met Sr. Veronica when she visited with the Servants of the Plan of God’s mother superior last spring. Butler described the sisters as “definitely sold out for Christ” and “very much alive for their vocation.”
“I think she was very encouraged by our witness and we were encouraged by theirs,” Butler said.
St. Paul’s Outreach oversees separate men’s and women’s households for college students. The residences offer Morning Prayer and Liturgy of the Hours a few times a week plus community dinner.
Butler is excited that the five women in one household and 10 men in another will be able to see another side of vocations close at hand, calling the Servants of the Plan of God “walking witnesses of Christ’s love.”
She is personally excited to apply her Spanish Literature major by speaking Spanish with the sisters. The sisters are quite content speaking English también.
A fifth sister, Sr. Stephanie, is expected to arrive in December. The Catholic Sun hopes to connect with them directly later this year.