TEMPE — Four religious sisters from the Peruvian-based Servants of the Plan of God are now calling Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish their new home. Along with their gift of music, they’re intent on bringing the love of God to families, children and college students.
Tempe is home to the religious community’s first U.S. apostolate and the sisters eagerly shared their vocation stories with The Catholic Sun Nov. 28.
The group interview coincidentally capped off their first month of desert life, which has already included a hike up Camelback Mountain, home visits through St. Vincent de Paul and plenty of meet-and-greets. The young sisters also highlighted their, or rather God’s plan, for serving the Diocese of Phoenix.
Young adult outreach
Sr. María José, originally from Chile, will support campus outreach and RCIA for the All Saints Catholic Newman Center serving Arizona State University. She will also support community life for ASU students living in a nearby household run by St. Paul’s Outreach. The organization uses lay witness to personally reach thousands of young adults on at least 14 college campuses nationwide.
Sr. María José brings three years of experience working with collegiate and high school youth in Chile plus involvement in Beyond Sports. The latter effort ensured athletes didn’t sideline their spiritual life by organizing activities that merged the two. Despite the long dark blue habit and veil, the former pole vaulter who once competed at the world level for teenagers is no stranger to hiking nearby mountains and organizing a Mass at the top.
Before joining the Servants of the Plan of God at age 18, Sr. María José admitted, “I thought my happiness would be when I would go to the best championship games.” After a world competition she recalls asking herself, “What is worth it for me if I gain the world but lose my soul?”
She slowly realized that her other regular activities, such as visiting the elderly and those with disabilities, helped them feel closer to God and brought her more sustaining happiness. Sr. María José became a Servant of the Plan of God 12 years ago and spent nine of them in Peru supporting formation of other sisters and visiting parishioners.
Three sisters will support parish life at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It has been 30-some years since the 2,131-family parish has had the presence of a religious sister. Families have been eager to welcome them including a caravan who showed up at the airport.
“We feel at home. The parish is very welcoming and available to help,” Sr. María José said.
Parishioners furnished their convent with a loving touch. They also orchestrated a song to sing at the airport welcoming.
It was the second a capella tune heard outside of security that evening. Sr. Cristina and Sr. María Alejandra, friends who entered the community together, led the sisters in song first.
“We wrote it thinking about the desires we had in our heart to come here — to bring love and joy and hope. We know God has trusted the four of us with this mission,” Sr. Cristina said.
A fifth sister will join them early next year. It was the idea of serving those in need that attracted Sr. Cristina to the religious community three years ago. Various experiences including teaching catechism to those in poor neighborhoods, a retreat for at-risk youth and a personal hospital visit, highlighted her sensitivity to journeying with those who suffer.
“What really captured my attention was the joy, how they live in community giving their lives to these people,” Sr. Cristina said.
She will spend the foreseeable future journeying with Our Lady of Mount Carmel children in the religious education program and sacramental preparation.
Sr. María Alejandra, will oversee pastoral care. It was a pastoral visit to an elderly care home during a mission trip that helped her realize she felt fulfilled.
“I wanted to give them all the love that God had for them,” Sr. María Alejandra said.
Although in temporary vows, alongside Sr. Cristina, Sr. María Alejandra already has experience overseeing a children’s hospital chapel, visiting the young patients and their families and coordinating activities.
Sr. Veronica, who professed final vows alongside Sr. María José and accompanied the other two during their early discernment, is serving as the local superior and parish youth minister. Being a Servant of the Plan of God has taken her to Peru, Chile and her native Ecuador.
Sr. Veronica has led youth ministry, offered spiritual counseling to girls and supported a center for women with mental disabilities. She taught faith formation to all ages both during discernment and as a sister.
Her love for the Catholic faith deepened as early as 14 or 15 when Sr. Veronica connected with a fledgling youth group as a way to help her search for answers to life’s deeper questions, “Who am I?” and “What’s my purpose?”
“All these answers led me to an encounter with God. He was the answer,” Sr. Veronica said.
Weekly visits with more than 150 girls in a group home, especially the teens, gave her a chance to share her faith. In college, a regular encounter with a street boy who sold what he could to feed his brothers, helped her live it. She began giving him food and one day when friends bought him a sandwich, she still wasn’t satisfied.
“I’m crying for all the kids in the world who are hungry and I can’t do anything for them,” she said.
Sr. Veronica began to offer other small gifts such as a smile to communicate God’s love. She thought about making a sign to get the word out, but realized, “I didn’t need the sign. I needed a habit to announce that God loves the people,” Sr. Veronica said.
The Servants of the Plan of God is a 170-member community spread across eight countries on every inhabitable continent. It was founded in 1998.