A new religious community in the Diocese of Phoenix’s northern region has made a strong impact since arriving at the end of 2018.
Last December, Immaculate Conception Parish in Cottonwood and St. John Vianney Parish in Sedona welcomed the Eucharistic Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Los Angeles. Their appointment is long-awaited and brings women religious back to the Northern Deanery.
Eucharistic Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Los Angeles
Foundress: Mother Maria Gemma de Jesús Aranda
- Love for the Lord present in the Most Blessed Sacrament;
- To become true witnesses of His love, especially with the less fortunate.
- Religious education
- Liturgical catechesis;
- Social work
- The New Evangelization
- Hispanic Ministry
Service in the diocese:
- Immaculate Conception Parish in Cottonwood
- St. John Vianney Parish in Sedona
The three sisters, who all speak Spanish, help with religious education for youth, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, Bible studies and, most especially, prayer in Eucharistic Adoration.
Their journey to the Northern Deanery was providential for both the Diocese of Phoenix and the sisters. Last summer, when the community was closing its convent in Tyler, Texas, after 19 years, general superior Sr. Angelica de la Eucaristía decided to contact Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, who served as a priest in the East Texas diocese before coming to Phoenix, to see if there was a need for their community.
“He was very welcoming and invited us to come,” said Sr. Bernadette de la Santa Faz, head of the sisters’ house in Clarkdale.
The community originated in Spain, then established a house in Mexico in 1934 under Mother Maria Gemma de Jesus Aranda. Due to religious persecution, they established another house in Los Angeles and eventually became their own community in 1970.
The Eucharistic Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Los Angeles are almost as established as the Diocese of Phoenix. They will celebrate 50 years as their own community in 2020, and Sr. Bernadette said they are happy to start the next part of their ministry in the diocese.
Both Immaculate Conception pastor Fr. David Kelash and St. John Vianney pastor Fr. Kieran Kleczewski welcomed them, she said. Fr. Kelash even changed addresses to ensure the sister trio had adequate space.
“He moved out and we moved in,” said Sr. Bernadette, but not before faithful from both parishes transformed it from a rectory into a convent. To build a chapel, they enclosed the porch — installing walls and windows.
“We are very grateful for all they did,” she said. “They worked so hard.”
In January, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed the Clarkdale convent, which is located about 15 minutes from Immaculate Conception and about 20 minutes from St. John Vianney.
Fr. Kelash, who is also dean of the Northern Deanery, said the sisters are “doing great things” and having them at the church made moving out of his residence worth it for him.
“It is so wonderful to have them. Just having their presence here has a big difference, especially with the Spanish-speaking community,” said Fr. Kelash.
Fr. Kleczewski said his parish typically registers about 15 youth in its religious education classes. Since Sr. Maria Magdalena Santoyo arrived in December, there are now 47 students enrolled. He said that about 95 percent of their students are Hispanic, and the Spanish-speaking sister was immediately accepted into the parish community.
“We are more than delighted to have them,” Fr. Kleczewski said. “They are very good at what they do — they are great catechists.”
Sr. Bernadette said she hopes their community will attract other women and will grow. She joined the community in 1991 in Northern California.
“That is where I met some of the sisters of the order and how I got to know the community,” she said.
As she spent more time with the sisters and in front of the Eucharist, she knew God was calling her to join them. Women who discern with the community are postulants for one year, then spend two years as novices before six years of temporary vows.
“It is quite a journey before you do your final vows,” Sr. Bernadette said.
With their missionary spirit and devotion to the Eucharist, she said her dream is that one day they will have enough sisters to have 24-hour Adoration in their chapel — a blessing that would not only benefit her community, but the entire diocese.