CHARLESTON — Bishop Robert J. Baker and Mother Olga Alvarez of the Congregation of Hermanas del Corazon de Jesus Sacramentado (Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus) signed a document Oct. 4 establishing the order’s first house in the diocese.
The ceremony took place at the bishop’s residence and was attended by Msgr. James A. Carter, vicar general; Humility Sister Susan Schorsten, liaison for religious; Mercy Sister Lupe Stump, diocesan coordinator of Hispanic Ministry, Sister Anne Francis Campbell, general superior of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy; and Msgr. Thomas X. Hofmann, judicial vicar.
Also signing the document were Father ‘Rick LaBrecque, pastor of St. James in Conway, where the sisters will reside, and Sister Carmen Evangelista Meza, local superior. Sister Conchita Antunez Solis and Sister Elizabeth Zarate Bernal, the other members of the Conway community, were also present.
The event culminated a long process of mutual discernment in seeking how to respond to the rapidly growing presence of largely-Catholic Hispanics in South Carolina. Reliable estimates place the number at close to 150,000, a figure equal to the English-speaking population in the diocese. In various areas of the state, priests and church personnel have attempted to provide pastoral and outreach ministry, and Mass is now celebrated regularly in Spanish in more than 20 locations.
Two years ago, Sister Conchita, along with Sister Amalia Garcia, came from Mexico to visit relatives who were in Turbeville at the time. That led to contact with Hispanic Ministry at St. Philip’s in Lake City and a period of volunteer ministry there as well as in Conway and Loris. The following year they returned to offer similar service for a period of several months.
Father LaBrecque discussed the situation with Bishop Baker and, with his blessing, journeyed in March to Guadalajara, Mexico, for meeting with the authorities of the congregation. Mother Olga and the general council were receptive, but faced the reality of a limited number of sisters to serve a growing number of needs at home and abroad, said Father LaBrecque. Besides serving in many parts of Mexico, sisters of the 350-member congregation are in mission in Peru, Angola, and two locations in California.
The order was founded in 1918 by a diocesan priest, Father Jose Maria Robles, with a mission to meet the needs of the church, especially in the areas of greatest need. Father Robles was killed in the Mexican Revolution in 1927. This past May, he was canonized by Pope John Paul II, along with 25 other Mexican martyrs.
Two general councilors of the congregation visited the diocese in April and agreed there was a need. Ultimately, they accepted the call and assigned three sisters. They will live in Conway and work in conjunction with the parishes of St. James in Conway, St. Cyprian in Georgetown, and St. Philip in Lake City.
“All of them are areas of poverty unable to support additional pastoral personnel,” said Father LaBrecque. “The move is in some sense a leap of faith for all concerned.”
Support has come from the Diocesan Development Fund, foundation grants, and private donors. A large donation was made by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, and donations have been made by the following parishes: Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island, St. Michael in Garden City, St. Ann in Florence, St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach, and St. James and Resurrection churches.
“On going support of the sisters and their ministry is a remaining challenge,” said Father LaBrecque, who added that among immediate needs are reliable vehicles.
Sisters Carmen and Elizabeth have both served in the congregation’s mission in a poor area outside Lima, Peru. Sister Conchita is a veteran of the mission in Angola, West Africa.
“They are enthused about this new foundation which they regard as a true mission, helping a local church meet the needs of a rapidly growing immigrant population,” said Father LaBrecque.
Currently, they are developing plans with other pastoral personnel of the parishes where they will be serving, and taking part in an English as a Second Language class at Socastee High School, as well as sessions with a private tutor.
Funds or other donations for this ministry will reach the sisters care of St. James Church, 1071 Academy Drive, Conway, SC 29626.