BLUFFTON—Prayers and hymns chanted and sung in Spanish echoed from a room at St. Gregory the Great Church. Inside, four women wearing green dresses and black veils alternately stood and kneeled before a cross as they completed the midday prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours.
With their prayer complete, the four walked out under a gray sky and bundled themselves against chilly wind. Immediately, they were smiling and laughing with each other.
This mix of solemn prayer and simple joy characterizes their daily lives as members of the Disciples of Christ the Good Shepherd, an order of religious sisters based in the Chiapas region of Mexico.
Thanks to funding from Catholic Extension Service, the women arrived in South Carolina in October and will stay at least five years in the Lowcountry. Their focus is evangelizing and helping members of the Hispanic community become leaders in their parishes.
They are Sister Maricela de Jesus Gomez-Hernandez, who works at St. Peter Church in Beaufort; Sister Gabriela Hermila Cruz Ruiz, based at St. Anthony Church in Walterboro; Sister Matilda Ahu Rivera, assigned to St. Anthony Church in Ridgeland and the St. Anthony Mission in Hardeeville; and Sister Margarita del Carmen Morales at St. Gregory the Great.
Speaking through an interpreter, the sisters talked about their vocations and their experience. They all discerned vocations early and entered religious life at ages 17 or 18.
“I was looking for something more,” said Sister Gabriela. “I wanted to work with people and to serve, and while on a retreat I heard a voice tell me ‘Come and follow me’ and I understood what I should do.”
The others have similar stories, and selected the Disciples of Christ because their charism is prayer and service to others.
The sisters live together in a house in Bluffton and meet twice daily for prayer in their home chapel. Then, they pile into cars and head for their parishes.
Days are filled addressing whatever needs arise.
“We want to help build bridges between the Hispanic and the Anglo communities,” Sister Margarita said.
Sister Maricela focuses on religious formation for Hispanics in Beaufort, and also training people to serve in the parish as lectors, ushers and in other roles.
Sister Matilda, meanwhile, is trying to start a program for youth and young adults in Hardeeville, and both Sisters Gabriela and Margarita work on religious education and helping people in need. The four sometimes make home visits to improve outreach to local families.
Since their arrival, the sisters have been getting used to life in the South. They like the scenery here because the trees and forests remind them of the landscape near their homes in Chiapas.
Trying new foods has been a mixed blessing. They aren’t fond of American bread, and are adjusting to the fact that so many American foods are bought frozen.
One Southern staple they all like? Sweet tea.
Shopping trips to the local Walmart have also been interesting, since it isn’t often that people in the region see four sisters in their habits all together. They don’t always wear their green habits though. A work outfit of a white blouse and dark skirt has led some people to ask if they are students.
Even the questions they are asked have been friendly. All four of the sisters said they have been treated warmly by people everywhere they go in the area. People have been willing to help them with English when they need it, and no one has made them feel unwelcome.
“It helps that they see us as just regular people, not visitors asking for special treatment,” Sister Margarita said. “God’s language is not English or Spanish. His language is love, and that is what we have in common.”
Their basic rule of daily life and prayer can be summed up in one sentence: “I will love to serve and serve lovingly.”
“We want to share with everyone the fact that God is everything we need in our lives,” Sister Margarita said. “We left our country and families behind but we are not sad, because we feel that everywhere we go, God is there. God is like a treasure. You can learn everything you need from Him, and He will always help you if you have a problem.”