Religious sisters revitalize Bluffton Hispanic ministry

Provided: Sisters from the Disciples of Christ the Good Shepherd, from the Chiapas region of Mexico, celebrate with the community at St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton.

BLUFFTON—For the past five years, a group of religious sisters have touched the hearts and lives of the Hispanic community in the Beaufort Deanery. 

Suzette Greiner, parish manager at St. Gregory the Great, said parishes in the area needed assistance to help new migrants become involved in and supported by the church, noting that the Hispanic population in Bluffton alone is 14 percent. 

Thanks to a grant provided by Catholic Extension in June 2014, four sisters from the Disciples of Christ the Good Shepherd, based in the Chiapas region of Mexico, came to the area to live and work for five years.

In that time, they have become family.

“The sisters were able to quickly institute programs to help with all sorts of needs,” Greiner said.

Jennifer Bermejo, the church’s Hispanic ministry assistant, said the $500,000 grant that provided funding for the sisters was a tremendous blessing to the community. 

“Currently we have about 300 active members serving the church in different programs. Our total Mass attendance is about 600 people. In a class of 100 children receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion about 75 percent are Hispanic children,” she said.

Bermejo noted that the funds help provide stability for people whose lives have often been upended.

“The sisters have not only evangelized the Hispanic community, they have also provided support and guidance to the families,” she said.

One family in particular, who suffered through the illness and death of their 18-year-old son, stands out in Greiner’s memory.   

“Madre Margarita had been with the family throughout his illness, and was there when he passed away,” Greiner said. “The family had no funds for a funeral, so Madre worked with the community to arrange a sale of dinners to raise funds for his burial. On the day of the event, she was there, cooking chicken and keeping the family close to her through their grief. The mother has told people that she would have been in despair if it weren’t for Madre’s reminders that her son was now with God’s son. This is the effect she had on this one family, and the effect that she has had on many, many families in our community.”

Nora Araujo, a parishioner and volunteer in Hispanic ministry at St. Gregory, said the sisters also helped with immigration issues. One time, Sister Margarita drove from Bluffton to Charleston and then to Atlanta to find a young mother in immigration custody and help resolve her legal issues and return to her family.

“That mother is eternally grateful for her help,” Araujo said.  

The group of sisters includes Sister Maricela de Jesus Gomez-Hernandez at St. Peter in Beaufort, Sister Gabriela Hermila Cruz Ruiz at St. Anthony in Walterboro, Sister Matilda Ahu Rivera at St. Anthony in Ridgeland and the mission in Hardeeville, and Sister Margarita del Carmen Morales at St. Gregory the Great.

Together, they were essential in helping people evacuate and find accommodations during a hurricane that hit the area. Araujo said they found shelter for many families through partnerships with churches in South Carolina and Georgia. They even gathered the families together during the evacuation for meals and fellowship. 

“These families do not have money for hotels in order to evacuate,” Araujo said. “They didn’t have anywhere else to go. The sisters were so caring and selfless in their work to get them all placed somewhere safe.”

Although the grant funding ends in June of this year, Bermejo is hopeful they will receive another group of religious sisters, if not the same ones.

Meanwhile, a second round of funding was approved for the diocese to place sisters in the Aiken Deanery. A spokesman said three sisters will work with St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken and Our Lady of Peace in Gloverville. 

“Throughout the diocese there is a need for religious sisters to serve and evangelize the Hispanic communities,” Araujo said. “There are so many stories of how the sisters have helped a Hispanic family in need. They have just been a tremendous asset to our Church and the Hispanic population here. They are each truly a blessing from God.”

By Theresa Stratford/Special to The Miscellany