Seraphic Sisters serve in the heart of St. Peter
When Father Damien Cook prayed and began looking for religious sisters to work in his parish, God answered him in a most unexpected way.
Father Cook, former pastor of St. Peter Parish in Omaha, had seen a need for sisters in active ministry to alleviate the poverty and address cultural diversity in his parish since his arrival in June 2004. Those needs were answered in the winter of 2005 when Poor Clare Sisters Clara Maria Acosta and Maria de Lourdes Cano appeared on his doorstep, inquiring about a parish secretary position.
That day, Father Cook overheard the sisters’ conversation in the parish office. Although the job had been filled, he rushed out of his office and down the hall to ask the pair if they would fulfill different parish needs.
The two came from St. Clare Monastery in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to Omaha for a visit and were moved by the vast number of Hispanic immigrants living in poverty, said Sister Clara. Discerning a change in their religious vocations, they decided to stay, and took up residence temporarily at St. Joseph Parish.
St. Peter needed native Spanish speakers who could minister to the growing population of Hispanics in the parish, said Father Cook. He believed that the community also needed a maternal presence to care for its members in a way that priests and deacons could not.
“I think everybody needs a father figure in their life, but they also need a mother figure, and that’s just the way the human family is built,” said Father Cook. “And that’s reflected in our vocational skeleton, if you will, in the church.”
Father Cook compared care for the soul with care for the body. “Similar to some people going to physicians, some would choose to go to a male physician and some to a female physician because they feel more comfortable,” he said.
“The soul is even more intimate,” Father Cook said. “And so I think overall there are so many families and especially women in our parish and Hispanic community that have found maternal support, especially for Latinos and immigrants who might be separated from grandparents.”
Both sisters speak Spanish natively and were searching for a way to live out an “active contemplative” vocational charism. As Poor Clares, they had lived a cloistered life, but both had discerned that God was calling them to work in the community while maintaining a contemplative orientation. This meant active ministry in addition to three-to-four hours of prayer each day.
St. Peter seemed perfect for them. The sisters wrote to the Vatican to request dispensation from their vows as Poor Clares. With the permission of Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss, they formed the Seraphic Sisters of the Eucharist on Oct. 28, 2005. At that point, parishioners began work on the parish’s convent building to make it a suitable space for the two.
“Our charism is being involved in the works of mercy with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Clara said. Whatever needs they see, they will meet, drawing their strength from the Eucharist, she said.
At St. Peter, the roles of the Seraphic Sisters in the parish community are wide and varied. They do everything from sacramental preparation, counseling and catechetical work to washing and ironing vestments and altar cloths, said Father John Broheimer, current St. Peter pastor. Sister Clara is mainly involved in teaching and catechetical work while Sister Lourdes works in the sacristy, preparing the worship space for Mass.
“The sisters aren’t just present in the parish,” Father Broheimer said. “They have helped to form a culture of joy and service and love for Christ here.”
Father Cook’s description of the sisters echoes that of Father Broheimer. “Both are extremely joyful. Sister Clara is more outgoing. Sister Lourdes is more shy but Sister Lourdes’ smile will just melt your heart,” said Father Cook. “They’re both just very in love with Jesus, very peaceful, very joyful.”
“We used to have a nickname for them, ‘Las Traviesas,’ which in Spanish means ‘mischievous,’ because there was a real playful quality to them all the time that brought a lot of joy to the whole parish,” he said.
One important responsibility of the Seraphic Sisters is contributing to the faith formation of Hispanics and all parishioners seeking their guidance. Sister Clara teaches catechism (parish religious education) and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes to students of all ages, in both English and Spanish.
“A lot of times (Hispanic people) come here with the intention of just progressing: a better life, a better world, but they forget about God and the importance of God in their lives,” said Sister Clara. She emphasized the need for parishioners to understand and actively practice their faith, especially in their own families.
“We need more faith formation and ways to serve one another,” Father Broheimer said. “The sisters help in both of these areas. They inspire a love for the faith when they teach and live the faith. And they act as a focal point for connecting people so they can serve one another,” he said.
A deep love of service and true joy to do the will of God is what motivates them daily, said Sister Clara.
She said that “being able to serve, being able to love what I do every moment even though at times it can be difficult,” has been most fruitful in fostering her relationship with Christ.
“I love what I do, I love being a sister and if I would die and live again, this is what I want to do. That’s how strong I feel about my vocation.”